14 June 2021

Black Lives Matter - one year later

On June 12, 2020, Vrije Universiteit issued a statement in response to the Black Lives Matter-movement and the widespread debate on racism and discrimination. We acknowledged the voices of protest and pain and we promised to continue our process of critical self-reflection and change toward equality and justice. We also indicated concrete steps for that journey. One year onward, it is time to see how much has materialized of our intentions.

Courageous Conversations: in 3D (our Centre for dialogue, debate, and diversity) as well as in faculties and research institutes, we organized small scale dialogues and larger webinars and lectures about race, inequality, and colonial history. We met with students and staff of colour to share experiences and discuss wat is needed in terms of representation, acknowledgement, and structural changes. We also listened to voices that struggle with the increasing diversity. In many of these conversations, the cry for equality and inclusion is heard.

Diversifying Staff: we have developed a comprehensive action plan to diversify our (academic) staff, specifically by creating support and opportunities for talented students and scholars. We are making our recruitment policies more inclusive and are building a more welcoming culture. The action plan is in its final stage and implementation has started.

Decolonizing University: we furthered conversations about our past as a university and as a society. We make inventories of research already done on the subject and of documents and objects referring to this past. We have started to link this reflection on colonial histories to our present strategies of internationalization and cooperation. This will contribute to broadening the academic perspective of our students and building more equal and mutual international relations.

Curriculum improvement: we started a project to develop tools for lecturers and program directors to reflect on the inclusiveness of their curricula. We improved and implemented the VU Mixed Classroom Educational Model, including specific attention for online teaching.

COVID-19: we acknowledged the risk of growing inequality among the students of our university by mandatory online education and exams (proctoring)  and presented a report about this risk to the board of the university, student council and other stakeholders. We proposed additional measures to counter these risks and supported student councils in dealing with the university administration about growing inequality. We continued to support student-driven bridging events about student-wellbeing.

We are aware that changes are too fast for some but not fast enough for many. Much more work is to be done, and more concrete examples can be given in the framework of these four challenges. Moreover, we also connect these challenges to other dimensions of diversity, including gender and sexual orientation, socio-economic backgrounds, and differences in health and abilities. One year after the VU statement, we can say that the challenges we identified were taken seriously and that we are committed to continue this journey.




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