What should the companion of Sinterklaas look like? For a number of years, this has been the subject of fierce debate in the Netherlands, with discussions sometimes becoming quite heated – and occasionally even overstepping the boundaries of decency. The Executive Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam hopes that this debate can be conducted within our own community in a ‘transparent and open manner’.

The Board announced this in a letter sent out to all university staff members and students. “The debate about Zwarte Piet’s role in the celebration of Sinterklaas is about acknowledging the importance of inclusion. As a critical community, we must ask: is there room for everyone to belong, to participate, to share, to accept and to be accepted? And if not, how can we be innovative enough to change this? Universities are one of the leading intellectual voices in Dutch society. Erasmus University is well positioned to be a guiding force on this issue”, wrote President Pauline van der Meer Mohr on behalf of the Executive Board.

A few years ago the University already adapted Zwarte Piet’s appearance for the Sinterklaas party organised for the children of staff members. For example, Zwarte Piet no longer dons earrings and red lips at these get-togethers. Taking its lead from the children’s television programme ‘Sinterklaasjournaal’, last year EUR introduced another innovation: during the celebrations on campus, the traditional Zwarte Piets were joined by a few candidate Piets whose faces were wiped with soot.

On Thursday evening, 19 November, the university will be organising a public debate on this topic.