In what ways is the role of Pete changing during the St. Nicholas celebrations? And what can the academic community contribute to the national debate on this issue? On 19 November these questions will be debated in the Erasmus Pavilion. Everyone is welcome.

Several academics at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) are conducting research into the St Nicholas celebrations and Piet’s role in this celebration. “The issue is not so much about whether Piet needs to change, but rather how Piet is in the process of changing,” says researcher Jiska Engelbert about the approach to the research and the evening of debate. “We conducted research into Piet’s role in five areas: in the media, during entry into cities, at companies, at schools and in families. And everywhere you see that Piet is changing. For example, at the Bijenkorf, a luxury department store, they now have a golden Piet. And this is mostly inspired by commercial motives.” As far as Engelbert is concerned, the evening of debate therefore is no longer about the question of whether Piet needs to change, but rather about how he is changing.

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Nevertheless, Engelbert cannot be denied some activism. Last year, together with her colleague Isabel Awad she wrote a letter to EM about Piet’s role at the university. The academics could not understand why the university stuck with a Zwarte Piet, with as only change that Piet would not longer be called ‘black’, but rather ‘brown’. Ultimately several soot-covered Piets appeared at the St Nicholas celebrations. Engelbert, together with Awad, colleague Jacco van Sterkenburg, Professor of Caribbean History Alex van Stipriaan and Chris Peters from the Province of Groningen wrote a letter on this subject that appeared in De Volkskrant– a national newspaper.

During the evening of debate the panel will include Van Stipriaan, Gloria Wekker (Emeritus Professor Gender and Ethnicity), documentary producer Sunny Bergman (including the documentary Zwart als roet (Black as Soot)) and media producer John Olivieira. The evening starts at 19:00.

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