Challenging several big universities around the world to fight extremism, Facebook recently organised an international competition. This initiative resulted in creation of the project #UNWRAPPED at Erasmus University Rotterdam. EM talked with one of eight members of the founding committee, Koen Wies, to find out more.

Can you tell us a bit more about project #UNWRAPPED?

We are a team of eight people from different faculties and different programmes. Our goal is to create something that relates to fighting extremism but resonates with students and gives them value. So, inspired by students at EUR, we decided to focus on diversity. The university often takes pride in diversity, but are we really making use of it? We think we aren’t, and that we can do better.

How did you come up with the name? And what is being unwrapped here?

The name comes from the fact that people are more than just what you see on the surface. Even though we may not identify straight away with certain groups or individuals, we all have different interests and different aspects of our personalities that we can connect with. That’s the idea of unwrapping, discovering layers in people.

So do you focus more on diversity or on the idea that we are all alike?

We aren’t saying we’re all the same, because we are not, and that’s a good thing. We’re saying that we all have different aspects to our personalities. By showing this, we can connect through our similarities and learn from our differences. We call this ‘unity through diversity’.

And how does #UNWRAPPED approach this issue?

We’re starting on a small scale, trying to spark the interest of students here – which is not that difficult since educated people are open to the idea of diversity – and we hope that this spark will spread. We are doing this through two channels: online with our video and photo shoot, and offline with the event we organised on 29 May, called Wins of Diversity. We had three speakers, Hanneke Takkenberg, Maarten Frens and Naomi van Stapele, followed by a social experiment that showed how much we all have in common.

Speaking of the event: it was called ‘Wins of Diversity’, yet looking at the three speakers, one didn’t see much evidence of this. All three of them were white, highly educated native Dutch. On what basis did you select them?

This is the thing we thought about a lot, but diversity is more than just skin colour or country of origin. It’s also about perspectives. Rather than inviting someone who ticks the diversity box, we invited people with experience in diversity. Each of them is very aware of how non-diverse they are, yet they show how we can all contribute to diversity. Using the excuse that you are part of majority and therefore can’t contribute to diversity is a passive way of promoting extremism.

These ideas of fighting extremism and promoting unity seem interesting, but what exactly can a project like this achieve in practice?

Well, solving the problem of extremism is a nice goal, but we don’t expect to achieve that; most of what we are doing revolves around creating awareness. The mechanism that we are hoping to activate is for people to realise that we can’t put people into separate groups. That is what we believe lies at the heart of extremism: the idea that others are just a group of others, not individuals with nuanced identities.