Semiha Denktaş, Chief Diversity Officer at Erasmus University was also present at the launch “People think that if we don’t talk about racism and discrimination, it won’t happen. But it does happen. I think The Us Space is a good initiative because everyone should be allowed to talk about these subjects and feel safe on campus.”
The reason why the two students decided to start The Us Space was an incident experienced by Taher and a friend. One day in class, a fellow student started to harass Taher’s friend because she was wearing a hijab. According to Taher, there was no provocation at all, they we’re just sitting in class. “Back in Egypt, I’d never encountered behaviour like that, so this experience broke my bubble of thinking that the world is beautiful and people are nice. My father never mentioned his experiences with racism, but after this happened, he shared his experiences and made me realise that racism is normal.”
Taher told the story to her ex-housemate Ssebudde. While other people felt sorry for Taher and her friend, Ssebudde just hugged Taher and made her feel understood. Ssebudde had also encountered discriminatory behaviour on several occasions. Ssebudde: “I’ve experienced discrimination too, for example on public transport, but I never thought that it would happen on campus. It isn’t right to sit next to someone in class who doesn’t accept who you are. It’s unacceptable for people to behave like that, so we decided to be the solution to the problem.”
Their solution is The Us Space, a platform designed to encourage freedom of expression within the university. Everyone is welcome to share their opinions, as long as they are respectful towards other people. Taher: “Respect is our number one rule. It takes great courage to share your traumatic story, either in class or to us personally. We just want to let people know that they’re not alone.”
In the long term, they hope that The Us Space will become a larger platform for freedom of expression, but they are starting by organising RealTalks. These RealTalks are a monthly 2 hour session, during which they will address a theme that is normally considered taboo. Subjects like racism, religion, discrimination and cultural differences.
Anyone can join and contribute ideas to the conversation. The first session will be about bystanders. Ssebudde: “We wanted to pick a broad topic for the first session, and being a bystander is something that a lot of people have experienced. We want to discuss why people choose to respond in a certain way, but also to tell people that it’s sometimes okay not to respond.”
The first session on the theme Bystanders will be held on 21 February, between 4.00 p.m. and 6.00 p.m. More information about The Us Space can be found on their Facebook page.