ESoC can be found every Tuesday afternoon in the ‘students’ living room’ in the Tinbergen Building. “And everyone is welcome to drop in and think along about future events,” emphasise the students.
“We need to encourage a different debate about diversity at the university,” says Ersoy. “Right now, there’s not enough room for critical perspectives. We’ve been talking about diversity at EUR for some time now, but we haven’t managed to transcend the level of questions like ‘so is diversity a good thing or not?’”
Ersoy and Renfurm are currently in the Engaging Public Issues master programme, after both first rounding off the Sociology bachelor’s. Merel Dap started at Erasmus University College and is currently studying Medicine. The three students remember very well when they first considered founding an organisation like ESoC.
“During our bachelor’s, Melisa and I had a tutor, a man of colour, and we both thought this was quite special,” recalls Renfurm. “First and foremost, he was simply a good tutor. But we did wonder why we thought this was so special. Something like that starts you thinking: why did I get this feeling, and what’s lacking in my own university. Well: what I feel is lacking is a sense of representation.”
For Dap, the ‘shock’ came when she started on her Medicine degree programme. “At Erasmus MC, I remember thinking: OK… this place is incredibly white. EUC is very small-scale – you never get together with more than a hundred students. In Medicine though, most lectures are attended by hundreds of students at a time. At which point it really sinks in.”
The university administrators should give more thought to who and what get to have a say within EUR, according to the three students. With a marked lack of diversity in the academic staff, the university is sending a message, says Ersoy. “Namely that by sheer coincidence, the best and most incisive studies are produced by white men. Take a long hard look at who’s walking around campus, and who’s standing in front of the lecture board. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Which doesn’t make it any less fucked up.”
‘Impotence, humiliation and rage’
The three believe that by themselves, ‘solutions’ like a quota for women professors won’t get the job done. After all, they say, diversity is about more than just gender and checking off lists. And what happens after the university has filled its quota? Will it be ‘diverse enough’, all of a sudden? And what do people actually mean by terms like diversity and inclusion?
“Besides, it’s super toxic when you drop one of these women in a male-dominated environment, where no one seems prepared to do anything about the atmosphere or work attitude. You see the same thing with the police. Police Chief Fatima Aboulouafa offered criticism and was suspended from active duty.” Renfurm adds: “You may be allowed to work there as a woman – even as a woman of colour – but you have to fit in the team, which means you’re not allowed to bring up certain issues. At that point, you’re no longer gezellig and you no longer fit in the team.”
Aboulouafa’s dismissal actually informed ESoC’s choice of theme for their first public event on Tuesday evening, 12 November. The focus will be on ethnic profiling and what it feels like when people draw conclusions about you based purely on the colour of your skin. The evening starts off with a screening of the documentary ‘VERDACHT’ (‘SUSPICIOUS’), followed by a public debate. “An incisive examination of impotence, humiliation, rage and what it feels like to be considered suspicious as a given,” is how ESoC describes the documentary.
The evening was organised in partnership with Studium Generale, and the students are quite pleased with the collaboration. “We already tried to organise something last year, but it isn’t made easy for individual students to organise something on campus. You’re sent from pillar to post and back again. We’re happy that we can team up with SG within The Living Room. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, as it were.”