In a Whatsapp group for EUC students, dozens of memes where shared within a short period of time on 8 February. Nearly all of them could be labelled as explicitly racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.
The app group was set up for all third-year students studying at EUC and has some 200 members. The images in question weren’t shared by EUC students, but by members of the Skadi rowing club enrolled at EUR and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool Rotterdam). The students were added to the group by a friend who does study at EUC.
Last year, Observant, the magazine of Maastricht University, reported a similar incident. Five first-year students were suspended for a five-month term after ‘repeatedly posting xenophobic comments’ in a student app group. In late 2018, students at Leiden University’s faculty in The Hague also made discriminatory and racist statements in response to a meeting scheduled by the protest group Kick Out Zwarte Piet. This meeting was ultimately called off due to public threats from various corners.
Two weeks ago in Wageningen, a student housing complex was plastered with discriminatory slogans against Chinese students. In response to this and other incidents, Jingli Gao, president of EUR’s Chinese Student Association, called on staff and students to take a stand against racism.
Martin Blok, who coordinates the activities of the confidential counsellors at EUR, shares his concern about the increase in racist and discriminatory statements at the university. “It’s difficult for me to determine the exact scale of the problem, but this is hardly the first time students and staff members have had to deal with racist and discriminatory behaviour. And over the past year, we have seen an increase in the number of reports regarding abuse via digital channels – social media, for example.” Blok is unable to offer exact figures for the past year at this time.
What’s more, Blok believes that a lot of discriminatory and racist incidents go unreported. “I regularly hear from people on campus that they are afraid to report this kind of behaviour. They don’t want to be marked as a whistle-blower, for example, or believe the university won’t do anything about it anyway.”
Important to report
That’s why Blok would like to take this opportunity to call on everyone to report these cases to a confidential counsellor. “It doesn’t immediately have to take the shape of an official complaint – there are other ways that we can help besides.” In addition, he hopes that the university will take the incident at EUC ‘extremely seriously’: “We want to be an inclusive and diverse university, which means that it would be appropriate for EUR to respond as an institution.”
Melisa Ersoy and Romy van Dijk of Erasmus School of Colour weren’t particularly surprised to hear of these latest stirrings of racism at EUR. They regularly hear from students who feel unsafe on campus and at the Erasmus MC. Lecturers’ comments, shady ‘jokes’ by tutors and the behaviour of fellow students can lead to considerable anxiety. “For example, a girl of Moroccan origin received a message from two fellow students telling her that ‘all Moroccans should leave the country’”, says Van Dijk. “She never reported it – and she’s one of many students who decide to leave it at that”, adds Ersoy.
“Like many students, she never reported it”, Ersoy adds. It cannot be easy for students to report, Van Dijk and Ersoy acknowledge. “If the threshold is too high to go to an employee, students can also come to us.”
Skadi president Wouter van Dam is shocked by the incident. He calls the situation ‘condemnable’ and ‘absolutely unacceptable’. “We are still deciding on how to continue. Of course we will do that in close consultation with the university.”
The Chair of EUR’s Executive Board, Hans Smits, confirms that EUR students have shared offensive images and statement in the private WhatsApp group, and that they have been taken to account for their actions. “We find the sharing of offensive material unacceptable and do not tolerate this behaviour”, stated Smits in the Board’s initial response. “I have individually talked to the students involved. As EUR’s administrators, we believe that the university should be a safe environment for everyone to study and work. We consequently take an incident like this very seriously and will definitely take the appropriate measures in response – such as preparing a report to the authorities, for example” says Smits.
Gabriele Jacobs, the Dean of the University College, does not want to respond substantively at the moment and refers to the reaction of the Executive Board. She does say that she has been involved in all meetings with the students who sent the messages. “We take this incident very seriously. In close consultation with the Executive Board, we at EUC will decide on our next steps.”
The students who shared the images apologized in a letter to the EUC community last Monday.