ISS’s auditorium was transformed into a studio. Seated behind a table were moderator Marcia Luyten, academics Wendy Harcourt, Aminata Cairo and Murat Arsel and Rector Inge Hutter. “It’s hard to remember how we celebrated Dies anniversaries before the Covid era,” ISS Rector Hutter said in her opening words. “The coronavirus pandemic is not the only crisis we are facing at the moment. We’re also facing a climate crisis and racism.”


After Hutter’s speech, the President of EUR’s Executive Board, Ed Brinksma, and EUR Rector Magnificus Rutger Engels congratulated the institute on its anniversary in pre-recorded videos. Moderator Luyten then kicked off the debate. Each subject was introduced by an argument presented by a speaker.

Wendy Harcourt, a Professor of Gender, Diversity and Sustainable Development at ISS, opened her plea by touching on the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the healthcare system. “The healthcare system is largely determined by gender, race and age,” she said. “People die of COVID-19, not just because they are vulnerable, but also because healthcare is determined by politicians.” She argued in favour of making the economy more healthcare-centred. Lecturer in Inclusive Education Aminata Cairo then referred to the inequality that is emerging due to the crisis. “For some people, staying at home is not an option. They have to leave the house to earn money.”


The second speaker, Professor of Political Economy of Sustainable Development Murat Arsel, argued that the government is using the insecurity caused by the coronavirus pandemic so as not to have to review its climate policy. “Despite the fact that we need long-term and sustainable changes,” said Arsel. He emphasised that we need a drastic reallocation, both of natural resources and of the system. “We are not implementing the measures that need to be implemented because we’re not feeling the urgency of the climate crisis. But by the time climate change will be clearly visible to us, we will be too late.”

Colour blind

In the final section of the debate, Aminata Cairo explained the correlation between the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. The vulnerability of people of colour has become more visible during the pandemic. She said this is what evoked the sentiments behind Black Lives Matter. “And social media caused the movement to go global.”

The Netherlands has a long history of racism, she went on to say in her argument. “But the Netherlands is unique in that regard. White Dutch people prefer to remain colour blind. Racism is something that happens in America. Here people won’t talk about it, as if the subject is a personal attack on them. They’ll say, ‘we are tolerant and nice,’ but racism has nothing to do with being nice.”


All three speakers agreed that change is needed. But they also shared another concern: that everything will be business as usual after the coronavirus crisis. Nevertheless, Harcourt was a little more optimistic. “This crisis taught us that certain things can be done differently. I hope that this change will remain permanent once the coronavirus era is over.” Arsel added: “The best thing we can do here at ISS to bring about change is to become an ally to marginalised people.”