In a nutshell, the authors of the letter stated that we owe all people on our campus, regardless of their gender, ethnic and/or cultural background and sexual orientation, a safe and inclusive environment. They said that they support constructive criticism and encourage discussion on actual ideas, while they condemn deliberate attacks on persons belonging to the academic community, particularly female academics. By now the letter has been signed by more than one hundred managers of both academic and support staff.
For a free and safe public space on campus
We support constructive criticism and encourage discussion on matters of content, but we…
Ad hominem attacks
The letter was drawn up by Chief Diversity Officer Semiha Denktaş (a professor affiliated with ESSB), Liesbeth Noordegraaf-Eelens (a professor affiliated with ESPhil) and Ginie Servant-Miklos (a senior lecturer at EUC). Denktaş explained that the letter was drafted for several reasons.
The authors of the letter feel that female academics are definitely judged differently from their male counterparts on social media. “In discussions, both inside and outside academia, women are not judged on their ideas. They receive ad hominem attacks, or comments on their looks,” says Denktaş. By way of example, she mentioned the comments virologist Marion Koopmans (who often appears on talk shows on Dutch TV) receives on her looks, particularly on social media.
The letter was also inspired by Amnesty International’s recent report on sexual assault of students, particularly female students. Amnesty found in its study that some 11 per cent of female students (and 1 per cent of male students) experience rape during the course of their degree programme.
Denktaş said it was heart-warming to see how quickly her colleagues expressed their support of the letter, and with what conviction. “As supervisors at this university, we wish to set the right example. We want to indicate and ensure that people need not feel unsafe at the university, that we look after each other.”
Last week, a survey by the Education Inspectorate showed that many institutions place a high value on themes such as sustainability, diversity and equal opportunities, but that only half of the students feel encouraged to participate. Although 86 percent feel free to express their opinion, 5 percent do not (at all). That is just thousands of students.
The Inspectorate doubts whether higher education is indeed a place where everyone learns to express their opinion freely, and is going to investigate this further.
In her response, outgoing Minister Van Engelshoven emphasises that, in addition to the freedom of expression of students, academic freedom must also be guaranteed. “This implies that lecturers are free to conduct their research, publish their findings and teach – even if this involves sensitive subjects or if students have difficulty agreeing with them. After all, ‘education also includes confrontation, debate and difficult conversations’.