For almost a year, Erasmus Magazine and its fellow higher education media have been working on the theme of diversity and inclusion. First of all, as a subject of investigation to produce journalistic publications. This week, EM published the first investigative reporting with the results. Main conclusion: it is walking on eggshells, what you say and how you say something can make and break discussions. Read the very readable articles in our special. A lot of words, but they matter.

Total landscape research diversity_Jowan de Haan

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However, we are not satisfied. For instance, we would also have liked to present you with the results of a major national survey. To hear from students and staff, in addition to research on policies and incidents, what they now experience and think of the growing attention to diversity and inclusion within their own institution. For example, does the use of a wider range of pronouns now make them feel more connected, or on the contrary do they feel excluded? How do these words matter?

Unfortunately, we did not succeed in getting answers to these questions. The poll was hijacked by people who feel they are not allowed to say anything anymore, thus denying everyone the chance to say something about diversity and inclusion, left or right. The word ‘pollfuck’ mattered.

Apart from researching how all higher education institutions in the Netherlands shape their diversity policies, Erasmus Magazine also looked at itself. For instance, EM has been working for some time on a style guide that includes a chapter on inclusive language use. No mean feat, if only because we also have our preferences and opinions as editors. But that chapter is going to come, and perhaps needs to be rewritten again next year, so be it. If language is so essential to you, you have to be willing to put effort into it. Because words matter.


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And EM goes even further. The editors will attend a training course on inclusive journalism next year. In it, we will look back at what we used to think was ‘normal’ when looking at ‘the other’, to learn how we look at the world now. Because a journalist’s view is not neutral, even a journalist brings own experiences, references and preferences. Which does not mean that you cannot report objectively and unbiased as much as possible. For that, in fact, it is necessary to look at yourself, because your choice of words matters.

And no, we do not impose censorship on ourselves as editors as a result. We adapt. Not because we can no longer say certain words or terms; we choose not to use certain words because language changes. Moving with the times, absorbing new insights and being empathetic with people is always part of professional development for journalists.

Doesn’t mean you can’t say everything you want as far as I am concerned. But what has changed is that more and more often others think something about it and call you on it. Of course, it takes getting used to, when someone says to you that words that seem neutral to you are annoying or hurtful to them. Just listen. Ask a question. Think about what you say. Because words matter.

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