“At our D&I Office at ESSB, we had a feeling that the debate on diversity and inclusion sometimes becomes a bit polarised”, Laura den Dulk confesses as she takes a bite from the vegan cauliflower nugget ESSB students prepared earlier at one of the ‘Doing and Learning Diversity’ workshops. “Sometimes you have one party accusing the other for being ‘woke’ and the other screaming back that they are racists. We need dialogue.”
Laura den Dulk has been ESSB’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer since 2019, and ever since she took office, currently together with Alex Huang, Student D&I Assistant at ESSB, they have strived to foster a more open and practical approach to diversity and inclusion at their faculty. The ‘Doing and Learning Diversity’ event is a reflection of such goals, with keynote speakers addressing decolonisation of institutions, panel discussions on gender euphoria (feeling ‘right’ in your gender), consent workshops, among others. But beyond these roundtables and workshops, how have the year-long D&I policies kept up at ESSB?
‘Student confidential person’
Since 2022, ESSB has been running a student confidential person programme which allows students in distress to reach out to a fellow student who has been trained to be an ‘active listener.’ Whether they encountered a sexist or racist comment or feel mentally unwell, students can now resource to their corresponding ‘confidential person’ in their respective study programme and year and be referred to the department that is most apt to find an effective solution to this. “There are so many things you could do, which can be overwhelming, so these students have been trained to guide and refer you to the ideal course of action”, Den Dulk explains.
Nevertheless, the D&I officer acknowledges that there is still a ‘visibility’ issue with this programme as not all students know about its existence or have a hard time identifying their confidant.
The faculty has also focused on addressing D&I issues at a staff level. ESSB’s updated recruitment and selection guidelines emphasize on having a diverse selection committee and an interview structure that prevent implicit biases in the selection process of staff members. It is difficult to quantitatively measure the impact of these policies, but Den Dulk trusts that they are working. “From what I’ve seen so far, these measures are really helpful. We can see it in the increase of women in higher positions at our faculty, for example.”
During one of the panel discussions, Karen Lampe, Inclusion & Diversity Lead at Deloitte, introduced the concept of ‘reverse mentoring’, in which younger workers who identify themselves as part of a minority group are paired up with a senior leader in their company and mentor them. “This could be very interesting to our faculty. Of course we already have sounding boards where we ask our students their input on their courses, but I don’t think many of my colleagues, including myself, can really imagine what it means to be in the shoes of our students.”
From talking to doing
“Diversity isn’t always easy”, Den Dulk concludes. “People come from different backgrounds and perspectives which may cause some necessary conflict. It is good that we started to have these constructive conversations but now we have to go ahead and implement these things. Awareness, dialogue, and action. I always think that’s the way we should go.” Alex Huang, curator of this event, agrees. “It’s not about simply showing what we are doing, it’s about creating change from within.”