Science - June 18, 2020

‘Positive discrimination does not stop inequality’

Text:
Tessa Louwerens

Discrimination is a complex problem that you can’t solve by giving certain groups preferential treatment, says PhD candidate Sanne van den Berg. So her proposition says: ‘Positive discrimination is still discrimination.’

PhD candidates are expected to submit a set of propositions with their thesis. In this feature, they explain their most thought-provoking proposition. This time, it’s the turn of Sanne van den Berg of the Environmental Sciences group, who got her PhD on 12 June for her research on the sensitivity of various aquatic species to chemical compounds in surface water.

‘Discrimination is a very complex problem and the right approach is complicated. Of course we should explore all possible routes and I realize that positive discrimination is an attempt to get things headed in the right direction. Take Eindhoven University of Technology, for example, which only appointed women to academic positions for a period. That worked well but as a woman I don’t think I would want to be appointed on that basis.

You would always be wondering why you got the job

You would always be wondering why you got the job. And others may begrudge you the position, thinking you only got it because of the positive discrimination. It doesn’t solve the problem of inequality; that requires a change in people’s mindset first. I can understand you might want to give people a helping hand, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying social problems in the long term.

‘At present discrimination is getting a lot of attention because of the Black Lives Matter protests. I think that is a good thing. But I also find it difficult to talk about this. It is a sensitive subject and who am I to say something about it? But I still find it important to discuss this. Fortunately, I have never personally experienced discrimination, at least not consciously. But if there was positive discrimination, you probably wouldn’t hear about it either.’