On Monday 22 June, representatives of the university discussed exclusion and discrimination with students and staff.
Student Jerry Gumbs and rector magnificus Arthur Mol. © Anne Walther
This was prompted by a petition on racism that called on WUR to investigate discrimination within the university and in the curriculum. The Executive Board was represented by rector magnificus Arthur Mol en Rens Buchwaldt. Dean of education Arnold Bregt was there too. They listened and talked to the students, PhD candidates and employees.
‘We talked about the curriculum, for example, and how that could be made more inclusive in certain areas such as the environment and sustainability,’ says WUR student Jerry Gumbs, the man who started the petition. He thought the discussion went well. ‘Some examples were given too of inappropriate remarks by lecturers.’
People shared their personal experiences at the end of the meeting. ‘That was an eye opener for some,’ says Gumbs. ‘Our petition explicitly called for an investigation. Lots of people who come to Wageningen to study or work see it as a fantastic opportunity. They may experience discrimination as well, but they prefer to focus on the positive things. Just because they don’t report those negative experiences does not mean they don’t happen.’
Continuing the struggle
Gumbs compares tackling racism to sustainability. ‘It’s not a case of installing solar panels on your roof and then you are done. Sustainability is not the destination, it is the journey. That is how you should look at dealing with racism. You can’t resolve the problem in a day or a few months.’ The students behind the petition are looking at how they can turn their ‘collection of individuals’ into a structured organization. ‘We want an organization that can continue the struggle against racism. The name will be ARA WUR, which stands for Anti-Racist Association WUR.’
University spokesperson Simon Vink was also at the meeting. ‘It was a good discussion in which people shared their experiences and stories. The Executive Board reiterated that the exclusion of people for whatever reason is unacceptable. It is not what we want, it is not what we permit and it doesn’t fit with Wageningen’s international culture. The board also explained what WUR is already doing in this regard. For example, there are employees dedicated entirely to inclusivity among both students and staff. We are currently looking at what more could be done.’
The petition calls on the university to investigate discrimination within the organization. Vink: ‘The Executive Board says that if you do that, it will take a year if not more. What matters is that it is not acceptable for someone to be excluded. That calls for action and that is why we need examples and stories. In short, a dialogue is required. That is what we are doing now.’ The Executive Board has asked the diversity employees to come up with a vision. Vink: ‘This is explicitly about diversity in all its facets, from religion to culture, sexual orientation, gender and disabilities. We want an inclusive atmosphere at the university and in the research institutes. If there is anywhere where that is not the case, action will need to be taken to create that atmosphere.’