Lustrum celebration showcased UG’s shortcomings

Op-ed: Manuel Reyes

Lustrum celebration showcased UG’s shortcomings

The lustrum celebration, with its theme of inclusion, should have gone for a less loaded theme, the evaluation committee concluded. Manuel Reyes, faction chair for DAG in the university council and former member of the lustrum team, disagrees.
By Manuel Reyes
30 March om 16:25 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 30 March 2020
om 16:41 uur.
March 30 at 16:25 PM.
Last modified on March 30, 2020
at 16:41 PM.

The evaluation of the lustrum rightly points out that the university was not prepared for such a loaded topic for a lustrum theme. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t try it again. Perhaps it did lead to protests rather than parties, but is that really a bad thing?

In these politically heated times, we don’t need to celebrate our fears away but take a strong stance. The lustrum provided a fresh breeze of good, inclusive change in this centuries-old institution.

Thinking back of the involvement of the team, I would have to agree that the enthusiasm with which us student assistants approached the subject was spurted by a sense of activism. Not so much because we had a political agenda, but because we felt a sense of possibility.

Making arrangements with caterers to make sure we would have a low carbon footprint, talking to suppliers about socially conscious labor conditions (such as the goodie bags provided by Vanhulley, a company that makes clothes out of used fabric and invests into the education of its employed women), or talking to experts on accessibility of our buildings – all of this inspired us to finally make swift changes in an institute that moves disappointingly slow.

We were inspired to make swift changes in an institute that moves disappointingly slow

Furthermore, if the topic of diversity caused controversy, it’s probably because it was long overdue. Many issues, such as accessibility, equality or inclusion, are demands not of this decade but of the previous one.

The horrendously inaccessible academic building or the continuously low number of female professors are issues that should have been dealt with long ago. In our collaborations with private organisations that participated in the lustrum, we learned not only of their desire to know how they can be more inclusive, we also found out that in many areas they are far ahead of us. The lustrum celebration exposed the many shortcomings of our university in these areas.

It also brought to light that the UG needs to improve its internal communication. The lack of visibility and exchange between the departments that are already working on inclusion was a big point of debate. For instance, Human Resources would lament that we did not involve them earlier, while other departments were surprised that HR was working on inclusion at all. It exposed an inefficiency that is not necessarily inherent to our decentralised university, but simply badly coordinated.

One important aspect that seems to not have been mentioned at all, is the immense academic success of the lustrum. Our conference boasted with names of huge names in the field: Glenn Adams, Philomena Essed and Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Kimberlé Crenshaw! At the 30-year anniversary of her groundbreaking paper where she coined the term ‘intersectionality’, Crenshaw gave an important speech at this university. Intersectionality has been a lens through which social scientists and humanities scholars now study the different, overlapping mechanisms of exclusion. The report does not mention how big of a success it is to arrange a keynote from a scholar of such importance.

HR lamented that we did not involve them, while other departments were surprised that HR was working on inclusion at all

Finally, the lustrum and its theme offered a view of what this university of the north could be: a leading institution of change. Many of our researchers that participated in the conference brought to light the mechanics of exclusion and disadvantaging, both within the UG and outside.

The panel discussions offered hands-on solutions to improve inclusion and facilitate change. It offered channels for many voices that are not heard in everyday life. Even the UKrant devoted articles to opinions that are barely listened to at this university.

Overall, it is the daring and forward-thinking nature of this lustrum’s topic that made it an excellent theme, not a bad one. We should not be ashamed of this theme or hold back from controversy but proudly embrace how brave it was. We should have more courage.

Manuel Reyes was part of the lustrum team. Based on his experiences, he decided to join student party DAG. He currently represents them on the university council.

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