Amsterdam United

Spotlight of the week: with Daniel

Name: Daniel
Age: 23
Study: Bachelor Law

1. How would you describe diversity in general?
Diversity, for me, means equal opportunity for everybody. It means that every person, no matter their background, can do what they want to do. It also stands for a positive factor in society. To learn from others about their culture, their way of life, their process of mind, is a great advantage for everybody in society. It creates more understanding, more empathy for one another.

2. Where do you see diversity at the UvA, where do you think diversity should be improved?
The UvA has always been considered a predominantly ‘white’ school, compared to the VU. Therefore it is great to have initiatives like Amsterdam United, to promote diversity. There needs to be a change of culture at the UvA and that is exactly what Amsterdam United is trying to promote. The UvA has a very diverse curriculum, but that is sadly about to change in the near future. My fear is that a lot will be lost if the UvA goes in the direction it is heading now. As the UvA is more concerned with profit than it has been in earlier times, a lot of curriculum that is deemed not profitable enough will be canceled. I think having a lot of different, smaller courses would greatly promote diverse thinking. I think a university’s main motivator should be education, and not profit.

Spotlight of the week: with Anna

Name: Anna Luiken
Age: 25
Study: English literature

1. How would you describe diversity in general?
Diversity is about a wide variety of people. Of course this includes people with different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, gender, and sexual preference. But also difference in ‘class’ (although I don’t like that word) as well as physical and mental abilities.

2. Where do you see diversity at the UvA, where do you think diversity should be improved?
The UvA is now lucky to have a student initiative like Amsterdam United to point out where diversity still lacks. I would like to see more diversity in the classroom for instance regarding the curriculum. This way I can get exposed to different perspectives and different topics, as opposed to almost exclusively being educated on established western authors and philosophers. I also think it would be great if the UvA could attract more international students. I belief this could be a great impulse for classroom discussions since they will bring different perspectives from which everyone can learn and benefit.

Reflections of a young Nigerian man on ‘Black Identity’

Written by: Seun B. Adebayo 

I was born in Nigeria and having spent all my life in Nigeria, a whole new experience began for me in 2015, when for the first time, I got into an airplane travelling to Europe to study at a  Master’s programme that will entail me studying in at least 3 universities and countries for the next 2 years, including the University of Amsterdam. This was a remarkable journey for me, and the first reflection I had in the course of my study in Europe was on how I have become more conscious of the ‘black’ identity, institutionally and socially, than while I was in Nigeria. I remember sharing with a colleague of how coming to Europe has made me realized others’ strong identification of me with the ‘black’ identity.

I recount that back in Nigeria, we rarely discuss or identify with the ‘black’ identity, we see ourselves as Nigerians or by our tribal affiliations. However, I have come to understand that the way others (e.g. the Westerns) perceive us is stronger and influential than we do. This realization made me understand why I grew up with the consciousness of my race, ethnic origin and affiliation, and how my identity is perceived in other parts of the world. The fact that my ancestors were forcefully taken as slaves by some ‘foreigners’ is concerning. The knowledge that these ‘foreigners’ exploited and colonized my people and land, is ever more saddening. This prejudice has birthed the harsh realities of a world laden with inequalities, discrimination, and apartheid against people with similar history and background by these ‘foreigners’ who had no ‘right’ in the first place to act so. In addition, it is quite an unfortunate reality that the nation I call my country, Nigeria, was actually an amalgamation of ‘different’ people by such ‘foreign impositions’, which was motivated by what I perceived as selfish interests of the ‘foreigners’. Till this moment, these past foreign actions are still a threat and distortion to the unity of my ‘sovereign’ country.

In the Nigerian context, being from the Southwestern part of the country and hailing from the Yoruba ethnic group precisely, I have grown up with the awareness that I am from a tribe different from other ethnic groups in Nigeria. Nigeria, my country, was formed and colonized by the British (Colonial Masters) to serve their own purposes. After independence in 1960, the country the British left behind had to contend with the issues of ethnicity, minority, social contract, and till date, some groups still agitate to secede from the Nigerian state.

Consequently, I have become conscious of how the ‘foreigners’ who I believe have done more harm than good identify with people of similar background.

From the foregoing, I write this essay with the feeling that the world is going in a cycle with the issues associated with Race and Ethnicity. The truth is not being told as it is! Who has the right to conceptualize and define identities? For whose interests are these conceptualizations and definitions of identities made? These are questions we should strive to answer objectively and critically in our present world. At some point, I got really interested in different identities that exist in the world. I read some history books, materials and articles on the internet. And I discovered that the conceptualizations and definitions of many identities were done by people that had no legitimate right to do so in the first place. In fact, people whose identities were defined by others were not consulted when their identities were defined. Likewise, the conceptualization of identities are not value  or interest neutral. This I believe has contributed immensely to social constructions that we have in the world today.

From literature (academic articles, reports, textbooks etc.), I observed how distortions of present realities, truth and history are justified. Recently, I read about how a young student in the United States, observed in a geography textbook that had a chapter on slave trade and immigration, the textbook identified that “the Atlantic Slave Trade between 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations”. This is a biased history education, it is obvious that they were forcefully brought as ‘slaves’ and not ‘workers’.

This writing has made me reflect on how I have been coerced to accept my ‘identity’ and conceptions of Race and Ethnicity. While I was in Amsterdam, I walked into a grocery store to get some food items. As I got into the store, I noticed that the storekeeper started trailing me even with the presence of CCTV cameras. I felt really sad, because the storekeeper might have thought that I was going to steal or lift items. I asked myself, why? I responded, because I am perceived as ‘black’, and the society I find myself sees me that way too. It was even more shocking to me when I unconsciously began losing trust and having fear of others labelled as ‘blacks’, and how I willingly  wanted to be associated with people labelled as ‘whites’.

From the above reflection, I discovered that I have been consciously trained through socialization, schooling and education to accept my identity. People of my color are referred to as ‘Blacks’; and primarily through training, I have realized that the color ‘black’ has characteristics associated with evil and negative connotations, such as death, disease, ugly, fear, poverty and darkness. While, the ‘foreigners’ are referred to as ‘Whites’, the color which is primarily associated with good and positive connotations. However, judging from history, I think the reverse should have been the case. Researching through the Nigerian cultures, I am yet to find a Nigerian culture where ‘black’ has positive connotations. I recently spoke to a friend from the Kpelle tribal group in Liberia about these issues  and I asked if there was any culture in Liberia where ‘black’ signifies anything good or positive, he replied that there was none that he knows of. I further asked what ‘white’ symbolizes in his culture. He responded that ‘white’ represents love, purity, warmth and reception in his culture.

Looking forward, I believe that the issues of Race and Ethnicity will continue except we critically question systems and institutions that promote stereotyping, conceptualization and definitional identities, and what prompts external interests. Furthermore, the truth should be told as it is, this will generate the processes to real freedom, equity, and then we can have a future with fewer challenges on Race and Ethnicity.





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Spotlight of the week: with Gizem

Name: Gizem 
Age: 25
Study: MSc in migration and ethnic studies

  1. How would you describe diversity in general? 

Diversity for me means that we are all different people with different lives, stories, experiences, and aspirations that may stem from the fact that we are from different genders, ethnic and/ or socio-economic backgrounds, have different bodies, and different strengths and weaknesses. Diversity means that we see these differences and acknowledge them, that we accept that these differences may be socially relevant but not intrinsically bad.

2. Where do you see diversity at the UvA, where do you think diversity should be improved?

I started studying at UvA only a few months ago right around the time the diversity commission was asking students to weigh in on their study results and proposed actions. Now a few months in, I understand why the commission was necessary. I hope the university makes changes in curricula and syllabi, is more diversity sensitive in the admissions process of students and staff, and also makes the university buildings more accessible.

Spotlight of the week: with Leanne

Name: Leanne Bediako
Age: 22
Study: Bsc. in Pedagogical Sciences

1. How would you describe diversity in general?
Diversity means the presence of different kinds of people. This can be different everything: different skin colors, different sexuality, different lifestyle, different upbringing.
Diversity is important because living in a diverse community teaches one to be able to relate to people. I really think more diversity makes for better people. If you are used to diversity around you, you can get better in agreeing to disagree and accepting that some people just don’t see things the way you do.

2. Where do you see diversity at the UvA, where do you think diversity should be improved?
To be honest, I don’t think there is a lot of diversity in UvA. I do believe people have gotten more aware of that lately and are trying to improve this situation. This is a good start and I can’t wait to see how this active attitude of everyone working on diversity will be carried out and made visible.

Spotlight of the week: with Barend

Name: Barend Otterman
Age: 20
Study: Bsc. Human Geography and Urban Planning

1. How would you describe diversity in general?
To me, diversity is very important. I personally think that diversity eventually leads to more acceptation within society, because coming into contact with people from other backgrounds makes it possible to see situations from a new and different perspective. Through communication it’s easier to get to know different cultures and easier to listen to other opinions. I think diversity gives us the possibility to look a little further than our own experiences and feelings.
For example, I noticed that negative attitudes towards ‘others’ are pretty common in the small town where I grew up in Overijssel. It could very well be something that arises from the lack of diversity in the town, since only talking to the same people with the same opinions and preconceptions keeps a lot of negative stereotypes alive.

2. Where do you see diversity at the UvA, where do you think diversity should be improved?
Although Amsterdam is a diverse and multicultural city, the University of Amsterdam doesn’t really represent this. In my opinion, this lack of diversity is something that deserves more attention. I think that Amsterdam United is doing a very good job of creating awareness of the problem and educating people, which hopefully goes a long way with both teachers and students. I sincerely hope that Amsterdam United and the entire UvA can come together and create a university where everybody feels at home.

Spotlight of the week: with Salma

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Name: Salma Moustafa Khalil
Age: 26
Study: MSc in Cultural and Social Anthropology

1. How would you describe diversity in general?

Well, I grew up in a society where diversity has a different meaning from the one it has in Europe. We don’t really have a lot of “colour” in Cairo – at least – we all pretty much look the same if you know what I mean! Especially with the social division of private – public – semi-private – international school systems that really filter people as they come in. And before it used to be if you have the money your child gets in, now students and their parents have to do interviews to get into a school so not really much diversity there, which is a sad situation. And I went to a private university so it was pretty much the same! So when I think diversity, I don’t think ethnicity really, I think social diversity (which I understand is not separate from ethnicity, but in my case it operates differently, if that makes sense) – especially when I started travelling I realised that really the middle class has a lot in common across societies. I have more in common with the dutch middle class than with Egyptian working class, or the rich class… so diversity for me is in economic situations and culture and not so much in ethnicity – but again, that’s how I’d define it in Egypt or the places I know well and where this is the case.

That being said, my experience here has brought my Egyptian-ness to the forefront where I’m suddenly African/Middle Eastern/Muslim/Arab/woman and then Middle Class – it had me really rethink my worldview – one that for me only applies to the Netherlands and Europe, that I wouldn’t necessarily take with me everywhere.

2. Where do you see diversity at the UvA, where do you think diversity should be improved?

I think the UvA has a diversity problem and they know it. My main issue is not only in looking around and not seeing that diversity, my problem is in how the university seems absolutely unprepared to do better in that regard. I’m the only person I know of who is all the previously mentioned categories who actually has documents also specifying me as such! All the Africans/Arabs/Egyptians etc. that I met have American or EU passports and hence their experiences dealing with the official matters of Uni and the IND were considerably smooth! Mine was nothing short of traumatizing. The university at first did a great job applying for the visa for me, which did save me a lot of hassle in Cairo but once I actually got here, I was pretty much on my own and I had to fight to protect my residence status myself, since nobody seemed to be aware of the additional restrictions my passport poses… like the fact that if my residency was halted, I don’t have 90 days of tourist visa to deal with the issue like people with an american passport for instance would – I would immediately have to leave and deal with things in Egypt and pretty much miss the school year – that is already impairing me in other ways given the high fees and a lack of sufficient scholarships at the UvA and the Netherlands generally! So here I am, a privileged person in my community, only getting access to this school because of this privilege of very expensive education and a family that can and is willing to help and I’m still struggling! I don’t see even myself as a proper sign of diversity, because my middle class-ness is what brought me here, at least that’s how I feel. The UvA is inaccessible for 99% of people in my region, who can give real diversity to the school, much much more than myself.

Also, on a side note, most of my professors don’t even see my as part of this diversity because I speak fluent English and dress pretty western, Muslim is not the first thing you see when you look at me. Also, because my reluctance to do work directly relevant to Egypt or Islam (although, there’s no way for these parts of my identities not to be part of my writing and speaking) and my resistance to being seen exclusively with these lenses. And as an Anthropologist, it is important for me that I do that at least for now! So I don’t count as diversity for most people in this school unless it’s a matter of documents.

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Moving Traditions: The Future of Black Pete

De tweede editie van Moving Traditions: The Future of Black Pete, was een groot succes. Onze keynote-lecturer, Sinan Çankaya, begon de avond met een verhaal gerelateerd aan zijn onderzoeken en eigen ervaringen. De line-up van de avond bestond uit drie verschillende gastsprekers met een eigen workshop.

Naomi van Stapele
Workshop “Inclusive Excellence: A Critical Pedagogical Framework to Counter Racism in Academia”

Yannick Coenders
Workshop ”Soot theory and the politics of emotion’’

Markus Balkenhol
Workshop “So we won – what now? Notes on Black Pete and the future perfect.”

February 2019
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