Spotlight of the week: with Salma

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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