Why Diversity At UvA

Should Matter To You

By NADIA MURADY | October 19, 2019

Cover photo by Mikael Kristenson / Unsplash

Three years ago, the University of Amsterdam introduced a Diversity Committee.

A central motive behind this decision was to promote a diverse and inclusive environment for both students and staff. The University was considered too white at the time and decided to make changes by taking the matter into their own hands.

Diversity is an important aspect of a prosperous learning environment. As a second-generation immigrant growing up in a small Dutch town and attending a primarily white school throughout, I realized how diversity could’ve helped me. It was irritating to enter high school with new teachers asking me if I needed extra help because they assumed I was inferior in Dutch.

Being the only person of color in class can feel alienating and intimidating. It’s so easy to feel left out for being ‘different’ and your friends don’t always understand why you’re different. On top of that, you’re more likely to develop an impostor syndrome which is when you feel like a ‘fraud’ who doesn’t deserve to be there. To back this up: a psychological study has actually confirmed the presence of these feelings within minorities at a university level. 

I observed teachers’ failed attempts to express sympathy towards me as an outcast time after time; it eventually dawned on me that they were simply ignorant off my identity. They weren’t familiar with my foreign surname, the henna on my hands or my mother tongue that I spoke at home. They didn’t bother to learn either. I faced, not a sense of disapproval, but more so a mild sense of ineptitude originating from a fear of the unknown.

If you compare my high school experience in my hometown with my university life in Amsterdam, the stark differences will shock you. 

Amsterdam is much bigger and diverse compared to my little hometown. It was fascinating to see how everyone expressed themselves so freely and shined with uniqueness. I saw this primarily in the way people composed their outfits to represent their culture and individualistic style. 

In Amsterdam, nobody looks twice at someone for being themselves. No one is out of the ordinary; whereas back home, I’d get stares for simply existing.

When I first met my classmates here, I was stunned by the number of international students enrolled at the University. Being enrolled in an English-taught degree surely exposed me to a larger variety of students and teachers. I was confronted with a type of diversity I hadn’t seen before – a type of diversity I craved. A greater sense of understanding and empathy was now expressed from both my new peers and teachers.

However, diversity is not as prominent everywhere throughout the school. I found that still, most of the Dutch students and professors are white. This became evident when I attended my first Dutch-taught lecture in philosophy here. It was packed with over 200 students, roughly half of whom were taking the course as an elective (which made this is a representation of various faculties), but there was still a prominent lack of diversity. 

The Diversity Committee should take leading action towards recruiting students and teachers of all backgrounds. Us students too can support this by encouraging diversity in student associations. Also, forming student unions that represent students with a similar ethnic background ought to be helpful. They could provide additional support in regards to the discrimination that some may experience at the University or in Amsterdam. 

As of now, the University of Amsterdam truly does not reflect the diversity of Amsterdam as a whole. Rather, the lack of diversity exposes the internal divisions that are sustained in higher education. The establishment of the Diversity Committee brings us one step closer towards inclusion at University, but there are still many more steps to be made. 

Diversity at the University of Amsterdam should matter to you because together we shape and form its culture. We’re all just trying to make the best out of our time here and we should help each other grow and do better. At the end of the day, our differences should be irrelevant in the way we treat each other and the friendships we form.

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