Annual Report 2020 & Year Plan 2021

We are proud to present the Chief Diversity Officer 2020 annual report and 2021 plan titled: Discrimination and Decolonization

In this blog post, we include the foreword and personal reflection by Chief Diversity Officer, Anne de Graaf.

Foreword: Strength and courage

This personal reflection introduces some of the exciting initiatives and vision and concrete measures being taken at the UvA, within the context of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). It is also a chance to provide my own perspective. My role is to push and research and advise, sharpen the focus, highlight and confront. I do not have policymaking authority. This rests with the Executive Board and deans. What follows is a reflection concerning events that took place this last year.

This reflection carries the title, “Strength and courage” because this is what we need now, more than ever, and I hope this report and plan might encourage and inspire. The year 2020 falls under the shadow of a global pandemic, instability and uncertainty. In many ways this meant that vulnerable groups became even more vulnerable. (See the Corona Memo written by the faculty diversity officers and CDO.) A turning point for issues of equity, diversity and inclusion were the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. This brave movement confronts us all with our responsibility to share the burden of pushing for change, to ask questions about our own responsibility, our own histories and our own potential roles to play. For some, this means a long-awaited acknowledgment of wrongs perpetrated in a society that turns a blind eye to systemic racism. For others it is a wake-up call to do the work, ask how am I part of the problem, and find out what has not been said, listen to voices not often amplified, explore alternative perspectives and educate ourselves about non-western histories and narratives. Self-reflection takes strength. The conversation, the questions being asked, are themselves so valuable. Public discourse is a sign of civilization and the fact that as of this writing, the Dutch cabinet would fall due to a consequence of systemic racism, shows that now at least, we are talking about it. With talk comes action. And this takes courage.

In Dutch, the phrase sociale veiligheid translates as social safety, but this means something different in English, as in social safety net. The corresponding phrase is personal safety and security, and this is an inseparable part of inclusion. If members of an organization do not feel safe, that organization cannot call itself inclusive. Two reports play an important part of the UvA policymaking process with regard to personal safety and security. These are the Taskforce Sociale Veiligheid report (‘Breaking the silences: Social safety at the University of Amsterdam.’ (January, 2021) and the report by the external De Gaay Fortman committee (‘Social safety requires reinforcement’ (October, 2020). Although excellent steps in the right direction, these reports are incomplete. In order to supplement the information in these reports, I have worked behind the scenes, pushing for concrete measures proven to be effective in best practices by other universities. We are not the only ones seeking ways of better protecting our staff and students from discrimination, harassment and sexual violence.

I am deeply troubled, ashamed and extremely frustrated by the state of personal safety and security at the UvA. When I began as CDO, this was my top priority because I felt the under-reporting of incidents signalled mistrust in the system. This has been confirmed by many respondents and current crises. In the past three years my team and I have researched and co-written three reports about these issues. We have pushed hard, so hard in fact that some CDO team members have left because of the tough spot we are in. Despite being told that the issue of personal safety and security was being worked on, we pushed back and insisted that we at least be allowed to continue initiatives that were already up and running, namely the Our Bodies Our Voice (OBOV) workshops about consent and inclusive teaching and active bystanders, and CARE (psychologist-led support groups for survivors of sexual violence).

We issued a statement last summer that is on our blog. In it, we speak out for the need to support survivors, among other things. There needs to not only be language of responsibility and accountability, but also concrete measures taken and a reset of the system so that perpetrators are punished and survivors not made into the problem. As the CDO team, we believe there needs to be more monitoring and training concerning the power relationships rooted in the University hierarchy. People need to take more responsibility for the safety of our students and colleagues. I want a systemic change, where there is:

  1. Clear, concise and consistent communication about reporting;
  2. An anonymous reporting protocol;
  3. A consistent policy regarding how perpetrators will be punished;
  4. A change in policy so that those who report incidents will be heard and cared for by means of, for example, a Discrimination Helpdesk;
  5. Mandatory training for those in authority in how to listen and respond to incidents of discrimination, harassment and violence;
  6. A clear, consistent policy of supporting survivors;
  7. We establish a system of prevention;
  8. The impact of hierarchy on personal safety and security is investigated – building in better protections for survivors;
  9. There is a consistent procedure in place for those who are accused when a report is made, for example, automatic non-active status and investigation;
  10. A policy is put into place around hiring academics with non-active or unresolved status from other universities.

It is encouraging to see the results of both the Taskforce and external committee reports, but there were items the reports did not address and these (above-mentioned numbered points) should be included in next steps.

The challenge is that so much of what the CDO team promotes remains optional. I call upon the deans and Executive Board to take their responsibility even more seriously. There needs to be a clear and consistent message from those in power that the discrimination and harassment end now, backed up by putting into place the above-mentioned concrete measures (numbered points) that support these statements.

With regard to hiring, promotion and retaining under-represented groups, workshops on implicit bias are only effective when supported by a structure that strengthens these values. This includes EDI action plans at each faculty. When the awareness raising is surrounded by such supportive structures, then these workshops have tremendous potential to help change mindsets and inform and inspire about a future we all are working toward. At other universities this shift occurs when momentum is created due to both top-down and bottom-up pressure. As we all explore how we are part of the problem that is discrimination and what the solutions might be, the broader conversation spreads to all levels of the university about individual responsibility, in the classroom and department by department.

In this next phase in EDI work at the UvA, the CDO team’s own action plan includes continuing to prioritize Support and Sustainability as we sharpen our focus on Discrimination and Decolonization. One shape fighting discrimination will take is pushing for target statistics for people of colour and Black people (BIPOC = Black, indigenous and people of colour). [1]

Thanks to the UvA’s planned participation in the Barometer Culturele Diversiteit project, in conjunction with the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), we hope to have access to indicators and benchmarks concerning employees’ backgrounds. This will bring us closer to setting target statistics for under-represented groups, similar to the ones regarding gender. It took decades to get gender targets into the university policy, and they are working. The UvA met its target of 25% women professors by 2020 and has set a further target for 30% by 2025[2]. Although the process of breaking down sexist discrimination is not the same as breaking down racial and class discrimination, there are some similarities in the ways these processes change. With a commitment to hiring and promoting more BIPOC, and by prioritising a pipeline for this process, targeting BIPOC who work and study at the UvA, the Executive Board and deans would demonstrate how seriously they prioritize equity, diversity and inclusion. In addition, as other universities have demonstrated, the process itself of greater inclusion enriches the university community and quality of research.

In addition, the CDO team prioritizes the process of decolonization. In 2021 the CDO team will publish its Perspectives project/Decolonization toolkit, which has received input from experts inside and outside the UvA . It provides support to lecturers and departments ready to take the next steps. But in addition, we call on the Executive Board and deans to play a much more pro-active in role in this process which is a win-win for the entire university.

What gives me hope is how individuals, both students and staff, are co-creating with the CDO team as we nurture and grow diversity work at our university. I am immensely grateful to the CDO team in particular, a small group with passion and drive, intelligence and skills, who have made a major contribution toward changing the UvA for the better. Although the CDO team is compensated, it should be noted that the working culture for other students and staff devoted to EDI makes them vulnerable, and they rarely receive compensation. For example, the faculty diversity officers often only have one or half a day in the week to do their work. There is a broader societal reach, and we as a university community need to acknowledge the need to compensate people for EDI work. I also am grateful for the important research provided by the Let’s Do Diversity report[3]. This continues to provide a roadmap for our initiatives, while inspiring us to celebrate each milestone.

What follows is the 2020 annual report, and subsequently, the 2021 plan. Please celebrate with us the wins achieved so far. I hope—we hope—for a university that continues to grow in awareness and cultural change so that we may become more open—open minded and open hearted. We’re not there yet, but we’re certainly on our way. Wishing us all a 2021 of health and wisdom, strength and courage.

—Anne de Graaf, Chief Diversity Officer, UvA


[1] Please see: Why We Need to Stop Saying ‘People of Color’ When We Mean ‘Black People’ ( J. Adams 2019) Medium

[2] Please See: UvA haalt streefcijfer voor vrouwelijke hoogleraren (Folia, December 2020)

[3] (Wekker, Slootman, Icaza, Jansen & Vázquez, 2016)

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