By Amber Roos
AUC(SA) Meeting on Anti-Racism: “They’re Gaslighting Us, as They Did for Years”
On May 9, the AUCSA organised a Zoom meeting to discuss “how we as a community can act better against racism.” The meeting drew over 70 members of the student body, staff, and management team. In the meeting students and staff members held AUC accountable for the lack of concrete action in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting institutional racism at AUC.
The meeting consisted of two parts. First, students and staff members were asked to voice their opinions on how AUC as an institution can take an active stance against racism. Second, students were invited to discuss how the AUCSA specifically can help anti-racism movements.
Many students decided to join the meeting, including Mia Lodder, first-year Humanities major. “I was not necessarily there to talk,” she explains, “I just really wanted to hear what people had to say and I was curious to see how AUC Management and staff would respond.”
The meeting was moderated by the President of the AUCSA. Some students, however, have taken issue with how AUCSA conducted this meeting. “We did not follow the plan announced in the beginning, which made the whole meeting chaotic and challenging,” says Mélanie Butterati, a fifth-year Science major. According to Butterati, “It was not ensured that the questions asked, especially by people of colour, were properly answered.”
Boris Koehoorn, second-year Humanities major and CAO of the AUCSA, notes that the initial plan for the meeting was very AUCSA-focused. The AUCSA did not expect the meeting to grow into much more. “All of the sudden we created this really big platform with a lot of emotions that we had to moderate,” he says.
Jet de Vries, third-year Social Science major and President of the AUCSA, says that the AUCSA invited Anne de Graaf, the Chief Diversity Officer at UvA, to moderate the meeting but that she declined this offer. “We then asked her to facilitate the conversation [instead of moderate], but in the end it ended with mostly just me moderating… that just kind of happened. But there was someone there that had the role of facilitating.”
During the first part of the meeting, students were angered by AUC’s lack of response to their questions and demands. “AUC Management did not listen to anything anyone was saying,” says Lela Roos, a third-year Science major who works at Diversity Talks, a student-led foundation that focuses on diversity and inclusion in higher education. “They did what they always do, they say: ‘We hear you, we see you, we understand you,’ but they don’t. They’re gaslighting us, as they did for years,” says Roos.
Jaël Kortekaas, a third-year Science major, says that as a member of this year’s Student Council she has been aware that student management “is not doing enough surrounding issues of racism and inclusivity.” According to Kortekaas, this was also evident during the meeting. “I felt Management was very much avoiding answering questions, which is something that I know has been an issue for a long time,” she says. Because of the heavy topic, emotions ran high during the meeting. “I also feel like Management did not acknowledge that enough, I really felt like they were not empathetic at all to the students they were talking to,” says Kortekaas.
During the second half of the meeting, the focus switched to how the AUCSA can take action. Originally, AUCSA was planning to spend the budget left over from cancelled events due to COVID-19 on revamping their website and office. However, before the meeting, a petition was started by students urging the AUCSA to spend this leftover money to help anti-racist movements.
Lodder argues there one thing was clear from the second half of the meeting: “I think in general people agreed that they did not want to see their money go to what was originally planned: the website and office revamp,” she says. “Although it was difficult to come to a conclusion as to where the money should go to instead.”
Butterati believes AUCSA could have handled the meeting better. “The biggest problem is that AUCSA tried to remain neutral, and failed to show genuine support for the movement and recognize its urgency,” she says.
Behind the scenes, however, the AUCSA is working on taking action. Koehoorn says the meeting was very useful for the AUCSA. “There were multiple suggestions that we are taking up and we are looking into ways to implement them,” he says. The AUCSA is currently finalising a statement in regards to the meeting which students will receive in the upcoming week.
Although the overall meeting drew a lot of criticism, students have noted that it has had some positive impact. “It’s very sad that it was necessary for students to express such strong emotions before Management started to sort of realise how wrong they have been for so long,” says Kortekaas. “But I did feel very positive seeing so many people, students and staff, stand up for each other and stand against racism.”
On a similar note, de Vries says that the meeting might have been confrontational for many people, but that the AUCSA does not think this was necessarily a bad thing. “This was a way for students to hold AUC and AUCSA accountable,” she says. “And this is the start of a larger conversation and really not the end of it.”
The meeting also influenced organizing bodies at AUC. The day after the meeting, the Board of Studies released a brief statement in support of the people who voiced their concerns and frustration. The following day, the Student Council sent out an email to all students speaking out against Management and committed to holding them accountable in the fights against systemic racism at AUC. On that same day, an official statement from AUC Core Management was released in which they commit to a new approach outlining concrete actions.
Students are motivated to keep fighting racism at AUC. “The meeting was emotionally incredibly draining, but the new statements give me a little bit hope that they are recognising we are not letting them get away with it. But I fear that people in the past might have felt the exact same way,” Roos says. “So what I’m going to try in my last month here, is figure out a way to make sure we, as current students, soon-to-be alumni, and alumni, can keep holding AUC accountable for everything that they have said or promised,” they say.
AUC is holding a focus group discussion about diversity on Wednesday 24th of June. The meeting will be held on Zoom on Wednesday, June 24th. Students can register until 10.00 tomorrow, 23rd of June.