Diversity at AUC: How Should We Understand the Contested Notion for Our University?

By Ronja Boer

By Mari

Diversity and inclusivity have always been highly discussed topics at AUC, within classrooms or among students online. Revision of many AUC features, such as its curriculum, identity and future path, has been especially prevalent with the inception of AUCNext, the anticipated successor of AUC21 – a five year plan created for AUC in 2016. Yet as of now diversity remains graced on the flag that waves when you enter our building. What does that word mean for AUC? And is it still relevant?

In his first interview with the Herring, AUC’s dean Dr. van Hees, alluded to a possible revision of the slogan ‘excellence and diversity in a global city’. As part of AUC Next, the revision of these words will tell us about the course of AUC in the next five years. 

When it comes to the diversity, online confessions, such as on the auc0nfessions instagram page, often show anonymous dissatisfaction with the way AUC prides itself on being diverse and inclusive. In the 2020 Annual Review demographic statistics show the largely European and female student body –  73% female and 14% of non-EER nationality – suggests that diversity might indeed not be where we want it to be.

However, Dr. van Hees’ understanding of the buzzword is more nuanced: “Diversity is a value which expresses the fact that people feel at ease, feel heard, that different views and different lifestyles are being acknowledged and respected. I think [the statistics] are very important insofar as underrepresentation of groups may indicate that this value has not been realised yet. But the statistics are not the end goal. Diversity is not about matching the numbers. It is much more than that.” 

Then what would a satisfactory student body and staff look like? This, alongside other issues at AUC are on the agenda of AUCNext. Dr. van Hees alludes to both the importance and difficulty of such discussions, as the benchmark of diversity is itself an open question. Diversity in the student body and staff is an ongoing process for van Hees. When asked how to assess those boundaries, he answers: “Universities in the Netherlands, or Europe for that matter, can do better. You always have to be sensitive to the possibility that views are not being heard, and you thus constantly have to examine how and where you can do better.” 

The difficulty but also the challenge that comes with openness and plurality is that values might clash. According to Dr. van Hees the boundaries of what can or can’t be discussed in class are not fixed but require reflection and debate. You can compare it with the interdisciplinary nature of AUC. This also is a kind of diversity that we take to be an important feature of our programme. It is not static either but requires reflection on what we teach, how we do so, and so on.

Diversity being a key feature for the AUC identity is clear to Dr. van Hees. Dr. van Hees disagrees that the word is a form of advertisement for the University College. “We are not selling something. It stands for us taking diversity to be of great importance and in full awareness that the realisation of it is an ongoing process.”

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