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Machiel Keestra: ‘We have planned some inspiring and educational activities. The programme was designed in cooperation with academics, students, student organisations and collectives who are committed to fighting racism and discrimination and is scheduled to take place at various UvA locations. The Amsterdam UMC, for instance, will display the exhibition “Racism in the Netherlands: blind spots and painful truths” by photographer Marjolein Annegarn. At the Roeterseiland campus, we’ll be hosting an evening dialogue session to discuss institutional racism and democratisation. Those interested can also attend a panel discussion about racism in AI and algorithms at Science Park. And in the Doelen auditorium, two study associations are going to put on a Deep Dive Session on Black resistance over the years.’

But UvA students and staff will be able to explore the subject in greater depth outside the University’s walls as well, thanks to a walking tour of the city led by two Far Too Close guides. These guides previously released a podcast called Far Too Close, in which they explore the colonial past of six buildings in Amsterdam’s University Quarter. Their walking tour offers you a glimpse into the colonial history of the places where UvA students and staff work and study on a daily basis.

Why is it important that we, as a University, devote attention to this topic?

According to Keestra: ‘With nearly 50,000 students and staff members, the UvA is a mini-society. Even within a large institution like ours, where we have so many nationalities and tremendous diversity in terms of people and opinions, racism and discrimination are unfortunately still present. We naturally have a formal structure in place – a code of conduct, confidential advisers and the ombudsperson – with which we try to combat inequality. But despite our efforts, racism and discrimination can play a role in everyday encounters at the University, be that in the form of “jokes” or by excluding others, whether intentionally or not.’

‘This week is intended to help us all be more vigilant,’ he continues. ‘Through workshops, panel discussions and lectures, we want to create renewed awareness of the fact that racism affects people, even within the UvA.’

Is a single week of attention to racism and its consequences enough to make a difference?

Keestra explains: ‘While we aren’t going to solve the problem in just one week, a nationwide Action Week does help to shine a brighter spotlight on the problem. Because the processes in question are implicit and unconscious, it’s good to explicitly renew our own awareness of the prejudices and stereotypes we all harbour. This is what we’re attempting to do with the activities during this Action Week against Racism: to draw explicit attention to our role in the problem and to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Moreover, we hope that by doing so, we continue to make the issue of racism and discrimination discussable, even for students and staff who do not participate in the programme.’

We are seeing growing attention for the different aspects of racism in the rest of the Netherlands as well, and more and more organisations are examining their own roles in this regard. Prime Minister Rutte offered an apology on behalf of the government for the Netherlands’ history of slavery, the City of Amsterdam and De Nederlandse Bank investigated their own colonial histories, and now the UvA is beginning this process as well.

Keestra: ‘That's right: we’re happy that the Executive Board has embraced our proposal for such a study. It is extremely important that we, the UvA, do this, so that we know the facts and can accept accountability for our own role in history. The UvA is working on multiple fronts to promote a diverse and inclusive university community. Organising the Action Week against Racism is one way we are doing this, but we’re also pursuing self-investigation and self-reflection.’

To learn more about the Action Week against Racism, or to see the full programme, visit the Action Week against Racism web page.