There is a growing student movement challenging the commercialisation of the third level sector. Students have been staging sit ins and occupations in Amsterdam, London, Ireland and art students in Algiers forced the college director to resign after weeks of striking. We have a report here from one of the students involved in the occupation in Amsterdam.
The resurgence of student protests in Amsterdam, and in particular the highly publicised appropriation (occupation) of the Maagdenhuis building , have succeeded in pushing the issues of democracy, transparency and accountability to the heart of a public debate about the management of higher education in the Netherlands. The success of the movement has been remarkable in the extent to which it has reconfigured this debate on its own terms and broadened the scope for what it is possible to demand and pragmatically expect to achieve through protest and struggle. Within this context, a group of students concerned about the various mechanisms of discrimination and exclusion in operation at university level have used the space of the Maagdenhuis to address these concerns and to push for them to be integrated into the demands of the broader movement. In order to see proof of such mechanisms of exclusion, one need only look at the glaring disparity between the diversity of the city of Amsterdam on the one hand and the uniformity of the university staff and student body on the other. A core organising principle has therefore been that as long as the issues of race, class, (dis)ability, gender and sexual orientation remain absent from our critique of the higher education system, then steps toward democratisation of the university will remain necessarily limited.
We have thus far organised several public lectures in the Maagdenhuis with the aim of highlighting the academic and societal relevance of this struggle. On 17 March, social and cultural anthropologist Professor Gloria Wekker gave a public account of the phenomenon of what she calls ‘Dutch White Innocence,’ and the manner in which it manifests itself in academia through the stubborn resistance that many have encountered (Professor Wekker included) in attempting to include topics relating to Dutch colonialism and the slave trade in course content. The following week, we hosted Dr Sandew Hira, Director of the International Institute for Scientific Research and an expert on the history of Dutch slavery. His lecture was on the Eurocentric ideological biases of various university courses and the strategies that are best suited to decolonising education and the mind. The most recent talk was given by Chandra Frank, a Dutch/South African PhD candidate at Goldsmith’s in London, and was centred on the theme: “towards a decolonised university.” In this lecture, Frank examined decolonial and feminist research practices within neoliberal Western university settings.
Upon the basis of these perspectives and others, we call for a decolonised education system that acknowledges the contemporary link between Eurocentric university curricula, the uniformity of the academic staff and student body, and a lingering unresolved colonial mentality. We have recently published a list of demands directed at universities in the Netherlands that aims to translate these principles into practice. These include but are not limited to: the establishment of critical studies departments that privilege such disciplines as postcolonial and decolonial, critical race, queer and women’s studies, the inclusion of non-Eurocentric disciplinary perspectives in university curricula, and the immediate implementation of policies that break down barriers to higher education by promoting universal accessibility and institutional diversity. While some of these demands may be further out of reach than others, they are all equally necessary if the process of democratisation of the university is to be substantive in nature and does not ultimately end up reproducing the exclusionary mechanisms that are currently in operation within the education system.
The occupation has sent messages of support to the University of Cape Town who have been fighting for decolonisation of their university through the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.
- University of Colour Facebook page
- The Demands of the University of Colour
- Die Nieuwe Universiteit site (student movement occupying Maagdenhuis)
- Rethink UvA site (staff movement in support of occupation)
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