‘We need to actively discuss inclusiveness’

Peter Russell, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, was asked for ‘real change’ and ‘equity’ on International Women’s Day. This is his response.

Peter Russell: "We as a respected public institution can play a leadership role in demonstrating ways to be passionate and active about creating an inclusive, diverse and equitable society." (Photo: Marcel Krijger)
Peter Russell: "We as a respected public institution can play a leadership role in demonstrating ways to be passionate and active about creating an inclusive, diverse and equitable society." (Photo: Marcel Krijger)

Dear Delft Feminists (and in particular, the Architecture Affinity Group),

Thank you for the open letter you sent to me on International Women's Day (March 8, 2017). The issues you raised are important to the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment (Bk), TU Delft but also to our society as a whole. It is particularly interesting to focus on this faculty.

On the one hand, the parity among new students between men and women and the parity among master's students between Dutch and foreign students shows that it is not insurmountable to create the conditions where diversity of all sorts can make a good place great. Indeed, I believe one of the strengths of the faculty (and its reputation) is based on this diversity. On the other hand, when we witness the disparity in diversity among our employees (in particular, the full professors), this shows how important it is to continue to strive with full effort towards reaching diversity in all aspects of our faculty and society. I agree with you fully on this.

Of course, International Women's Day is a poignant time to focus on this issue. However, I would like this to not just be a topic for March 8, 2017 each year. By the same token, I am not convinced that declaring any given time (be it a day or a year) as one for diversity actually helps in the long run. Singling out days, months or individual years can lead to a kind of binge attention which quickly wanes when the time allotted has elapsed. In fact, diversity will continue to be a topic on the leadership agenda of the university so long as there are imbalances in our population.

Education
So now what? Firstly, there are a number of actions that we can take in the faculty. Primarily, we need to be active about discussing integration, inclusiveness and celebrating our differences. This starts in education (i.e. the design studio team makeup) and ends in management (i.e the appointment of professors). In terms of staffing, we will continue to make the effort to ensure that we advertise broadly and encourage a diverse number of potential candidates to apply for positions here.

Secondly, we will continue to address the issue of actively seeking high potential women for any and all professor positions we seek to fill. This is a running issue in the management team of the faculty.

Structural issues
Thirdly, one-time actions such as the 'Bussemaker-Professors' should be seen as welcome boosters to achieving a proper balance of gender, but they will not alleviate us of our fundamental duty to continually work for the broadest (and brightest) makeup of staff and students alike. I am not convinced that a professorship dedicated to diversity in architecture and the built environment will do much to advance the diversity of our faculty. On the contrary, I worry that such an appointment might be seen as a token effort which sidesteps larger structural issues which might be hindering a better balance in our staff.

Lastly, we need to recognize that some of the hurdles to achieving parity in the workplace (and elsewhere) are systemic in our society and are not solved in the university alone. Nonetheless, we, as a respected public institution, can play a leadership role in demonstrating ways to be passionate and active about creating an inclusive, diverse and equitable society.

Suggestions are welcome
For this, we constantly need to think of new ways to do this and better ways to maintain awareness of tendencies which work against it. I am committed to that in role as dean, as an architect and academic and as a member of this society. Suggestions as to how we can address the structural hindrances (or who might make a valuable contribution to the continued excellence of this faculty) are more than welcome.

Yours truly,

Peter Russell

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