‘A large number of students face issues when it comes to exclusion’

Master’s student Khalid El Haji recently received the ECHO Award for his initiative on diversity & inclusion at TU Delft.

Khalid El Haji: “I think students and student organisations are eager to make changes on the topic of diversity and inclusion and that’s hugely important.” (Photo: Heather Montague)

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“I study Computer Science and I’m in the final year of my master’s. I did my bachelor’s here as well so I have been at TU Delft for about five years now. My parents immigrated from Morocco and I was born and raised here in the Netherlands.  

Last year I was a member of the Central Student Council where I represented the interests of students to the Executive Board as well as to the outside world. I worked a lot on the topic of diversity and inclusion during my year on the Council. One of the things I initiated during that year was the TU Delft D&I Grant. I initiated and proposed the idea to the Executive Board and they supported it. What it does is give every student and student organisation the opportunity to request funds for events or initiatives that help make our community more diverse and more inclusive. It was uplifting to learn that when the D&I Grant was launched they were overwhelmed with applications.

I think students and student organisations are eager to make changes on the topic of diversity and inclusion and I think that’s hugely important. At TU Delft, especially in the last few years, we’ve been taking some important steps towards becoming a community which is more diverse and more inclusive. Sometimes there are really concrete things that can be done, for example making sure that the information that we spread about the introduction week is available in both Dutch and English. 

The TU Delft community was not designed with international students in mind

Throughout my Council year I interacted with so many different stakeholders on the topic of diversity & inclusion and at one point I was approached about whether I would consider going for the ECHO Award. (The award recognises students with a non-Western background who stand out because of their entrepreneurial spirit, organisational skills, active social involvement and constructive approach to challenges related to exclusion -ed.) I applied for the award and was formally nominated by TU Delft. I was lucky to actually win the award in the STEM category. But I want to highlight that a lot of the things I did for this award involved so many other collaborators without whom this would not have been possible. 

Growing up as a non-Western person in the Netherlands, you experience some exclusion and not so diverse situations up close. When I came to TU Delft, I kind of expected this super liberal, progressive place, but it was not quite like that for me. I realised that I was not the only student who was struggling with this. I also think there is a large number of international students who probably face quite a few issues when it comes to exclusion. For example, if you’re an international student looking for a house, you are sometimes excluded from living in certain places. And there are many other issues like that. The whole community was not designed with international students in mind, but also not well-designed for students of a non-Western background. That was my main personal motivation, but there are so many other students that also thought this was important. There are so many aspects that relate to diversity & inclusion, like the gender imbalance issues at TU Delft. I think it’s important for students to know that TU Delft is really taking steps towards addressing these issues.

For me, the award means I was lucky enough to successfully represent TU Delft. The prize that comes along with the award is that I will get to participate in a summer course at UCLA in California. I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I finish my studies. But I do know that whatever I do, I will carry lots of the lessons that I have learned in this community about diversity and inclusion with me.”

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Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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