[Letter] Diversity, inclusivity and naivety

In a letter, Lijst Beta chair Axel Meeuwissen stated that the discussion on diversity at TU Delft should be turned into action. PhD student Sander Konijnenberg disagrees: “Inaction is to be preferred over reckless, dangerous, severely ill-considered action.”

The 2017 Berkeley protests that Konijnenberg refers to in this letter. (Photo: Kevin Jenco)

There have been two responses to my letter on diversity and inclusivity. While it’s good to see a dialogue forming, I find the responses to be naive and wilfully ignorant of the ideology they’re supporting. Bob van Vliet said I was ‘wrong to dismiss concerns’, even though I had stated that ‘I do think there are real issues that deserve to be addressed’, and that I acknowledge the problem of ‘careless stereotyping’. Therefore, Van Vliet’s explanation of how inconsiderate comments and stereotypes can be unintentionally harmful is redundant. Van Vliet also says that ‘privileged groups don’t have to feel guilty’, but they ‘should be uncomfortable with this heritage’, which to me is a meaningless distinction.

Axel Meeuwissen seems to grasp my point better, but he still fails to address several important points. For example, he states that ‘nobody has claimed that men and women are the same’. This is demonstrably untrue, and Meeuwissen could have known this had he bothered to read the article I referred to in my previous letter, where it was reported that Paul Walton and Naomi Ellemers (who spoke at the DEWIS symposium) claimed that “there is no difference between the female brain and the male brain. Cognitively and psychologically, in their behaviour and in their personalities, women are the same as men.”

Disastrous consequences and polarisation

Meeuwissen also fails to address the case of James Damore I had cited previously. Damore, who got to experience the ‘best practices from the United States’ which Meeuwissen is so eager to implement here in Delft, wrote a memo in which he, among other things, outlined the differences between men and women. Even though Damore carefully emphasised that he values diversity and doesn’t deny the existence of harmful biases, stereotypes, or sexism, he was fired, and Google’s Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance defended the decision by saying she “found that [the memo] advanced incorrect assumptions about gender”.

So I start to wonder on whose behalf Meeuwissen thinks he is speaking. Would Meeuwissen agree with Van Vliet’s statement that ‘privileged groups’ should be ‘uncomfortable’? Would Meeuwissen agree with Ellemers’ and Walton’s views on men and women which were endorsed by DEWIS, and which inspired the firing of Damore? Would Meeuwissen agree with the TU Delft Feminists, who attempted to censor a documentary, and accuse it of `incitement to hate, polarisation […] misogyny’, even though its maker is on record saying `I’m not anti-feminist […]. I still support women’s rights, and I now care about men’s rights as well’? Would Meeuwissen approve of Felienne Hermans’ comments on firing men to make sure half of the staff will be women? When Meeuwissen wants ‘to implement best practices from the United States’, is he not even slightly concerned when he reads the explanation of a female feminist professor of why she voted for Trump:

  • “I was at a conference when a woman told me to check my white privilege. […] In their mandatory “diversity” course at my university, my students are being taught that if they are white then they should feel white guilt. […] If someone asks any of the “wrong” questions about race, they’re branded a racist, and their career can be over. I’ve seen it. […] I am insulted by arrogant people who assume that everyone agrees with their politics.”

Or since Meeuwissen has visited UC Berkeley for sound advice on diversity and inclusivity, what does he make of the 2017 Berkeley campus protests?

Meeuwissen says that ‘eternally debating a topic and criticising proposed solutions is not the way to move forward. The discussion must be turned into concrete actions’, and that ‘hopefully Konijnenberg can follow suit as well’. No, I can’t. Inaction is to be preferred over reckless, dangerous, severely ill-considered action. If Lijst Beta were to add a detailed analysis of the disastrous consequences and the polarisation that resulted from the ‘best practices from the United States’ and a sound plan on how to prevent such consequences from happening in Delft to its report, we might have a good starting point. Otherwise, I’ll continue to consider the quest for diversity and jnclusivity a dangerous, naive, self-righteous pursuit.

Sander Konijnenberg is a PhD student at the Faculty of Applied Sciences. This is his third letter on diversity published on our platform.

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Our platform is open to well written and well argued opinion articles written by students and employees of TU Delft. The maximum word count is 700. Email us at delta@tudelft.nl.

Opinion / Our platform is open to well written and well argued opinion articles written by students and employees of TU Delft. The maximum word count is 700. Email us at delta@tudelft.nl.

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