[Letter] Equal does not mean the same

The discussion on diversity must be turned into concrete actions, Lijst Bèta chair Axel Meeuwissen writes in this letter. This Central Student Council party found best practices in the United States.

Lijst Bèta faction: Tim Wubbe, Stijn Burjeman, Axel Meeuwissen (f.l.t.r.). (Picture: Lijst Bèta)

I was intrigued by Sander Konijnenberg’s letter on diversity at TU Delft, featured recently on this website. Lijst Bèta (one of the two parties in the Central Student Council) is actively working towards a diverse and inclusive campus. In our latest meeting with the Executive Board of our university, we handed in a comprehensive report with 17 recommendations that TU Delft can adopt to strengthen its recently stated commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Right now, we are working with various departments such as Human Resources and Communications and people such as the newly appointed Diversity Officer to implement best practices from the United States.

The topic of diversity is sensitive and must be dealt with accordingly. In his letter on the Delta website, teacher Bob van Vliet emphasises the dangers of subtle, unconscious stereotypical, racist expressions. In our research, we refer to them as ‘microaggression’ and suggest awareness training. This is also included in the draft version of the TU Delft Vision on Integrity 2018-2024.

Its complexity, however, is not a reason to avoid the topic. In a globalising world, diversity is becoming increasingly important, and there are valid reasons to take it seriously. It has been shown that people perform better in diverse groups, but only in an inclusive environment.

‘We should appreciate our individual differences’

Yet, nobody has claimed that men and women are the same, as Konijnenberg states. They are equal, yes, but not the same. There is a fundamental difference between them. This distinction not only holds for the sexes, but for everyone. Everybody is unique in his or her own way and we should not try to achieve world peace by pretending that everyone is the same. Instead, we should appreciate our individual differences. We all contribute our own unique experiences, backgrounds and beliefs that allow issues to be seen from different perspectives.

I do agree with Konijnenberg , nevertheless, that fighting bias with bias is not the right solution – affirmative action goes against the principle of equal treatment. I am, however, convinced that the solution lies with addressing biases, becoming aware of them and eventually overcoming them. In our report, we recommend that recruitment committees receive training on unconscious biases, as people tend to hire people like themselves. Konijnenberg’s conclusion that we should feel guilty for our biases is wrong and discredits the discussion.

Konijnenberg rightfully states that disagreeing with a solution does not deny the underlying problem. I support his critical stance towards solutions. However, eternally debating a topic and criticising proposed solutions is not the way to move forward. The discussion must be turned into concrete actions, which Konijnenberg fails to offer.

Lijst Bèta not only identified the problem, but actively searched for a set of solutions that, when implemented, will ensure a diverse and inclusive campus. It seems that if Van Vliet can agree with our approach, hopefully Konijnenberg can follow suit as well.

Our full report is available here.

Axel Meeuwissen – Chair Lijst Bèta

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