Column: Birgit van Driel


Columnist Birgit van Driel is annoyed by the attitude of the activists on campus. Her message to them: think of a different strategy to convince your interlocutor.

Foto © Sam Rentmeester . 20220602  .
 Birgit van Driel, columnist  Delta

In my last column before summer, thinking ahead about the new cabinet that will soon take office, I was planning to write an ode to outgoing Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. That is, until I read in Delta’s liveblog on the occupation of building 34 of 3 June that one of the activists had said that “If TU Delft would have the building evacuated, that means they would rather send the police on students than to listen to them”. That rubbed me in the wrong way that Robbert will have to make do with just ‘Thanks, good job!’.

Let me just say up front that I am very happy to see that TU Delft students are finally making themselves heard in public debate and that in principle, I am against the clearing of peaceful occupation. It makes me hopeful to see that TU Delft students too, in between solving differential equations, take part in these debates. But there is one thing that the activist students need to learn to accept and that is the idea that if you do not get your way, you are not being listened to.

There are two things you can do: either jump up and down and shout, or get moving

What I see from a distance is that the Executive Board entered into discussions with the activists several times. While the activists may be disappointed with the discussions and the continuing differences in opinions, I believe that they have been listened to. The Executive Board explained why the demand to break ties with Israeli academic institutions is not being met, and explained that the Knowledge Security team advises on whether a partnership is permitted and/or desirable. The Executive Board also said that it was planning to hold a moral deliberation about how safeguarding partnerships that TU Delft enters into can be done in line with international law. Taking a political position as a university (in line with the arguments put forward by the above mentioned outgoing Minister) is considered undesirable.

In this situation, there are two things you can do. Either jump up and down and shout that you are not being listened to, as the activist did, or come up with a different strategy to change the other side’s mind (even if the other side might be evasive or unwilling). In the end, is this not what we educate our students to do? Some of the strategies you could think of include: putting new arguments forward; agreeing under certain terms; and/or, looking for allies. In short, get moving (and I do not mean moving from the Library to building 34). read-more-closed

My column is not about taking a position in this debate, but to urge both sides to keep the discussion going and to move towards a compromise. And yes, to me, the initiative here lies with the side that wants change. Instead of constantly repeating your position, try to open up the discussion and explain why you do not consider the current explanation acceptable. Prove that you represent a significant part of the academic community. Explain your suggestions on how to ensure that people on all sides of the debate can continue to feel safe on our campus. And explain why you believe that a university should take a political position. Demonstrations are to make sure that you are being listened to. Once this happens, make sure that you have a good story and break free from the ‘he said, she said’ stand-off.

Birgit van Driel started working as a Policy Officer at Strategic Development in 2021. She returned to TU Delft where she started her studies back in 2006. She’s been affiliated to the Faculties of IDE (first year), AS (bachelor’s) and 3mE (PhD). After earning her PhD, she worked as a Strategy Consultant at Kearney and a Program Officer at NWO-AES.

Columnist Birgit van Driel

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