‘As a woman, I have to really do my best to have my voice heard’

All gender toilets, inclusive language, and events where all students feel welcome. Small adjustments make a big difference, believes student Josephine.

Masterstudent Josephine Pockelé: “Something that TU Delft can do is include events for people who do not identify as either a man or a woman. This will help them avoid having to make impossible choices.” (Photo: Justyna Botor)

While the national survey into diversity and inclusion in higher education was stopped ahead of time, several TU Delft students still wanted to discuss the subject. They share their experiences and recommendations in a series of short portraits. This time it is Josephine Pockelé, European Wind Energy master’s student. 

“When I started my bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering in 2017, I immediately came out as a trans woman. I came out for the first time as a woman in private and six months later to the outside world. After that it was less and less an issue of ‘coming out’ and I could be myself more and more. 

While I have never explicitly felt excluded, I have felt it implicitly. It may be a silly example, but at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering there are more men’s than women’s toilets. In the first few months after coming out I was unsure if I should use the limited number of women’s toilets. There were always queues and I was doubtful whether people would accept it if I took up a place in the queue. At those moments I found it hard to know where I belonged.” 

‘An all gender toilet makes a world of difference’ 

“As a trans/non-binary person, the whole discussion about all gender toilets was very painful. I saw responses such as ‘I don’t agree with all that gender neutral, non-binary bullshit’. How was I supposed to feel with these kinds of responses? Are my feelings not important? During my transition a toilet like this would have been such a relief. I can’t tell you the times that I drank as little as possible so that I wouldn’t need to go to the toilet, purely because I did not feel male or female enough that day. 

Trans people often have a low self-image and feel insecure. By forcing them to choose between two toilets – one in which they are discriminated against and the other in which they do not feel comfortable – you put them through a mental struggle that saps their energy. So an all gender toilet may seem ‘minor’, but it makes a world of difference to a group of people. 

  • It is the intention that all (education) buildings on TU Delft campus will have a block of all gender toilets. The first neutral toilet block was unveiled in sports and cultural centre X on 19 January. Also, from now on, all gender toilets will be included as standard in future TU building regulations. 

“The same goes for housing. If you sign up for a room, you are often asked for your gender. Advertisements sometimes even state that only men or women may apply. TU Delft can’t really do anything about this, but it does put up barriers for trans and non-binary people. Luckily I could rent the same room for four years but I often wondered how I would respond to an ad like that. I feel comfortable enough to answer ‘female’, but in terms of my own identity, I do not feel 100% man or woman. Now that there will be more shared housing, the problem will only get worse as the larger student houses will make their selection according to gender more often.” 

‘Adapt events that are specifically for women’ 

“Something that TU Delft and other bodies such as the study associations can do something about is adapting events specially for women. These include the OWee Ladies Intro or information meetings specially for women. Also include events for people who do not identify as either a man or a woman. This will help them avoid having to make impossible choices. 

Discrimination is not always about big problems. The small, everyday things can be huge barriers for groups of people. Language use is a good example of this. Several Dutch language teachers use the English language ‘he’ or ‘she’ when talking about the general population. This is rooted in a language barrier and they opt for the literal translation of ‘he’ or ‘she’. A more inclusive option is to use ‘they’ or ‘them’. Further, when talking about engineers at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, they often only refer to men. 

So should all teachers undergo diversity training? Perhaps, even if that would be hard for a university with thousands of students and staff members. Still, TU Delft could remove small barriers for specific target groups. These could be installing all gender toilets, using more inclusive language, and organising events for all students.” 

‘More needs to happen than only trying to attract 18 year olds to TU Delft’ 

“From a very early age, children hear that there are jobs for men and jobs for women. What a society does and does not accept makes a great impression on children and they carry this throughout their lives. This is one aspect of a wider societal problem around gender norms that people try to deal with by doing things like setting quotas. I have mixed feelings about quotas as there is a risk of filling positions with less able people. 

When I came out, I was asked several times if I was going to continue studying engineering. People expected that as a woman, I would suddenly develop other interests and they assumed that I would only do engineering if I went through life as a man. 

This is partly because of what people imagine about trans people. They are thought to be men who have suppressed their feminine interests. This may be true to some extent, but not to such an extent that I suddenly wanted to go into nursing. While only a few people asked this, it was something that some people did ask and still ask. These assumptions are clearly embedded in our society. 

Just as that in project groups women are listened to less or not at all. As my transition progressed, I found that I really had to do my best to have my voice heard. When I went through life as a man I never thought that it was a problem for women to make a point, but it really is. During my transition I saw that my mindset was changing. Instead of just saying something, I now think if I want to say anything, what I should say, how I should say it, whether I need to justify it, and whether they will listen. 

If you want to make TU Delft more diverse, look at society as a whole and not only what TU Delft itself can do to attract more women in the short term. Start young, show children that it is OK to be a girl and become an engineer. More needs to happen than only trying to attract 18 year olds to TU Delft.” 

  • When it comes to bringing in more women, the TU Delft has set a ‘soft quota’ for the number of female professors (25 percent) by 2025. In a previous conversation with Delta, vice rector magnificus Rob Mudde said that he too thinks hard quotas will not help move the TU Delft forward. “Goals should be ambitious but they must be realistic and not hard.”
    According to diversity officer David Keyson, too, quotas do not solve the problem. “We need a change in culture. And we really need to look at the pipeline, not only at TU Delft, but right at its start.” 

This article was partly made possible by a contribution from the Journalism Promotion Fund. 

Also read our other articles on the topic of diversity and inclusion: 

News editor Marjolein van der Veldt

Do you have a question or comment about this article?

Comments are closed.