We talked to Hester Bijl about the worldwide protests sparked off by the death of George Floyd. A demonstration against racism will also be held in Leiden on 14 June. How does she, as Vice-Rector responsible for diversity and inclusion, view this issue? What steps is the University taking? And how can we best discuss these themes with students and staff?
Hester Bijl: ‘I can imagine the emotions and frustrations that have surfaced following the death of George Floyd. So many people have felt out in the cold for such a long time, and there are so many ways in which they still feel excluded. I can well understand why this movement started and why it has such huge numbers of supporters. I can also appreciate that students and staff want to join the demonstration this Sunday in Leiden.’
‘It is both right and important that so many people are letting their voices be heard, and that they are saying loudly and clearly that enough is enough, and that discrimination and exclusion have to stop. It’s only when these practices have been driven out that things can change. This growing movement is in itself a characteristic of that change. We saw the same thing with the Me Too debate: that protest, which also grew rapidly and drew huge numbers of supporters, was much needed, and it was an impetus for change. I support the protests against racism and, as a member of the Board, I also stand firmly behind the core values of our University. We want to have an open community in which all members of staff and all students, regardless of their background or origin, can feel at home and enjoy equal opportunities. There’s no place here for extremes: we’re very clear about that.’ ”