PhD Advisor Tamara Harte and PhD Researcher Zuleika Sheik discuss their collective effort in making ISS an accessible, safe and welcoming place for all.
Tamara (T): What made you join the Diversity and Inclusion Team?
Zuleika (Z): First, I think that my research interests align quite closely with the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Team. My research on the experiences of women of colour in Dutch academia led to a lot of questions for me: about diversity, inclusion, representation, accountability and, most importantly, that diversity that goes beyond PR. Having either witnessed or heard of incidents of racism, sexism, discrimination and harassment, and felt the frustration and hopelessness of being unable to change it on my own, I was keen to join the Diversity and Inclusion Team to be part of a collective that, like me, valued ISS as a community and was striving to make it a safe, welcoming and open place to everyone. How about you? Why did you join?
T: I joined the Team as I was keen on making ISS more inclusive; celebrating diversity. It was a bonus to be interacting with colleagues who I would normally not work with: behind those ‘faces’ in the hallway there are such driven, passionate people. When we come together, that passion and focus, about our shared cause, creates a beautiful space.
Z: Yes, it’s true, and that’s what I love about the Diversity and Inclusion Team, we’re not only from different backgrounds but we each work in different areas: you and Femke are both support staff, Constance and I are PhD researchers, Otieno is a Postdoc researcher, and Helen and Rosalba are from the academic staff. It was also great to see you cross over and get involved not just in support services to the Team, but also actively participating in the more academic events we organized.
T: Joining in with the events we have organized was the second big bonus, as I am now in an ongoing process of unlearning views/attitudes such as the acceptance of the dominance of white patriarchy, the influence of the colonial-era also in academia and subsequently my own privileges and the biases that are part of me. Meeting speakers, participants from all over the globe, change-makers and awareness-bringers have been the most insightful experiences of the past year.
Z: It sounds like you learned a lot, though it must still have been a very confronting experience for you. Did you ever think this is too hard, I should just walk away?
T: The process of unlearning is a tough one. As happy as I felt to discover this collective of people, it also opened my eyes. Initially I felt mostly sadness for having been unaware of the wound, unconscious of my privileges, for having accepted things the way they are. Now I feel gratitude for being given these new perspectives and I’m integrating them into my life. It has humbled and inspired me. Having learned that there are many people worldwide working towards these same goals strengthens my belief that positive change is possible. It is already happening. How do you feel about that?
Z: Well, you are a bit more optimistic than me, I think. There are days when I believe that change is happening and then there are days when I feel like nothing is changing or maybe not changing as fast as I would like it to. Though if I look back on the work we have done together in the Diversity and Inclusion Team, I do feel proud. We have had some amazing seminars in the series on Debating Discrimination in Dutch Academia, even getting support from well-known academics like Sara Ahmed and Philomena Essed. And we’ve accomplished small goals like a disability parking space at the front of the building and upgrading the disability toilet. Though there is still a lot of work to be done…
T: Yes, these things take time but change is happening. Just look at our activation with Patience the Resilient [installation of a skeleton in a wheelchair ‘waiting to access the ISS building’] in the entrance of the building: it has already sparked a conversation amongst students, staff and PhDs about who can access the ISS.
‘Patience the Resilient’ waiting to gain dignified access.
Photo by Tamara Harte
Z: You’re right, it’s great that it’s started a conversation and that it has prompted people to think, but is that enough? I mean, differently-abled people are still unable to access the building in a dignified way. It pains me to think that someone in a wheelchair has to enter through a side entrance via the loading bay where the rubbish containers are stored. For me, this is simply not inclusive.
T:- Awareness is the first step. I think that with the upcoming seminar series ‘Plural bodies, accessibility and social justice in academia’ and the events we have planned in the Accessibility/Stand up for Diversity! series, we can engage the ISS community to see what’s working, what we can do better and to collectively come up with solutions that make ISS a place accessible to all who enter its doors.