Role models in the making for an inclusive university

Trainee programme aims to boost employee diversity at the AUAS

20 Sep 2019 09:18 | Communication

Fifteen new trainees started at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) this academic year. They are part of a special traineeship aimed at creating more role models for students with a multicultural background. This week, they got acquainted with each other and the members of the Executive Board. “A non-Dutch background is often used as an argument for why something does not work. I want to show that there is another way.”

Cards with themes to discuss are laid out on tables in the old council chamber of the Benno Premselahuis. Words like ‘migration background’, ‘IQ’, ‘position in the family’, ‘philosophy of life’, ‘class’ and ‘language’ are meant to help break the ice between the diverse group of trainees and the members of the Executive Board.

Looking for similarities

The trainees are in training to become lecturer-researchers or are already teaching in a variety of AUAS programmes in different faculties. They all have multicultural backgrounds, but there are also many differences between them, for example with regard to their expertise. One teaches Mathematics, while another teaches Creative Business courses.

Diversity and Inclusion Project Manager Aliya Celik explains what the purpose is. “It is particularly important to connect in the pursuit of diversity and inclusiveness. The cards help you to find similarities. Which theme determines who you are?”

Aliya Celik, Diversity and Inclusion Project Manager

Celik starts with herself. She takes the card with the word ‘IQ’ on it and starts talking about how she was advised in primary school to continue into lower professional education and to become a hairdresser or nurse. “Because that’s all there is out there for you, Aliya,” her teacher said. “That hurt a lot, but it also got me somewhere. It motivated me to prove that I could do it.”

Convincing people

A number of trainees nod, identifying with Celik's story. Gündogdu Demirturkoglu’s primary school teacher didn’t have high expectations for his pupil’s school career either. The public administration programme trainee chooses the ‘class’ card to illustrate what he thinks is the reason for this. He was placed in a different class because of his Turkish background, making him feel like he was “always having to convince people.”

Slim Belkadi, a trainee in the Digital Society School, chooses the ‘migration background’ card and talks about his father who came to the Netherlands from Tunisia as a contract labourer and worked in a concrete factory “to give us a better future.” His parents taught him how important it is to make use of education and to continue studying for as long as possible.

Rector Geleyn Meijer (right) with Slim Belkadi (left)

The Executive Board members also choose cards, and then it turns out that there are unexpected similarities. Rector Geleyn Meijer: “I’m the first one in my family to have continued studying after secondary school. My father owned a business in the port, and although they did well as entrepreneurs, I’m the one in the family who always starts the complicated conversations.”

For Chairman of the Board, Huib de Jong, continuing his studies was not self-evident either. He started his school career at a lower retail trade school and was destined to take over his father’s shop, but he chose a different path and eventually became a professor.

Like the trainees, Rector Geleyn Meijer feels “a sense of responsibility.” “If you have the gift of being able to learn well and connect things, you can help others.” De Jong: “I am delighted that you’re going to become my colleagues.”

Led by Project Manager Aliya Celik, the traineeship offers places for a total of 40 trainees with a multicultural background, spread across all faculties of the AUAS. The aim of the AUAS trainee programme is twofold. On the one hand, the knowledge institution wants to improve its students’ study success. We do this by responding better to the needs of new students when they start their studies. On the other hand, the AUAS’s diversity policy aims to provide a safe and comfortable environment for both employees and students.