2nd March 2018
Dr Yansie Rolston
“It’s there, it’s that building over there” says a voice belonging to someone who is showing signs of hunger and tiredness. Weary feet rush into the doors of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences /Hogeschool Van Amsterdam aka HVA, and thankfully the cafeteria is still open for service, so we can refuel our engines. The menu choices are limited because lunch time has long gone and I am a fussy vegetarian with a deep loathing for mushrooms – they smell awful, the texture is revolting and the taste is vile – A word of warning to mushroom lovers, don’t even bother wasting your time trying to convince me of the deliciousness of that ghastly alien thing. So with little choice I settle for Heinz spring vegetable soup (other brands of canned soup is also available).
After being fed and watered we stride up the stairs purposefully. Eager to find out what the session is about the door to the classroom is pushed open with gusto, and immediately I come face to face with an image of a young woman her mouth gagged with tape with the inscription “DWHVA”. It’s not what I expected, actually I am not sure what I expected, but that image certainly wasn’t it so I was taken by surprise.
What is the context, what’s the background story – I start conjuring up snippets of narrative about the ongoing refugee crisis; domestic violence survival; anti-racism protests. Who is she, is she ok? A quick scan of the room reveals that she is present in the space. Phew, she’s alive and well! But the question remains – What’s this about?
The title of the presentation is Dear White HVA and I immediately assume there will be a parallel with the series on Netflix “Dear White People” which is a satirical drama about everyday racism in America. But what is the connection?
Mahutin Awunou, Sameha Bouhalhoul and colleagues introduce themselves and give context to the session. Dear White HVA is a collective of concerned, passionate and determined staff, experts, and students working to co-create responses to the challenges of racism and discrimination within the education system. They are unapologetic about tackling issues such as White Privilege, and spoke openly about the ways in which the institute disadvantages minority students. Their determination to find ways to ensure the college is culturally inclusive is evident, but according to them, addressing systemic, institutional discrimination within the education system can elicit raw, hard hitting discussions that can be hard to swallow. They explain that the focus in only about talking with and empowering others, but ensuring that inclusive education is part and parcel of curriculum development, that teachers, educators, and students are culturally aware and able to contextualise the experiences, behaviours and language in relation to diverse cultural backgrounds. They are also challenging the continued portrayals of Zwarte Piet aka Black Pete in which Dutch people black face.
The group share some of the methodologies they use for example Peer to Peer Education programmes based on the Train the Trainer Principles where the year 2 students pass on their knowledge and experience to the 1st years. They also host documentary afternoons and open discussions where others are invited to “Come and listen to the experiences of others”.
They are also involved in Urban Collective – The Black Archives which as it happens, we had visited a few hours prior meeting Jessica and Mitchell and learning about the valuable work they are doing in logging and archiving black culture, history and knowledge of the black experience in the Netherlands.
Our participation in the interactive poll was an eye opener and showed the stereotypes many people have about Amsterdam. It reinforced the need for the work of Dear White HVA as advocates against discrimination and inequality in the education system.