‘Not everyone gets the same opportunities’

Bibi Veth

Assistant-professor Marieke Meeuwisse researches diversity and inclusivity in colleges. Two elements that seem to play a significant role in the progress of students are gender and immigration. Meeuwisse wants to bring some more equality into that discrepancy.

TEXT: Dennis Mijnheer

Last year the knowledge-platform Community for Learning and Innovation welcomed a new ambassador: Marieke Meeuwisse. As an assistant professor she is involved with Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), where her research focusses on diversity and inclusivity in higher education. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Meeuwisse – who received a doctorate in educational sciences with her dissertation on diversity in higher education – is a recently minted research fellow. It’s as a research fellow that Meeuwisse will conduct research over the coming two years: dedicating one day in the week to looking into the post-graduation careers of different groups of students from various majors within Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Diversity and inclusivity are the common thread that can be found throughout her research. ‘The theme is really alive and well in higher education at the moment. More than that, it’s one of the strategical themes of Erasmus University. We want to educate students in a cosmopolitan context that considers how much has changed because of globalisation and migration,’ says Meeuwisse. ‘The university already has a very heterogenous student population, but if we look at the statistics we have on the progress students make during their time here, it’s apparent that there’s differences along the gender and immigration variables. This can mean that not everyone is getting the same chances to excel within their field of study. It can also mean that the different talents of the students aren’t being acknowledged or utilised to their full potential.’ Meeuwisse wants to change that.

Students with a migration background lag behind

‘More specifically, I will look at equality and inequality amongst the different groups of students. For example, we do see that the numbers of success among students who have a migration background are lower than those of students without a migration background. Same for students who are the first in their family to go to university. They are often unfamiliar with the unspoken rules of academia, and have to figure out everything for themselves. This can be tricky.’

‘Teachers need to do better when it comes to diversity in their classrooms.’

Meeuwisse’s goal isn’t only to do research, but to offer solutions aimed at giving students equal opportunities. This will happenunder the title of the #IBelong project. ‘The innovational element is that we can bring students and teachers together and create a dialogue. Participating teachers will then be trained, as a team, on diversity and inclusivity. The participating students we’ll train in how to build a student-community network, that – we hope – will contribute to a sense of belonging within the university.’

Coaching for teachers

Next to her role as Research Fellow, Meeuwisse will also take up position as an ambassador for diversity and inclusivity. ‘What that means is that I will put together a network along with other colleagues who are involved with education and research on the intersection of diversity and inclusivity. The network will function as a tool for knowledge exchange, and its goal will be to improve the quality of education. For example: my background in social sciences and educational sciences will allow me to help and advise people, especially in using relevant theoretical frameworks – or models – when approaching educational/research reform on the theme of diversity and inclusivity.’ Meeuwisse will make use of a coaching space in the new Education Lab on Woudestein campus. Together will Rick Wilff she’ll ge giving short sessions, the so-called “Microlabs”, to teachers who want to specialise in diversity, internalisation, and inclusivity. ‘We’ve developed modules that focus on how you, as a teacher, can help change education in a way that work more for diversity in the classroom. It’s important for teachers to have an open attitude when entering into conversation with students.’

The CEO isn’t always a man

‘We also want to get teachers to do a kind of curriculum scan, where they critically consider their syllabi. The question is: how inclusive is the course? It’s often the case that international students aren’t familiar with certain work forms that are required, like providing an in-depth reflection on behaviour and learning processes. We also got feedback saying that in exams, whenever there’s mention of a CEO, it’s always a man. Even though it could’ve just as well been a woman,’ says Meeuwisse. ‘I want for more awareness amongst teachers. A small change can often go a long way in working with the variety of talents of our students.’

  • NAME: Marieke Meeuwisse (40)
    STUDIED: Psychology (Utrecht University) and Sociology (Erasmus University Rotterdam). Received her doctorate in Educational Sciences at EUR.
    TITLES: Assistant professor pedagogical and educational Sciences (Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences), Comenius teaching fellow (Comenius Netwerk), coordinator of Erasmus+ Strategical Partnership on diversity and inclusivity in higher education (#Ibelong). Research fellowship with the Community for Learning and Innovation (CLI).