Enoch and Rüveyda are two of the eighteen master's students who participated in the Master Honours Programme Tackling Inequalities last academic year. He was a master's student in Urban Governance at Erasmus University Rotterdam from Germany; she is a medical student at Erasmus Medical Center from the Netherlands. In this interview, they talk about the value of this programme for students and the city. Enoch: "We all were humble listeners instead of ‘solutionists’, hearing what people in the neighbourhoods think and can teach us.”
Why did you apply for this Master's Honours programme?
Rüveyda: "I was looking for an opportunity to step outside the medical bubble and learn about society in a different light. It intrigued me that I could work with and learn from students from other faculties in a sociology-based programme. It was the perfect academic window to expand my horizons and see how Rotterdam truly functions, and what impact we as students can make in this city."
Enoch: "I agree. It looked like a great opportunity to better reach out to this city we are studying in, and which is the centre of our daily life. What a good way to meet a lot of new people from different disciplines, countries and walks of life!"
It indeed was a very mixed group, with students from ten different nationalities and seventeen different master's programmes. How did you experience this?
Enoch: "That was enormously enriching because you constantly get to look at things with different eyes. For example, on our trip to Lìege, we had some free time after the masterclass to roam around in the city. A smaller group sat together in a little vine bar, and one social-sciences person enthusiastically brought up how Dutch ID cards will soon become gender-free. Then a medical student sketched out how in an emergency situation in the Global South, for example, this information might actually be crucial for immediate and proper medical response. Our diversity gave typical conversations and talking points new spins. It humbled and sharpened our ways of sensemaking."
Rüveyda: "I am so grateful to have been a part of such a diverse, well-rounded and inspiring group of people. I have formed many genuine connections with people who have a completely different take on issues, who can voice many aspects of a challenge and yet have a similar vision for society in mind."
In what ways has this programme contributed to your development?
Rüveyda: "In the first weeks of the programme, I felt hesitant in sharing my thoughts. It almost seemed like I had to learn a new language to participate in the discussions on how Rotterdam has grown to be a post-industrial and super-diverse city, what that means for its citizens and how we can expect it to keep evolving. As our weekly workshops passed by, I did not only grow more comfortable speaking my mind, but I started taking the lead in the discussions I had with my peers."
Enoch: "For me, this programme has filled me with new hope. Until recently, much of the stuff we discussed in the programme was to be found only on the fringes of academia. When you brought it forward, people would perceive it as naïve, overly ambitious, or flat-out crazy. Now we were exchanging these things in an authentic and appreciative atmosphere – facilitated by our fantastic course guides. And we met plenty of people who not only do the talk but act on it. There are so many initiatives and engaged people whose projects let you glance into a more purposeful, happier and healing world – and we had the chance to be introduced to some of them."
You are hinting at the programme's masterclasses at different venues in the city. Which venue and guest speaker impressed you the most and why?
Enoch: "My absolute favourite was clearly at Wijkpaleis in Rotterdam West, a vibrant bottom-up neighbourhood centre. The people engaged over there expressed an inspiring, warm, and convincing sense of agency. Robbert de Vrieze, the guest speaker, shared a ton of concrete initiatives started in their neighbourhood revolving around energy, gardening, care work and networking. He also had a strong and soothing bullshit detector for when we, as an audience, tended to drift off into academic rambling.”
Rüveyda: "I was also very impressed with the Wijkpaleis. It was thrilling to see how so many layers of society blend so well in this space and to hear how they built this initiative from scratch. I was surprised to find out what a community is capable off when the talents of its residents are valued and seen. It really showed me what volunteering could do, how much it can provide a community and how essential it is to involve every one."
To what extent do you feel you helped tackle inequality in the city in this programme?
Enoch: "We all tackled the inequality between an observing campus and the ‘real-life out there’. First and foremost, we all were humble listeners instead of ‘solutionists’, hearing what people in the neighbourhoods think and can teach us. From that came the idea in our subgroup, concretely, to outline a process where the neighbourhood itself creates and prepares a tender for a renovation project, to have its own ideas and wants formulated and ready at hand before a potentially gentrifying wrecking ball appears and imposes change driven by profit-seeking."
Rüveyda: "My group and I worked on an urgency in a specific neighbourhood of Crooswijk. We noticed friction between the municipality and the residents because of a difference in perception of this neighbourhood. The municipality saw problems and a lack of participation from the residents. In contrast, the residents didn't seem to experience this at all and felt there was a loss of potential municipal interventions to improve their neighbourhood."
"So, the intervention we designed was a symbolic one that represented the need for tools and municipal support for the residents in order to be able to take ownership of their neighbourhoods. In this way, I feel I tackled inequalities by keeping an open mind while addressing something outside my sphere of influence and caring for it through the lens of the citizens that should be 'emancipated'."
Do you want to know more about the Master Honours Programme Tackling Inequalities? Take a look at the webpage and sign up (deadline: Wednesday, 6 December 2022, 23:59 hrs).