"Friends' Man" and Rotterdammer Stephan van Baarle fights against inequality and exclusion with DENK

Spark interview with Member of the House of Representatives & alumnus.

Stephan van Baarle learned about inequality and exclusion during his Sociology studies at Erasmus University. These are themes that are close to his heart. Stephan comes from Rotterdam-Zuid, and with that background, it is not always given to pursue a university study. Stephan says, "In Rotterdam-Zuid, you experience the inequality in the Netherlands up close. I want to make a difference, and that's why I chose politics." In 2016, he contributed to drafting the election program for the newly founded political party DENK. He is now a member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the same party.

Besides his political role, Stephan is a music lover, a passionate Feyenoord supporter, and a true friend to many. "Friends are essential to me. My friends are not afraid to speak the truth to me, and I appreciate their different perspectives. I'd rather have that than face scrutiny in the Parliament because of blind spots. I'm not into superficial social contact; friendship should be enduring to me. I've known some of my friends my whole life." With a wink, he adds, "When I'm elderly, I want to be able to call someone for a game of billiards."

Social Polarisation

Stephan's background, environment, and historical events have shaped him into an advocate for equal opportunities and an inclusive society. As the child of a Dutch mother and a Turkish father, he experienced events like 9/11 and the rise of Pim Fortuyn at school in Rotterdam-Zuid. He saw how these events affected the dynamics in the classroom. Suddenly, friends and classmates looked at each other differently. "I witnessed those divisions based on origin and religion in my classroom. Why did it suddenly become essential to emphasize 'Stephan the Turk' as part of my identity? I cannot stand social polarisation. Everything in me tells me that I need to do something about it in my life. I want to stand up for equal opportunities and prevent exclusion in the Netherlands because I know what it does when people are treated unequally. It starts with children at school who can't participate in gym class simply because they don't have gym clothes."

Under advising

Stephan firmly believes that treating people unequally is a violation of human rights. However, this inequality is not always visibly clear, making it challenging to address. In education, for example, there is sometimes unconscious 'under advising': children from lower-educated and low-income families are judged differently than children from wealthy, highly-educated families. Stephan hopes that with overarching policies from The Hague, they can combat the multi-headed monster of unequal opportunities. "Allowing inequality to persist is not only harmful, but it is also unnecessary and leads to untapped potential in the Netherlands. It is in everyone's interest to prevent people from being sidelined because of their race, origin, sexual orientation, or religion," says Stephan.

Social Constructivist

According to Stephan, the Netherlands still has a long way to go when it comes to equal opportunities and preventing exclusion. He believes that the foundation of this debate lies in the perception of identity. "Is the Dutch identity something fixed and unchangeable? Or do we, as residents of the Netherlands, shape that identity in interaction with each other? I am a social constructivist. I believe that we collectively form our identity rooted in our constitution." According to Stephan, politics is not just about distributing resources, power, knowledge, and money. It is also about what the Netherlands is, who the Dutch are, and inclusivity. It is not surprising that a boy from Rotterdam-Zuid highlights these crucial matters in a place where the established class is well represented. Stephan says, "We need to engage in dialogue with people affected by our political decisions. They should also have a say! But too often, they are not invited to the table in The Hague."

Continuously Questioning

 Stephan looks back fondly on his time at Erasmus University. "Through the Sociology of Science course, I learned not to take anything for granted and to remain critically questioning. I believe that's an essential attitude in politics. It helps me identify flaws in existing policies. With that attitude, we addressed discrimination in the labour and housing markets through legislative changes." The art of asking unbiased questions is something Stephan wishes for all Sociology students. He knows from experience that this fundamental attitude can take you far in the field. "Having completed this program at EUR gives you an edge. I want to tell students, " make the most of your education!"

More information

This interview is part of Spark. With these interviews, we aim to draw attention to the positive impact of the faculty's education and research on society. The stories in Spark give an insight into what makes ESSB students, alumni, staff and researchers tick.

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