Diverse. If there is one word that pretty much sums up the student population at Erasmus University, it must be that. Still, there is a lot to be done when it comes to connecting that diverse population. That is why, starting this year, Erasmus has set up a student board that will undertake several initiatives with the goal of working towards an inclusive student community. Meet the very first Diversity Student Board, consisting of Kimberly Walden (28, Social Sciences) and Jursica Mills (26, Health Policy & Management).
Why is a Diversity Student Board necessary?
‘We have a very diverse student population, but they don’t really mix. Student associations attract certain groups and many students with a non-western background don’t feel part of a larger EUR community. We want people to mingle again and involve them in achieving an inclusive student community. Inclusive of everyone: not just different cultural backgrounds, but also different sexual orientations, genders, and different levels of physical ability.’
Erasmus University already has a Diversity Office. What do you think you as students can add to that?
‘We’re students so we mingle with students, we’re right in the middle of everything. We hear the conversations that are going on, and we also notice that some fellow students don’t feel involved in the community, even if they don’t say it in so many words.’
How important is it that all students feel included in the EUR-community?
Jursica: ‘I discovered myself how important that is. Before coming here, I studied medicine for a while. And I didn’t feel very welcome. I felt like a number. A professor that had been teaching me for weeks just walked past me when I approached him. I think that if I had participated more, if I had joined a student association for example, I would have felt different and maybe I wouldn’t have quit.’
‘When I came here, I came just to study. But I soon discovered that if you start to mingle and participate in boards, associations or councils, you really get a lot more out of your study period. This is one of the most important periods in your life. You’re here to grow up and develop as a person. Studying is way more than just passing classes. But a lot of people with a non-western background don’t realise that. And that is such a waste.’
Why did you decide to take part in the Diversity Student Board?
Kimberly: ‘From the moment I started studying here I saw that the different groups didn’t really mix. I also noticed that non-western students were not participating in activities or parties organised by study associations. You seldom see people with a non-western background in Faculty Councils or the University Council, even though these councils should be representative of the university as a whole. I myself was looking to join an organisation, but I didn’t really feel at home at any of them, I felt I had an entirely different culture.
‘Finally I decided to join the programme committee and Faculty Council and starting talking to students about what was holding them back. I realised that a lot of non-western students had a certain image of study associations that made them reluctant to join. They were afraid it was just about partying and alcohol and that you have to adjust to that in order to fit. In truth, most organisations have a lot more to offer. Last year I joined the University Council, and while I don’t drink I had a great time when we went on a group weekend.
‘I felt that it’s important that non-western students know that there is a lot more space for diversity in student associations and boards than they think. So when the Diversity Office asked me if I was interested in joining this board, I immediately said yes.
Jursica: ‘When I joined the Faculty Board, that was because I was just taking one course and I figured I should do something useful with my time. So I started looking for activities. I had no idea what the Faculty Board entailed, but because I always have an opinion about everything, and I figured I should put it to good use. And it really made me feel more involved – and I realised what a shame it was that so many people don’t do this. When I discovered that we had a Diversity Office, I approached them to ask whether I could help. That’s how I came to join the Diversity Student Board.’
What do you have planned for the coming year to start achieving your goals?
‘Concretely, we want to organise events to activate students, organise dialogue sessions, work together with recruitment organisations. We also want to work together with organisations throughout the country and share knowledge and experience concerning diversity.
‘Most importantly, we’re involving everyone: students, student associations, employees, the entire EUR population. A lot of student associations and councils want to attract a more diverse crowd, but they don’t know how. That is also why we are here, to help find the right strategy to achieve this.’
‘Everything you learn here, you take with you when you start working. That’s why we hope that later this year, we haven’t just influenced students but also future employees and employers.’
Do you have some last advice for your fellow students?
‘We’re from Rotterdam, we’re outspoken people. We can’t imagine that you don’t have something to say. Erasmus is a quite inviting university. If you want to change something, you can. We’re just here to show you that there is enough space to be yourself and say what you want.’