11 jul 2017

Are you diverse yet?



What goes around comes around. Life moves in circles: there’s a beginning, and an end, and another beginning, and on it goes. With TAUU having completed its first five-year cycle, we thought it’d be a good opportunity to look at new beginnings. And one of those new beginnings could be the obligation/opportunity/chance to become ‘diverse’ – whatever that may be.

So – TAUU’s lustrum (26 June at UCU) stood under the sign of ‘being diverse’. Debbie Cole kicked off the meeting with an exciting experimental presentation. No, not a lecture on why we must become or be more ‘diverse’, and how to achieve that. Rather on the contrary. The presentation consisted of three short (10 min.) cycles, all quite entertaining, none with an explicit message. Let me give you a brief impression.

Cycle # 1, on ‘the who of being diverse’, started with a small story and a little play, and it promised the audience that the session would not get heavy. “Keep it light, keep it moving”, thus spoke Thom York, and light it was, if also confusing. When the first cycle had ended Debbie asked: ‘What did you observe?’ And I said: ‘Where are we going?’ And she said: ‘Good!’

Cycle # 2. Another story. ‘Daddy look!’ (on the ‘what of being diverse’). This session contained snippets of language theories. How do we learn, how do we communicate? Jan ten Thije gave a brilliant demonstration of two people speaking in different languages, explaining to one another what they see on a chart (while not being able to see each other). And I was thinking: Is the idea that language itself be understood as a metaphor or as a model of diversity?

Cycle # 3, on the how of being diverse. Students of Debbie gave examples from their work in sociolinguistics. Communication by living organisms. The sheer number of ideas, dazzling, confusing, some of which I could follow, some I could not. The moral of the story is the moral of the story. ‘So how did we do?’ Debbie asked.

Well, here is one thing I picked up. There is so much you can learn from one another, so much you can do with one another.

Then there were workshops, and the one that I attended was titled ‘InclUUSion’, chaired by Noortje van Amsterdam, and had to do with how Utrecht University provides opportunities for refugees to attend classes. Several refugee-students shared with us their experiences. Some good, some not so good. ‘It strikes me that students don’t often ask questions,’ one of the participants observed. ‘Is it because they don’t dare ask questions, or it that specific of the academic culture here?’

Perhaps we should take that point seriously. Ask. Ask more. What else is there to do? Let me ask you – reader – are you diverse yet? Tell me! I want to know!


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