Last year on Purple Friday, I attended a session organized by our minor Diversity and Sexuality. The (now retired) lecturer welcomed me with a friendly question: “You are probably cisgender?” And I must admit: even though we had been talking about rainbow flags and activities regarding identity for several weeks, I had no idea what he meant. Clearly, I still needed to brush up on my knowledge of sexual and gender diversity.
What really stayed with me from that day were the conversations about how gender diversity was experienced at THUAS. The examples shared by students and colleagues touched me deeply. They explained that they felt safe at THUAS, but there were also examples of ‘funny’ jokes that weren’t really funny at all. And that when they made remarks about the inappropriateness of the jokes, it would only lead to more discomfort and misunderstanding. “You should be able to joke around, right?”.
Of course, more often than not, hurtful comments aren’t intended that way. But that doesn’t make them hurt any less. From the stories shared by our colleagues and students, an image emerged of a community that is open but lacks understanding of what is going on outside of the dominant culture. This is evident in the LGBTI+ community and all other minority groups.
But our open and diverse community is what I, personally, find so special about THUAS. Everyone, regardless of origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, of anything else, is welcome and can develop their own unique talents with us. Providing a safe environment is at the core of who we are, and a precondition for providing good education. It is one of the reasons that I fell for THUAS.
In higher education, the LGBTI+ community is still bullied and discriminated against more than non-LGBTI+. In a way, I was relieved that most of the stories were mainly about not being understood and not seeing yourself represented within THUAS and in education in general. There weren’t any examples of real discrimination or exclusion, though I am not so naive that I think this doesn’t happen at all at THUAS. We need to continue to improve our inclusive nature.
“Be yourself,” these words seem so apparent. It’s hard for me to imagine what it feels like to not be yourself. To have to pretend to be something you are not, or to suppress a part of yourself for fear that someone will reject you for who you are or who you love. That’s why I’m glad that we’re celebrating Purple Friday at THUAS again this Friday 10 December. It is our way of showing that our dominant culture is inclusive.
My purple scarf is ready.
Elisabeth Minnemann is president of the Executive Board of The Hague University of Applied Sciences.