Lack of social security at WdKA, concludes report on inclusion

Published: May 11, 2022 • Reading time: 7 minutes and 36 seconds • News

The results of a study on ‘equality, diversity and inclusivity’ at the Willem de Kooning Academy are not good. In many ways, the academy is not the safe environment for everyone it wants to be.

‘Very painful’

The researchers used interviews and surveys to map how the WdKA community thinks about topics such as social security, accessibility, and recruitment and retention of staff and students, but also about transparency and communication.

‘Confronting’, says Education Director Miriam Bestebreurtje about the conclusions from the report. ‘I think we had heard very anecdotally, but the feeling of not feeling at home with students is very painful.’

‘If you have the feeling that you do not belong somewhere, you are not welcome, you experience things differently’

These are stories from both students and teachers. For example, from students who notice that literally all examples in the lesson are about white men, and as a result, they feel less at home and welcome. Or from a theory teacher in color who ‘obviously’ is confused with ‘someone from the office of inclusivity’. Or from students who notice that it seems okay to joke with their body because it does not fulfill the ideal of beauty. Or from someone who feels racially treated, thereby making the organization fully defensive. Or from students with a different cultural background who notice that teachers always expect their work to be about that.

‘If you have the feeling that you do not belong to a place, that you are not welcome, you experience things differently, for example feedback’, says Bestebreurtje about the feeling of insecurity. She concludes that although WdKA has become quite diverse in terms of influx, it is not yet inclusive. ‘When we pick up students with different backgrounds, they must also get understanding and support for what they need and have with them. Otherwise they will still fall away. ‘

Work in progress

The report is written by the two employees of the Inclusion Office (abbreviated O4i), who have been working since January 2021 on a three-part mission: to conduct research and provide policy advice, initiatives and projects in the fields of gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness (EDI for short, equity, diversity & inclusity) supports and launches, and offers a listening ear to anyone who encounters problems in this area.

‘You see it here across the industry’

Martis and Şahin had the advantage that they were new to the organization and got a very free and independent position. ‘That autonomy was seen as very secure,’ says Martis, ‘and we worked with the same mandate as confidential advisers, we work confidentially.’ It also helped that Şahin and Martis themselves know the problem and can interpret it with their research background. ‘The people who came to us liked that their stories also contributed to knowledge about the theme.’

‘It’s not something that only happens at WdKA, you see it in the whole arts and culture sector.’

These stories led to conclusions that are painful. Especially about the lack of security experienced. Martis is not shocked, she says. ‘It’s not something that only happens at WdKA, you see it in the whole arts and culture sector. The Rotterdam Arts and Culture Council has also submitted a report to it (see Social Security) and wondered: what is the cause of this uncertainty? To the cultural sector? A general lack of diversity or inclusiveness? But if you look at it in an intersectional way, you see that things reinforce each other. You make art and design with your whole personality, it is vulnerable, and therefore feedback or criticism can hit hard. ‘

‘Problem goes beyond personal attitudes’

WdKA has for a long time worked with the themes inclusiveness and diversity, for example, from 2013 to 2017 there was a lectureship on cultural diversity and work with inclusive pedagogy and with a more diverse admission, both in terms of students and staff.

In 2020, the subject became even more urgent, says head of education Miriam Bestebreurtje. Black Lives Matter also pointed strongly to institutional bias, a problem that goes beyond personal attitudes. It aroused the need in us to also look at an institutional level. ‘ As an example, she gives the questions that were previously asked in the recording, such as ‘what is your favorite artist’ and ‘how often do you go to museums’. If you did not have a satisfactory answer to that, you did not have a chance. ‘It seemed very exclusive, while saying nothing about your talent.’

WdKA created an action plan with the aim of achieving sustainable change in all areas – from curriculum to workforce. “But we thought the first step would be to examine the current status of these issues,” says Bestebreurtje. ‘We heard anecdotal stories from students from the different groups who dropped out, for example because they did not feel seen or taught too one-sidedly.’

Already started training

“During the investigation, we have does not nothing done ‘, says Bestebreurtje,’ we have already received a lot of information and have already started offering courses in e.g. inclusive pedagogy. ‘

Now that the report is there, it is a starting point for a larger plan. The WdKA management took a moment to respond to the report. The answer shows that the management unreservedly accepts the report as a wake-up call for the entire department.

‘Top-down access does not work’

The school management has deliberately (yet) not made a priority list from the dozens of recommendations in the report, which range from being more transparent about political choices, to signing accessibility pacts and from teaching ‘white supremacy’ beliefs to giving firm agreements. An important conclusion that the WdKA management attaches to the report is, according to Bestebreurtje, that a ‘top-down approach’ will not work. The people in the office of inclusivity are also real grassroots workers. We want that activism too. ‘

‘Elections are also about allocating money and time; we should all support that ‘.

We start with community talks’, says Martis. ‘We need to involve as many people as possible, it can only succeed if many speak out and also give critical feedback.’ Bestebreurtje: ‘The elections are also about allocating money and time; we should all support that ‘. Discussions on this will be organized with all kinds of stakeholders within (employees, students) and outside (the subject area, internships) the school. The process, Martis expects, will take at least a year.

To hear and acknowledge the other

Another important principle is that the report is an invitation to learn something. And so there is no stick to beat with. Bestebreurtje: ‘We say: we are going in that direction. But you get what you need. We asked teachers to formulate their own learning question instead of saying ‘everyone needs bias training’ or something like that. What we really need to grow into is hearing and acknowledging the other. For example, if someone responds to the wound, ask a question and do not go on the defensive right away. ‘

»Resistance is often an expression of insecurity, unrest. It’s exciting and will spread at times, but I think we’re ready. It will not be the motivation or character of the teachers; their inherent motivation is to help students move forward. They all have to think about that sometimes. As management, we must also take care of that. ‘

WdKA can play a pioneering role

Not all recommendations are within WdKA’s sphere of influence. For example, communication from HR is not yet gender neutral and (therefore) not very inclusive. ‘We do not take a position on that, but we can make HR aware of it’, says Bestebreurtje.

She also sees a pioneering role for WdKA in HR. ‘Our people are more engaged, more attentive, more critical and perhaps – because of the international students – also more aware of how far they are with this in other countries. We would like to share that knowledge. And one can see, for example, that the desire for more diversity in the confidential advisers has been taken very seriously by HR. ‘

‘It goes wrong when you centralize diversity work’

One of the things that Martis and her colleague Ali Şahin concluded in their work is that there is a lot of work past each other, people often do not know that they are doing similar things. ‘It’s going very wrong with the centralization of diversity work,’ she says of the central approach they’ve missed.

‘It will only work with enough hours, support and visibility.’

She emphasizes the importance of a sustainable and structural approach. She is very happy that she and Şahin have got a permanent contract after six months. “We are staying!” she exclaims. “People ask that too, they say, ‘We do not want you to go.’ She would rather expand the office with someone who can also have conversations, something that now takes a lot of time. This allows Martis and Şahin to free up more time for events and projects. ‘It will only work with enough hours, support and visibility.’

Stay relevant by representing multiple voices

In the end, the whole process should lead to a better academy, says Bestebreurtje. ‘The world of art and culture is still very homogeneous and no longer representative. It is or appears to be an inaccessible stronghold. We want to change that, because there are still students who could have made a fantastic effort. If we succeed in this, we can say that everyone is really welcome and that they will also have a much greater impact on Rotterdam. If we want to remain relevant, we need to represent many more voices. ‘

Also read:

Text: Edith van Gameren
Illustration: WdKA / editor Demian Janssen
photos: Levien Willemse

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