How the University of Amsterdam is tackling the social challenges faced by under-represented groups

University of Amsterdam

In the fourteenth of our interviews with key speakers who are presenting at SEC 11th -12th October 2018, Dr Anne de Graaf discusses the how the University of Amsterdam is tackling the social challenges faced by under-represented groups.

Dr Anne de Graaf is Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Amsterdam. Her field of research is peace and conflict studies. She holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and teaches Human Rights & Human Security; as well as Peace Lab at Amsterdam University College. She has written many books for adults, teens and children, some of which were based on interviews in post-conflict countries, where she has travelled extensively. Born in San Francisco, US, she attended Stanford University and has been living in the Netherlands for over 30 years.

What were your first observations when you took on the role at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in terms of diversity? Did you consider the too white and too Western accusation accurate?
Absolutely. We’re missing certain students and colleagues from under-represented groups. My initial observations were that the community was polarised about the pace and necessity of change.

Could you talk a little about some of the initiatives you have implemented since taking on the role, for example, the Academic Diversity Programme (ADP)?
For the academic year 2018-19, there are five priorities the CDO (Chief Diversity Officer) Team is working on with students, staff and the city of Amsterdam:


  • Academic Diversity Programme (ADP) (peer-to-peer academic mentoring programme)

Students and staff

  • Enhancement of reporting protocol and complaints procedure


  • Open Communication workshops for people in leadership positions (raising awareness about implicit bias and aggression)
  • More equitable selection, recruitment and hiring policies (proposed new selection process, review of policies re. pregnancy leave, permanent contracts, etc.)


  • Homework coaching in primary schools at pre-CITO level (in cooperation with partners from various Amsterdam communities).

The ADP was piloted by a student group, Amsterdam United, in the Social Sciences faculty last year and proved so successful that we’re expanding its reach to all seven faculties. Older students are paired with first-years who need academic and/or social mentoring to feel more at home at the UvA. Examples of students who have benefited in the past include first-generation and special needs students. The purpose of ADP is to support students in their own, unique way at the UvA, where everyone can be their unique self and where the diversity of people is used as a strength.

How successful has the ADP been so far in terms of creating a better understanding of the issues associated with diversity through dialogue?

The following is a quote from the coordinator for the ADP, Fatima Kamal, researcher and educator on the CDO Team: ‘The Academic Diversity Program (ADP) is founded on a pressing need. A large group of students struggle to find their way at the UvA because they don’t feel they belong. This leads to poor performance and dropouts. Some students smoothly go through their academic careers, while some face more obstacles than others. Some follow the traditional education route towards the university, while others have had to work their way up and eventually enter university with a propaedeutic diploma. However, not all students know that when entering university, other challenges await them. On the one hand the challenges of passing the courses successfully and on the other hand the personal and social challenges where students discover their identity, what kinds of people they want to have around them, how they develop themselves and also how they can feel at home at the UvA. Although there are a lot of initiatives that help students to pass their courses successfully, there are few initiatives that help them to fit in at the university. Thus, ADP was born: a mentor programme to help students feel at home at the UvA.’

What steps have you taken to improve the reporting protocol and complaints procedure?
There was a recognition that too few incidents were being reported, so the Executive Board has asked an outside company to conduct a Quick Scan of the procedure and determine its shortcomings. The shortcomings I am aware of are that not enough students and colleagues are familiar with the reporting protocol and it may also be that some people do not feel safe stepping forward to report people with authority over them. My team and I are in contact with various universities to research what can be done to improve the procedure at the UvA.

What have you learnt so far from the Open Communication workshops in terms of their awareness of bias?

That we all have unconscious bias and that this needs to be identified, articulated and compensated for. The conversation is crucial!

You can find out more about the STEMM Equality Congress here

You can find out more about Dr Anne de Graaf here