‘The university must take a stand on #BlackLivesMatter and racism. Better still, this topic must be incorporated (even) more in its operations.’ Jerry Gumbs (28), student Environmental Sciences, posted this appeal on Saturday 6 June in the Facebook Group Wageningen Student Plaza. A few days later, a petition calling on WUR to investigate and address racism within the university has been signed more than 1200 times.
How were these last weeks for you?
‘I feel these past few weeks have been particularly tiring for black people because so much is going on suddenly. Things that were bothering us for a long time but that could not be discussed can now be voiced. Suddenly, people are listening to us. Since I have been an activist for a longer time, this does not bother me so much. For me, this is an intense time because I am getting so many reactions to what I share, and I want to respond to everything. It is draining to get the same questions constantly, and have to provide the same answers. But it is a beautiful, historical moment. It feels like a paradigm shift, a civic change, and this is energising.’
On Saturday 6 June, you posted an appeal on Wageningen Student Plaza. Why?
‘Throughout the world, companies and organisations are taking a stand. That is excellent, but these statements should not be empty gestures. Action is needed. I thought to myself: I love Wageningen, I love the university. I want my university to stand with us. I’m not saying WUR is not doing well; I think much is done right. But that doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. It is never a bad idea to say: “we oppose racism, and we are taking these steps to fight it.” In my post, I call on people to join us. Racism is very complex, and one person’s solution simply is not enough to solve this problem. I think the curriculum should address the role racism has in sustainability, climate change and so forth. Perhaps others will have more ideas.’
What was the response?
‘There was a lot of support. Not just from people in the comments, but also people sending messages, emails and replies from people within the university itself. The project leader of Diversity & Inclusion invited me to join other students to talk about how the university could support students in this respect. The idea of launching a petition popped up. Of course, there are always those who don’t understand, and even on Student Plaza, there are trolls. But in general, the response was positive.’
It is never a bad idea to say: “we oppose racism, and we are taking these steps to fight it”Jerry Gumbs
The petition was signed over 1200 times within a few days. What does the petition say?
‘Simply put, the petition calls on WUR to acknowledge systemic racism and to address it actively. For example, by investigating what role racism plays within the university, both in the curriculum and in the organisation. That investigation can then help change and refine policy where needed. There is almost always room for improvement with regard to racism and discrimination. This morning we emailed the petition to rector magnificus Arthur Mol. We also invited him to attend the Black Lives Matter protest in Wageningen that we are currently organising. More information on that will follow as soon as possible.’
There is to be a Black Lives Matter-protest in Wageningen?
‘We are currently in consultation with the municipality to get the required permits. We will have to take into account the corona measures. The wonderful thing about this protest is that it is not just students organising it, but also people that have lived in Wageningen for years. Everyone is working together to get it done. Normally, students and inhabitants of Wageningen don’t mix all that much. Now, it is wonderful to see such a tragic story bringing people together.’
Do you have any advice for people reading this and wondering how they can contribute?
‘Listen to people and believe what they tell you. Don’t place everything within your own framework. That you don’t have the same experience does not mean it doesn’t exist. Take note of your own privilege and work with that. Don’t be afraid to do your own research. I, too, continuously learn new things about sexism, homophobia and so forth. It’s all about the same principle: the balance of power within our society. Also, the petition can still be signed. The more signatures, the more the university will feel the urgency of addressing this issue.’
Reaction Louise Fresco
In response to the petition, Louise Fresco announced a diaogue. ‘At WUR we cherish diversity and reject all discrimination.