Letter to the editor: ‘Wageningen, cherish your activists’

Scientsts 4 Future wonder what exactly WUR is afraid of.
This Tuesday afternoon, the Ceres statue in the Atlas hall was also blindfolded. The sheets of paper read: ‘This is a climate emergency’ and ‘Why study if WUR doesn’t listen to the educated? Signed by Scientists Rebellion. Photo Resource

Spontaneous protests prohibited, we read in Resource. Several sweet, creative protests, such as pop-up gardens and a blindfold around the head of a statue on campus, have been cleared before students and staff could take notice.

No action is allowed on campus without consultation, for reasons  that have to do with “safety”. And for that reason, a cozy pop-up ‘parklet’ (which students spent weeks building) is immediately cut in half? What is the danger of a blindfold around the sower (it is a statue made of stone!) or a mobile garden in a parking lot? What actually compromises safety is intensive use of cars and our addiction to fossil fuels. And the consequences of climate change are, of course, even more drastic, especially for the generation who are rising up now to redirect their own future.’

As a society, we are obsessed with productivity

‘As a society, we are obsessed with productivity. Most people are far too busy with daily concerns to think critically about our future. That is precisely where our role as universities lies, as breeding grounds for new and different ideas. With every step you take on campus, you should be stimulated and have the space to engage in conversation. Instead of sabotaging their projects, we should consider the point that students are trying to make.

With all that students in Wageningen read and learn about climate change, the environment and decolonization, it is surprising that the students’ actions are so loving and poetic, harnessing the power of imagination to prove a point. So we wonder what exactly WUR is afraid of.’

It is not the students who instill fear but the mirror they hold up to us

‘Precipitating protest is something we usually know from authoritarian regimes with a certain fear of their own people. But this does not seem to be the case here. Our hypothesis is the opposite. It is not the students who instill fear but the mirror they hold up to us. After all, many of us working in Wageningen know very well that we must do everything we can to make the transition to a much more sustainable society. We also know that universities with their knowledge and free thinkers can help accelerate these kinds of change processes, or even should lead them. When we look in the mirror that the students hold up to us, however, we also see the two-faced Janus head of the university: the organization in which we seek change toward a better future is also very good at legitimizing and perpetuating the status quo. Then the label #1 most sustainable university in the world also loses a bit of its luster.

Protest is a communication tool that questions what we take for granted, especially for groups and people who do not feel heard in other ways. This is something the university should welcome, rather than punish. Our emphatic call from Scientists 4 Future: WUR corporate, stay with the trouble and look in the mirror a little more often.

Anne-Juul Welsink
Martijn Duineveld
Ignas Heitkönig
Susanne van Donk
Anatol Helfenstein
Chloé Tavernier
Geert Aarts
Joke Luttik
Chrysanthi Pachoulide
Daniela Requena Suarez
Benedikt Haug

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