Illustratie DUB

‘I’m calling for a spirit of openness in classes’

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“I feel like in some classes, I’m only learning half-truths,” says second-year student of Language & Culture Sabine Persijn. She feels political correctness gets in the way of true discussion sometimes. She’d like to view both sides of the story from a scientific angle. This is her story, inviting debate.

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My name is Sabine, I’m 20 years old, and I’m originally from Nijmegen. I vote for GroenLinks; I’m a left-wing student of Language and Culture who despite all of this still experiences patronising behaviour at Utrecht University. When DUB posted its article a while ago calling for people to send in their experiences with patronising behaviour at the university, I immediately felt like I just had to send in my thoughts. I recognised so many of the things that were mentioned as examples in that article. I thought: finally, here’s a way to express my opinion in a different way than the usual ‘talking my friends’ ears off’.

Learning how to be the most politically correct in our current society

It started in my first year, when I took a course called Introduction to Gender Studies. I felt uncomfortable in the workgroups: like I couldn’t just say whatever I wanted to, because some remarks or questions would immediately be condemned as being racist or sexist. I felt like many things were only presented from a single point of view, which gave the course an ideological character. I’d think it’s important that when discussing such a relevant, sensitive topic like gender, there’s enough room for discussion and variation, instead of just learning how to be the most politically correct in our current society.

You can divide everyone as being either ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed’

The course also highlighted the term intersectionality. That means we shouldn’t see racism and sexism etcetera as separate issues, but as interconnected. This is because the experiences of, for instance, a black woman could differ greatly from those of a white woman, because the black woman experiences racism and sexism as intersection of oppressions.

I don’t want to say I disagree completely with intersectionality, because it sounds entirely logical that there’s an intersection of experiences, but I do feel that if you take this concept too far, you can divide everyone as being either ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed’. This creates a culture in which the most oppressed person – let’s say the black, disabled, transgender woman – could very easily shut up her oppressor – let’s say the white, western, straight man – with the argument of ‘but you’re white/straight/male, so what do you know’. That means you could never really have a true discussion, because we’re always looking first at what kinds of privileges someone has, and then we judge, based on those aspects of someone’s identity, whether we’ll listen to someone or not.

t’s an exaggeration to label all FvD voters as racist and sexist

A while ago, I went to a lecture called ‘Against Identity Politics’, by American sociologist, political scientist, and philosopher Francis Fukuyama (video). He shed new light on the concept of identity politics to me. Left-wing parties focus more and more on (consistently growing) groups of minorities, who all want their dignity and unique experiences to be recognised in our society. Right-wing parties focus more and more on the people who experience that these minorities, like migrants, endanger their own wellbeing and dignity. That can lead to racism, says Fukuyama. Except I think it makes sense that people feel this way and then vote for someone like Thierry Baudet; they finally feel heard, there’s someone willing to listen to them. I don’t mean to say I agree with Thierry Baudet, but I do feel it’s an exaggeration to label all FvD voters as racist and sexist. Instead of doing that, we should learn to understand why they choose to vote this way.

The identity politics Fukuyama discusses are, I feel, maintained by Utrecht University. And that puts a certain pressure on students’ opinions. One example of patronising comes from a friend of mine who took a course on French language acquisition. She had to learn all kinds of sentences in French about ecology and sustainability, with the message that you have to take care of the earth. She experienced this as being patronising, because she felt like there was no option of disagreeing with this opinion. In my opinion, she’s right to experience this as patronising towards her! I’m seeing this left-wing tunnel vision in so many courses. Whenever Trump comes up in class, people laugh (a little stilted if you ask me). Every time the topic once again turns to ‘white supremacy’, ‘othering’, or ‘orientalism’, I thought: ‘here we go again…’. I mentioned this to the teacher of a theatre course I was in, and she responded: ‘but right-wing people don’t concern themselves with art and culture, right?’ I thought this was odd and a huge generalisation.

I want to break out of that left-wing bubble

Are you wondering why this bothers me so much? I thought long and hard on how to answer that question, because in principle, I agree that it’s a good thing to draw attention to the environment, and that people criticise capitalism and heterenormativity. But my conclusion would be that I feel like I’m only learning half-truths. I want to break out of that left-wing bubble so that things don’t come as a shock to me as much – like how it was shocking to many people when Trump became president. So I feel like I’m not learning the full picture, which makes me unprepared for the world after university, in which there are plenty of people who feel Trump is a great man. So I’d love to see someone stand in front of a class once who has a different point of view. Because if you’re living in your own bubble – often strengthened by social media, where you only follow like-minded people – that just increases the division between ‘left’ and ‘right’. And isn’t that something we really should avoid in these times?

We’re drifting further and further apart

Recently, press organisation NOS published an article that said research shows people in the Netherlands experience more and more polarisation. We’re drifting further and further apart. There’s a lot of aggression, and because of it, not much room for nuance. People should be more open to each other’s opinions, and stop blaming each other. We have to aim for equality instead of emphasising the differences. We have to learn to understand and respect each other, instead of building walls around us and not talking to other people. There can’t be a debate without highlighting both sides!

Again, this is not like a hotline for ‘left-wing indoctrination at university/in education’. Students are adults who can reflect critically on points of view by themselves. A hotline like that is ridiculous of course, but I am calling for a spirit of openness in class, in which multiple points of view are presented seriously. Utrecht University is definitely a left-leaning place and that’s fine, but it shouldn’t pressure students.

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