‘Awakening’ at the university: what do lecturers at Tilburg University notice?

The use of gender-neutral pronouns, the demand for fewer white men in the curriculum and more room for non-Western perspectives: The waking culture has permeated universities and colleges. Univers is excited about whether this also applies to Tilburg University and asked four lecturers: What do you notice about wakefulness at the university?

The word ‘awakened’ resonates throughout society. But what is it really? Anyone who is awake or awake is aware of social inequality. The eyes are no longer closed to discrimination, injustice and deprivation. However, the term is also used in a negative sense by groups that use it to indicate a culture of outrageous political correctness.

Woke is also increasingly the subject of discussions at and about universities. One believes that the recent sensitivity to injustice limits academic freedom, the other associates it with the younger generation’s self-conscious thinking. We asked four teachers from different faculties about their experiences with alertness. Speakers: Hans Siebers, Mariéle Wulf, Bram Peper and Wim Dubbink.

Hans Siebers, Associate Professor at the Department of Cultural Studies (TSHD)

Photo: Ton Toemen

“In 2019, I made a critical remark about the actions against Zwarte Piet, and then I was visited by a completely unannounced delegation from Kick Out Zwarte Piet (KOZP). I was invited to a meeting at the university, only later it turned out to be a meeting of the KOZP. There I was held to account and was told that I was not allowed to make such statements. Currently, Tilburg University has a similar issue regarding the artwork Black widow in the Dante building. The same unfounded interpretation as with Zwarte Piet was used. The image would also be one black face represent, and therefore must go.

“As a scientist, I deal with issues of racism, discrimination and exclusion in society, specifically in the labor market and education. As a result, I have to deal with activities that could roughly be classified as ‘awakened’. For example, I was at a meeting on racism in KNAW (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences ed.) In 2020, where awakened views were proclaimed under the KNAW banner. A clear starting point was central, namely that science would have been colonized. That would mean that ‘white’ people control science and impose their standards on science. And then there were calls for the decolonization of science. That means two things: First, replacing ‘white’ scientists with ‘color’ scientists or ‘black’ scientists. And in addition, measure scientific language, as it is used in articles and lectures, against the scale of racial ideology. Woke proclaims this race theory: to think in races as if there were ‘white’, ‘black’ and ‘colored’ people.

“I notice some vigilance in the education. But I do not see any students representing vigilant views.”

Hans Siebers

“Woke is also an ideology for rejecting contributions to scientific journals because they do not subscribe to that ideology. This is especially the case with research into discrimination, exclusion or inclusion; issues related to diversity and inequality. I write regularly about discrimination in society. My data from my own research shows that there is no racism in the Netherlands, but there is discrimination. Wake-controlled magazines, however, force you to adopt their racial ideology. I categorically reject that because thinking in races is a hallmark of racism. It is difficult to get scientific and analytical articles published in journals that use the awake ideology as a benchmark. It’s a violation of science.

“It is important to make students aware of the various relevant concepts. I teach my students to distinguish between racism, discrimination, nationalism, stereotypes and prejudice. And it is not always easy, because in the media, politics and in everyday language it is common to lump all these things together. In that sense, I feel something for vigilance in education. But I do not see any students representing waking views. I manage to keep the discussion scientific, analytical and conceptual. ”

Mariéle Wulf, Associate Professor at the Department of Systematic Theology and Philosophy (TST)

Photo: Maurice van den Bosch

“Awakening is a rather difficult job for a Catholic moral theologian in a so-called official education; education for a position within a religion. As a theologian or theologian, you are trained as a priest or clerical assistant. You then work for the Catholic Church, for example in a parish, hospital or prison.

“How you live and how you behave plays a role in this worship service: you must live by the norms and laws of the Catholic Church. These may be different from the rest of society. For example, if you live together without being married, you can follow the course, but you will not be allowed to work within the Catholic Church. The church does not support this lifestyle.

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Photo: Jack Tummers

“Homosexual orientation is not a problem as such. Anyone who feels homosexual is allowed to follow the entire education and can even become a priest as a man. But sexual intimacy is not allowed because a gay couple is not allowed to marry in the Catholic way. In my work at Tilburg University, I once experienced that a gay student was not happy with this teaching of the Catholic Church. For someone who disagrees, the church may not be a good employer. As a moral theologian, I must not proclaim any other content either, because I am bound by the curriculum established by the Catholic Church, that is, from Rome.

“Theology is open to anyone who is interested in taking courses. There are also students outside the faculty who find religious questions, ethical views and questions of meaning fascinating. In my ethics classes used, for example, there was one from medicine, and there was even a lawyer. They wanted to get a Catholic view on issues within their work. And their input and point of view was again enriching for the theologians.

“Existential issues can also evoke existential involvement. Wakeness asks me to give space and time for this after class. ”

Mariele Wulf

“It sometimes happens that someone says: ‘I think differently about that’. My trick is to make it practical. For example, by suggesting what abortion means for women. Is it really that easy to have an abortion? And is it really a relief for the woman? Then I leave the discussion to the class: Advocates and opponents enter into an independent discussion and must learn to sharpen their arguments. When the existential problem is then visible, the scientific state, the reasons why theologians, for example, are not proponents of abortion, gradually become understandable.

“Existential issues can also evoke existential involvement. Wakeness asks me to give space and time for this after class. Being emotional or abusive in class because someone else thinks it is not appropriate. This is about business and purely academic thinking. Wakeness prays for my listening ear, for appreciation of the collective sincere reflection: we are looking for the deeper and more comprehensive truth – as the Church has taught us. I like good discussions, it keeps me awake and I learn from it! ”

Bram Peper, Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology (TSB)

Photo: Ton Toemen

“I do not immediately see the awakened discussion in the Netherlands within Tilburg University and the Department of Sociology. It is true that there is attention to diversity and minority views, but sociologists do not really do anything else. Even the most conservative sociologists are aware of the different positions people occupy in society.

“We have a fairly diverse teacher population in sociology in terms of nationalities and the distribution between men and women, young and old. The student population is even more diverse, although white people are more represented in both cases. In lectures, one can no longer only come up with examples from Holland and Western Europe, given the diversity in the lecture hall.

“You notice that there is more discussion and aggression from society towards science. Despite the legitimate call for attention to diversity, tolerance for other, unwelcome sounds sometimes seems to diminish. “

bram pepper

“I regularly play the documentary in my lectures Codes for gender, this is about gender issues. The documentary is from 2010 and in recent years I have noticed that there is more discussion about being queer and non-binary. In their involvement or mission drive, the awake culture sometimes forgets the context of a particular situation, which threatens to lose the nuance of the discussion. Although I think sociologists are well trained in this. So I do not see any major problematic discussions popping up yet.

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Photo: Jack Tummers

“In any case, due in part to the vigilant movement, we keep thinking about the curriculum and the literature we offer. We try to do justice to the various voices in society. In recent years, I have also thought more about whether certain humor is still possible and whether one does not offend people with it. You must not hurt people unnecessarily. Everyone is more aware of what the other is saying.

“Of course, this also has to do with the #MeToo discussion. These phenomena cause people to constantly recalibrate. How do you talk to each other and how do you interact with each other? For example, you cannot take an oral exam with someone without it being recorded or accompanied by another teacher. What is new is that science itself has also become partially suspicious. One notices that there is more discussion and aggression from society towards science. Despite the legitimate call for attention to diversity, tolerance for other, unwelcome sounds sometimes seems to diminish. “

Wim Dubbink, Professor of Business and Organizational Ethics at the Department of Philosophy (THSD)

Photo: Ton Toemen

“Universities have always been a haven for discussions about social change. The awakened discussion is therefore not unique, but the expression is. Interest in some groups is new, there is now more attention for women, non-binary and transgender. Today, the Department of Philosophy and the university are very much focused on unwanted behavior and sexual harassment. There is also more interest in female researchers. What is also relatively new is the awareness of bullying behavior.

“The debate is ongoing, but the focus is shifting.”

Wim Dubbink

“As department chairman, I see that the attention to these subjects primarily comes from below. There is demand from the department for more female teachers and a more diverse curriculum where there is more interest in women, non-Western writers and mindsets. The university also asks for an interest in integrity from above. It includes a lot: being aware of sexual harassment, equal treatment and all forms of implicit prejudice. We also take courses in this.

“That discussion is ongoing, but the focus is shifting. Sometimes there is more interest in bullying, other times more in gender liberation. Last month, for example, a diversity committee was set up. In the classes it goes both ways. Sometimes you have students who says to teachers, “the curriculum is inappropriate because it is misogynistic and there are too many white philosophers.” On the other hand, there are also many students who give the backlash because, according to them, there is no attention to conservative voices or “Education is ideologically oriented. You can see that people quickly dig themselves in. Everything they disagree with, they call ideological. But then you quickly no longer have a dialogue.”

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