Lena Volmer:
Valedictorian Address 2015

student diversity at LUC

Lena Volmer delivering her valedictorian address in the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague, 3 July 2015.

Lena Volmer delivering her valedictorian address in the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague, 3 July 2015.

You may say that I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope one day you'll join us
And the world will be as one.

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You see, I love John Lennon singing these lines
but it is comparatively easy
to demand others to dream further and join you in your ideal world
when you're a privileged white male in this world
leading peace marches rather than being the one that needs saving.

 

So when I was preparing this talk
and this song came on
I realized: I am not much better.
At least I can play the girl card,
but I am getting this traditional price
and finishing a degree at an exclusive international honors college
which tends to reflect my merit, maybe
but certainly my class and ethnicity.

 

What I am trying to say:
I am so grateful for this price.
But with this song in mind
I also know that it only truly means something
once anyone, no matter their money or race or religion or love,
can have equal opportunity of getting into this university
and winning this price
if they want and work for it.

 

And I understand
how comparatively easy it is
for me to criticize from my privileged position
and we can discuss the nuances of that later at the bar.

 

But I would like this speech
to be another attempt
at starting a conversation about diversity in our community
and how to break down the barriers to access and success for some of those potentially great LUCers out there.

 

I believe there are two major arguments
for a diverse and inclusive campus:

 

First: diversity and inclusion are not a threat to excellence, they facilitate excellence.

 

Research from fields like behavioral sciences, psychology and sociology show that
expanding and engaging with diversity

 

(by which i mean those personal and social or group differences
between people, such as individual experiences, race, age, ability or gender)

 

enhances academic learning
intellectual growth
and the development of social and leadership skills.

 

People from different socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds hold
statistically significant different views and opinions
with regards to central societal issues,
like the death penalty.

 

The literature explains these differences
by students' particular socialization and personal experiences
that tend to be shaped by the particular social groups they belong to.

 

Being exposed to different views and opinions,
in the classroom or on campus
challenges our automated behavior
confronts us with our bias
and can thus correct long-held prejudices or assumptions.

 

It improves student performance in all fields of study.

 

In addition:
psychological research uncovered that
when students pertaining to a compositional majority
are confronted with the opinions of students from a minority group
cognitive complexity is stimulated among majority opinion members.

 

In short: when you throw a bunch of different students together in a room
and facilitate discussion
you stimulate complex thinking
and make everyone learn from one another

 

A crucial caveat to this:
the magic of diversity does not happen
by changing the numbers and recruiting a few “different” students here and there.
Especially because it is easier to recruit some types those “different” groups

than others.

 

Diversity scholars stress that there need to be structures for inter-group interaction
where every students input is valued
and students can develop empathy and an understanding for one another's story.

 

Without these structures,
there is a risk for increased bias,
a stereotyping of underrepresented minority groups
and a hardening of socialization barriers along racial and socioeconomic lines.

 

Researchers suggest to organize
classes about diversity and
intentionally diverse campus living for at least one year
support for diversity groups
and symbolic action
like prices for diversity engagement.

 

LUC is actually doing very well in this regard:


we have an entire major dedicated to the issue of diversity
we live on campus where students are mixed on their floor based on sex and nationality
where activities are organized to bring those students together
and we award community engagement with a global citizenship award.

 

What we are missing is a diverse student body.

 

The second major argument:

I believe that LUC has a social and political responsibility
to ensure the equal access and success
for all students with the potential of becoming great LUC members.

 

It comes with the fancy words
that we decorate our website and mission statement with,

 

It is part of our membership in the Dutch University College Network
that praises itself to educate a diverse cross-section of the global youth
and it is part of the public tax money
that helped build our massive tower in the city centre and supports the teaching, research and community we experienced.

 

We know that
race, gender, disability, or economic standing
influence who knows about,
applies to
and succeeds at this and other universities.

 

We know that
without actively investigating and monitoring our current student performances,
expanding our recruitment efforts,
or providing financial aid,

the default
of a private international honors college
with institutional fees,
that are even higher for non-europeans

 

is a predominantly white and rich college
which reproduces social hierarchies and exaggerates social stratification
instead of offering a chance for social mobility.

 

What a waste of opportunity and talent!

 

So, let's wake up

from the dreams of an LUC on paper.

 

If there is one thing I have learned in my International Development minor
it is that path dependency kicks in early on.

Those nasty feedback mechanisms
that make it harder and harder to return to a choice you could have made

but didn't.

 

We need to understand who studies at LUC.
We need to expand our scholarships.
We need recruitment efforts focusing on students other than those at boarding schools
and recognition for students that have fought the odds

 

Because we do have the potential.

 

And there are already many students, professors and administrative staff
working on making it a reality,
whose efforts I do certainly not want to discredit. They are working so hard.

Let's just add the alumni of 2015 to that list.

 

I think it is about time.

 

Our graduation marks the 5th year of LUC's existence
and we were often held back with the words
that this was just the early stage
that we were the gunny pigs for an LUC to come
that we should trust its potential
and accept it as the bumpy road to the LUC we have on paper

 

We did, supported, accepted, adapted.

 

But now it is time for us
to ask for those words to be put into practice

 

To use the weight of our now-alumni voices
and maybe, hopefully soon, alumni income
to demand that the LUC we fought for in small ways
with bicycle shed revolutions
or petitions to keep our favorite barista, Astrid,
actually becomes true.

 

So, Imagine all the people sharing all the world

and in the LUC community

You may say that I am a dreamer,

but I am sure I am not the only one.