MAASTRICHT. Zwarte Piet is racist. That is now Maastricht University’s official viewpoint. On 10 June, prompted by the worldwide protests against racism, the Executive Board published a statement, in which it refers to the “diverse and inclusive” character of the UM.
“We are proud of our students and staff who stand up, who speak out against racism, who listen to and are open for what others have to say. The Executive Board stands behind them and beside them” and is “against all forms of racism, unequal opportunities and also Zwarte Piet”.
Until now, the Board had refused to make such a statement on St. Nicholas’s servant, in spite of urgent requests to do so from a group of students united under the name of Maastricht Students Against Zwarte Piet. The Board, and in particular rector Rianne Letschert to whom a petition was presented early in 2020, did not want to promise more at that time than that the UM would warn international students in the period around the feast of St. Nicholas that they might be confronted by Zwarte Pieten in town. Furthermore, it was made clear that no more Zwarte Pieten would appear in university buildings. This had already been standard practice since 2010, albeit not because of objections against the alleged racist nature, but because the Board’s secretariat could no longer organise the visits by St. Nicholas and Pieten to all university buildings.
The UM hardly ever expresses an opinion in public discussions on controversial issues. In a very recent interview in Elsevier Weekblad (30 May 2020), rector Letschert, for example, stated that she declined the role of “moral judge”. In the past, the Executive Board has been asked to boycot tech firm HP because of disputed policies in the Israeli-occupied territories. The Board was also asked to sever its ties with pension fund ABP because of its investments in fossil fuels. Letschert in EW: “As if I should be a judge in all conflicts and problems of the world. It is my task to organise a debate in which various perspectives are represented.”
What is the reason for this statement in the Zwarte Piet discussion? The rector was not available for comment.