“UM should not say that Zwarte Piet is racist”

25-06-2020

MAASTRICHT.  University Council member Sjaak Koenis feels that the university should not involve itself in political discussions. The Executive Board is doing that by saying that Zwarte Piet is racist.

Koenis rapped the board’s knuckles during the last University Council meeting regarding the list of announcements from the Board to the Council. “We are against all forms of racism, from opportunity inequality to Zwarte Piet,” the document stated – which was intended to draw the Council’s attention to an e-mail address for complaints about racism or ideas for a more diverse Maastricht University. “Why this statement at this time?”, Koenis asks somewhat irritated. “Like everyone else here, I am against racism, but I am teaching my students to understand both sides, without taking a position on the matter. That is our job as a university.” Where does the Executive Board draw the line when it comes to politics?

“That line is very clear,” President Martin Paul answers. “We don’t involve ourselves in matters that occur outside the university.” Over the past few years, the Executive Board has received “many comments from both students and staff about Zwarte Piet. Respecting diversity we say: ‘No Zwarte Piet’.”

In saying that, he left part of the question unanswered, because Zwarte Piet has in practice been out of favour at the UM for some time already. However, never before has it been declared ex cathedra that this figure is by definition racist. Nor has the debate on the subject outside the UM died down.

Koenis is also irritated by the fact that the university refers to itself as diverse. “International is not the same as diverse. These are mainly students from fortunate families.” In addition, he feels that the number of coloured colleagues and female professors is disappointing. It is “gratuitous” of the UM at this time to say that diversity is one of Maastricht University’s major strengths.