A call for unity and understanding: open letter from the Executive Board

Main building VU Amsterdam
Main building VU Amsterdam
Dear students and colleagues,

The heartbreaking situation in Israel and the Palestinian regions has a profound impact, also within our VU community. As the Executive Board of VU Amsterdam, we feel the need to speak out about this, in addition to our earlier statement on this matter. Within our community we see that the various points of view surrounding this situation are evoking increasingly strong emotions. In addition to the concerns about the ongoing war, many of you feel a deep commitment, and a wish for safety. This situation affects us, both personally and collectively.

We think it is important that students and staff work together to collectively strive for connection. How we make this connection varies from person to person. While some opt for open conversations, others are overwhelmed by emotions and wish for support and acknowledgement of their grief. There is room and respect for all these differences. Our starting point here is that we, as a community, must commit ourselves to preventing polarization, in all forms, and to be there for each other in this difficult time. To prevent this war from dividing us.

As an academic community with a deeply rooted societal commitment, we understand that many of you, based on your academic knowledge and experience, want to do something and use this expertise to bring about positive change. We therefore think it is important to create space to discuss this with each other. This can also be a difficult dilemma at times, given the divisions. Where there is room for activism in the public space, we want to focus on a dialogue within the walls of the university. Dialogue that is aimed at sharing knowledge, increasing mutual understanding, by listening to each other. Guaranteeing (social) safety and preventing further polarisation within our academic community is a fundamental precondition for this. Activities should not contribute to insecurity, but rather to connection and support in the midst of these difficult times. Deliberately weighing these conditions takes time, which may mean that certain events may not take place, or be postponed. This is not unwillingness or censorship, as we share a common goal: a substantive, safe, and instructive academic debate. We are eager to find a solution together.

In various forums, we closely monitor to ensure that the academic environment remains a safe and respectful place, where openness and diversity are paramount. Our Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has drawn up a guideline for lecturers, which offers concrete tools to maintain the balance and give space to diverse points of view, with the aim of promoting a constructive conversation in the classroom. An additional guideline has also been established for (educational) gatherings to ensure this takes place in a dignified and respectful manner, with a focus on academic knowledge.

Especially in these times, we call for understanding and connection. Our university is a place where everyone should feel heard, and where respect for diversity is key. We are counting on you for this.

Margrethe Jonkman, Jeroen Geurts and Marcel Nollen
Executive Board VU Amsterdam