Steering Committee for initiatives regarding slavery past of Utrecht University

The Executive Board (EB) has decided to found a university-wide steering committee regarding the slavery past of Utrecht University (UU). The steering committee will have the assignment to connect and show various faculty initiatives. A budget of 75,000 euros has been set for 2023. Over the course of 2023, the steering committee will indicate what kind of budget will be required for 2024.

Study of slavery past and the role of Utrecht University

In 2021, a study on the city of Utrecht’s slavery past was published. The study showed that Utrecht University, too, has ties to slavery. The EB then asked a commission led by James Kennedy to advise on what UU must now do. Which role can UU play and does UU want to play in the further investigations and (internal) discussions on the colonial history of the city and the university itself?

Working out the activities

In February 2022, the advisory report was published. This was then discussed with the University Council and the Deans. All faculties received the request to internally discuss the report and work out plans of their own. They have worked very hard on that in the last period. The activities vary from a broad discussion meeting at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance (LEG) to appointing a research assistant who will carry out research at Geosciences.

’From all of us’

Rector Magnificus Henk Kummeling says: "As the EB, we didn’t want this to be a project of one faculty or researcher. It has to be something from all of us. I’m glad with how the faculties are rising to the challenge. And more is happening. For instance, I’m looking forward to the book that Henk van Rinsum is writing. The Centre for Academic Teaching (CAT) recently used the lustrum to bring attention to the importance of diversity, with a keynote by Bruce Mutsvairo and a workshop by Jeroen Janssen on an ’inclusive curriculum’." Other examples pointed out by the Rector Magnificus are the Decolonization Group of the Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges (UGlobe), and the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Office that seeks collaboration with the African and Caribbean Heritage Network in the run-up to Keti Koti 2023.


Kummeling says: "I understand there is now also a call for more coordination and collaboration. That is why the next step is the founding of a university-wide steering committee with a budget and official support, which connects the implementation and compares the plans to the report by the Kennedy Commission to see where any gaps may be and where additional effort is desirable. This way, we can really give shape to the ’accountability’ the Kennedy Commission is rightfully calling for."

List of initiatives

  • EDI sponsors and researches collaboration with the African and Caribbean Heritage Network in preparation in the run-up to Keti Koti 2023, among other things.
  • The CAT lustrum had Inclusive Education as its theme, with a keynote speech by Bruce Mutsvairo. Jeroen Janssen presented tools for an ’inclusive curriculum’. EDI will disseminate those tools university wide.

  • The University Library has carried out a first inventory of its collections. Besides that, the library has set up an action protocol and starting points, and founded an ’Origin’ Core Team  in order to respond effectively if there is any suspicion that a collection piece has a colonial context.

  • University Museum: will examine parts of the collection (including the Nias masks as a part of Pressing Matter).

  • Henk van Rinsum is working on a publication on the ’Colonial History of UU’. To be published in the upcoming year. Further reading in. 

  • UU Participates in the working group Academic Heritage of the Dutch Academic Heritage Foundation (Dutch name: Stichting Academisch Erfgoed, SAE), a working group investigating policy on how to deal with academic heritage regarding the colonial past; (UU is represented by the Centre for Science and Culture, specifically by Femke den Boer ).

  • Already organised various meetings, had a Tolerance Carousel during the LEG Impact Night.
  • Looks into the Pierson Chair (funded by a fund named after Nicolaas Pierson).

  • On 30 November 2022, there was be a Dean’s Dinner on the theme Slavery Past and UU and LEG. Guests from within and outside of UU. The events included a keynote by author Roline Redmond. Other dinner guests included James Kennedy, the Utrecht alderman who has the slavery past in his portfolio, Linda Nooitmeer (Nationaal instituut Nederlands slavernijverleden en erfenis) and Joyce Sylvester. Students will also be involved (including representatives of the African Caribbean Heritage Network UU and the School of Law because of doctoral research they are working on). The goal of the dinner was a brainstorm on how to be accountable, and how to do justice to this topic in education, research and impact. Now, and especially in the future as well. With concrete agreements.

  • School of Law students are working on research for articles, doctoral theses and presentations on the theme.
  • The theme will return on Dean’s Dinner 15 June 2023: what is the state of affairs? What have we done in concrete terms and what are going to do next?
  •  22 juni LEG: Summer Festival with various workshops on the theme.

  • There is a research proposal on " The role of UU Geosciences in the Dutch colonial and post-colonial order ". A PhD candidate will be recruited for this research.

    Students have internships (supervised by Leen Dorsman and Remco Raben ) as a part of the in-faculty plans for accountability on the intertwined histories of the university and slavery-based exploitation.
    A working group of staff and students of History and Philosophy of Science (Freudenthal Institute) led by Robert-Jan Wille is working on an inventory of the colonial past of the Faculty of Science since 1815, including the Utrecht Botanic Gardens. This encompasses both research and education. The working group focuses on all colonial connections, not just slavery. In early 2023, this working group will publish a report that will include recommendations for future steps.

  • The report has been discussed in the Faculty Council.

  • The Faculty Board has asked the Netherlands Society for Veterinary History (led by Emeritus Professor Peter Koolmees ) to explore persons, locations and expeditions of the faculty so they can make an inventory of what they are talking about in regards to Veterinary Medicine. This is because the Society has a well-kept archive they can use for this. The results of this exploration have since been delivered to the Executive Board, where the information from other faculties is also being compiled. Based on further conversations, we will decide as the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine on our next steps on how to do the research.
  • In the Faculty Council, a note on a concrete proposal for attention to the topic within FSBS was discussed.
  • This note has been sent to DUB earlier.

  • From the note: " The Faculty Board (FB) wants to give this report the attention it deserves, and implement the recommendations as much as possible. A complicating factor in this is that the faculty itself did not exist before 1963, and as such was not involved in the rise of colonialism and slavery. Having said this, FSBS academics have done research in and with the former Dutch colonies. So that means the topic definitely matters to our faculty, too. "

    The concrete proposal is to organise an afternoon/evening on which former Executive Secretary Henk van Rinsum will place the report in a broader context, and to have conversations with each other after that.