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In the last 48 hours, as protests flared up across the US and expressions of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement took over social media, voices from our community raised the question of diversity at the Design Academy. With this post we would like to directly address this topic and put some thoughts - and questions - on the table for all to consider.

First of all, we start off with a clear and unambiguous statement of our position: what these voices state is correct. The Design Academy is not a diverse school. It does not accurately reflect the society it exists within, let alone the planet more broadly. This is all the more serious given that the Academy prides itself in a definition of design inspired by openness, democratic decision-making, social inclusion and inclusivity. It has always aspired to be a beacon of these values on the international stage, and in that it is not currently succeeding.

We must do more, and do it now.

While making this statement, and living up to our failings, it is crucial that we do not trivialise the problem. Achieving equal representation and true diversity in institutions built on a tradition of systemic inequality and exclusion is not a trivial issue that can be reversed with the flip of a switch. Overcoming it is the product of myriad small and large decisions at every level of society. To discount how difficult it is to eradicate, to expect it to disappear without sacrifices, is to surrender to its continued existence: a lack of diversity on the local scale is hardly surprising in a world in which health, safety and most importantly education is the privilege of such a small percentage of humanity. To demand an end to racism and discrimination is utterly pointless without demanding an end to the extreme (and growing) inequality that defines the world in which we today live.

This is not to say that there is nothing we can do, or that nothing is being done. The barriers that stand between us and those that would make the DAE truly diverse are not purely financial, but money is one of the greatest challenges. The erosion of public investment in education makes it difficult to fund scholarships internally, and at the same time educational institutions in the Netherlands can’t easily raise private funds. This is a reason why we are looking into possibilities to establish a parallel foundation aimed at offering financial support to financially challenged applicants. Since sufficient educational preparation is frequently a challenge to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, in September we will launch a program of pre-education that will make the Academy’s programs accessible to a more diverse range of applicants. The topic of diversity is addressed at almost every meeting with the student body, and every possible action that allows us to promote diversity within the school is supported.

This is not to exculpate ourselves in any way - the images we have seen in the past days are a graphic reminder that cannot be ignored that we are doing too little. This is the most urgent challenge we face, and we must do more. As a school, we must ask ourselves on every level what we are willing to sacrifice in order to confront this crisis. As your leadership, we are often called to make difficult decisions about what is most urgent - and now we hear your voice, and we understand diversity is a clear priority. While we operate within tight constraints, we pledge to do everything that is possible to achieve concrete improvements in a short timeframe. At the same time, we ask you, as students, to remember that you have considerable means at your disposal to influence the decisions that are made within the school through the established channels of representation — especially through the Student Council, which is a powerful platform for constructive involvement in the choices that are made. You are right to be angry right now, as we all should be. Then comes the moment to act - not in anger, but with calm, uncompromising determination, with lucid awareness of the true scale of the problem we face.

Joseph Grima
Raf De Keninck
Mechtild van den Hombergh

Executive Board, Design Academy Eindhoven

Published: 03-Jun-2020 19:00

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