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Foto: Munir de Vries

With the Decolonization Toolkit you can decolonize yourself and the UvA

Mella Fuchs,
5 oktober 2021 - 16:58

Today the Chief Diversity Officer Team launches the Decolonization Toolkit, a virtual toolkit full of tips and materials to decolonize yourself and the university. According to Janissa Jacobs and Alfrida Martis, team members of the Chief Diversity Officer Team, the toolkit is the product of a bottom-up demand. ‘There is a desire to increase diversity literacy, but people often don't know where to start.’

The great demand for diversity education is evidenced by conversations the Chief Diversity Office (CDO) has had with staff and students, the CDO-employees say, as well as by the fact that Jacobs and Martis’ trainings have been fully booked for three years. They give custom made diversity workshops at the UvA. But workshops are not the only means of increasing diversity, as there is a barrier for some to participate, the duo says. To reach as many people as possible, there is now the Decolonization Toolkit, which you can use whenever you want.

Foto: Alfrida Martis

With the toolkit, Jacobs and Martis aim to provide the answers to all questions surrounding decolonization. Decolonization is understood by the authors as making visible and promoting perspectives and frames of reference besides the Western, rational position. In doing so, it is no longer considered the sole and superior framework, or way of analysis and thinking. In the toolkit, the decolonization process is depicted as a kind of discovery journey. In the first chapter you choose your path; what is your past, what do you take with you in terms of knowledge, where do you start your journey? In the second chapter you pack your bags; you determine who you are within the academic world. What will you do to help the process of decolonization? Tips are categorized by function. For students, they are different than for staff or executives.


In the third chapter, the emphasis is on reflecting and sharing knowledge, for example by doing community work. In the fourth chapter you get tips and overviews about where to look for help during your journey, what places you can go to and resources you can use for healing, and how to connect with others. Here you will also find music, books and series from which you can draw strength.

Foto: Janissa Jacobs


The toolkit talks about ‘allies’. Jacobs and Martis explain that the idea is not to pit allies against enemies. The idea of allies is used to promote solidarity, the idea that you do it together. ‘Because we are not appealing to individual responsibility, we are appealing to collective responsibility,’ they tell us.


Yet the toolkit does expect quite a bit from the individual, especially regarding mutual influencing. Teachers are advised to encourage each other to participate in workshops and use formal and informal strategies to pressure their supervisors into action plans. Students can encourage their lecturers to make course materials more diverse, and in turn teachers can encourage their supervisors to enrich curricula with non-Western and non-Eurocentric sources and authors. According to Jacobs and Martis, every course is evaluated every year anyway, with all the teachers and a coordinator, so why not include EDI (equity, diversity & inclusion) considerations?


In the field of humanities, it's somewhat obvious how to broaden the canon - ‘that a student doesn't have to come up with the question of whether he/she/they can read FanonFrantz Fanon was a French-Martinese writer and philosopher’ - but there's a lot to be gained in terms of the ‘hard sciences’ as well, Jacobs and Martis say. Every field of research is ultimately about people and society, they explain, and the question is always where studies come from, in what context they were conducted, and by whom. ‘Think, for example, of algorithms that can discriminate.’


‘Decolonization takes a lot of time’


That a bottom-up approach with advice for individuals is promoted is not surprising, because when it comes to taking collective responsibility, the UvA is an ‘unwieldy’ and ‘slow’ institution, Martis believes. The university is decentralized and therefore diversity policy is too non-committal, she says. The CDO was supposed to start as a policy-making body, but in the end it is only an advisory body, according to Martis. Now a lot comes down to the individual. Because of the decentralized policy, it is not regulated that diversity work can be done within working hours and for credits. ‘But decolonizing just takes a lot of time,’ Jacobs and Martis explain.


Frustration about the lack of decisive policy is woven into the toolkit. The decolonization process is described as lonely, confrontational, and tiring for people who have been at this for a long time. It translates into the many pieces of advice to repeatedly pressure the people above you - whether teachers or leaders - to create action plans, provide money and resources for marginalized groups, and change curricula.

‘We need to get rid of the taboo on the word ‘‘decolonization’’’

Interior decolonization

Some advice in the toolkit is quite far-reaching. For example, it encourages making diversity workshops mandatory and ‘setting bold hiring targets’. According to Jacobs and Martis, all the advice is based on research. Several experts from inside and outside the UvA, as well as the student council, have been involved in the creation of the toolkit. Nonetheless, such an obligation to do diversity workshops is wishful thinking, as Jacobs 

insinuates with a scornful chuckle. ‘Nothing at the UvA is mandatory.’ What Jacobs and Martis hope is that everyone at the UvA will come into contact with these workshops, to provide ‘tools’ to make it less noncommittal and so that it can be done within paid hours.


There are also many tips that can be implemented immediately. Starting conversations with ‘BipocBipoc is a term that originates in the United States and stands for ‘Black, Indigenous, People of Color’-staff or students’ for example. Doing community work in the area of diversity. Setting up courses whose title ends with a question mark. Or decolonizing the interior of the classroom. According to Jacobs and Martis, this works well in workshops. Tables are often arranged in rows or in a U-shape and the teacher is always at the front. That setting could be much more inviting, safe and accessible, they claim.



Jacobs and Martis recognize that some people are afraid of change, and are defensive when it comes to colonial history. The Decolonization Toolkit should make less people ‘allergic’ to the word ‘decolonization’. According to Jacobs and Martis, the word has material, political and philosophical meanings, all with different connotations and histories, and we need to know them. Contextualizing the word makes it less scary, they claim. ‘The taboo has to come off.’ Diversity is a beautiful thing, they believe. ‘Through diversity we can broaden our knowledge and add new knowledge. So something comes in addition to, not instead of.’


The soft launch of the Decolonization Toolkit takes place tonight at 19:00 at Spui25 and can be followed online via this link. The toolkit will be available on this website, but final publication will take a while.