Two banners hang outside. The top one is from TU delft's diversity and inclusion week
‘Having the core value of being a diverse and inclusive community comes hand in hand with acknowledging the brutal realities around the world, addressing them, and speaking up.’ (Foto: Marjolein van der Veldt)

During the diversity and inclusion week TU Delft has failed to honour just that, PhD candidate Leila Gharavi writes in this letter.

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Last week, Diversity and Inclusion was honoured on campus. It has always been a point of pride for TU Delft to have a diverse community, and making it inclusive is one of its core values. But in an unexpected celebration of inclusion that bore no trace of the critical situation unfolding in Iran, TU Delft unfortunately failed its real test. To understand what is missing, let’s look closer at what diversity and inclusion entail.

Diversity corresponds to our differences such as gender, culture, nationality, or in one word, identity. We honour these identities and need to encourage people to embrace their uniqueness. This, however, cannot be achieved without inclusion. To gain the benefits of a diverse community, we must ensure connection among these diverse members, as this is how they feel included and are able to achieve their full potential. This comes as no surprise: if you have isolated groups in the same setting, would that be recognised as a community? Essentially, in diversity we celebrate our unique identities, and in inclusion we celebrate our common ground: humanity. If one is absent, the other loses its character.

Identity involves different realities. Some may be delightful, some brutal, but none can be ignored. Inclusion leads to those local realities being shared - to some extent - among other members of the community. If someone faces gender-based discrimination, their story should be told for others to understand the reality of their identity. This understanding is not a side-effect to turn or stay away from, but a standard that must be upheld. 

‘TU Delft has stayed quiet while Iran is experiencing nationwide protests’

Further, inclusion starts from connecting these realities through humanity, our mutual ground. We might not understand the full extent of being an Afghanistani girl that needs to risk her life to protest for the right to go to school, but we don’t have to try hard. We understand justice, we understand freedom, we understand human rights, thus, we can understand the terror, the courage, and the pain in the reality of being a woman in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, TU Delft has failed to honour diversity at a time when it’s having events and interviews on campus to do so. Mahsa Amini was killed in a clear violation of human rights, which sparked international humanitarian and feminist activism shortly after the news of her death.

However, TU Delft did not react to this matter at all, in some instances stating that it avoids engaging in ‘political’ issues. It also did not allow her image to be put in different public places on campus in the first week. And writing this now, it has stayed quiet while Iran is experiencing nationwide protests unlike anything seen in decades, which has had worldwide reactions from organisations, scholars, institutions, universities etc.

It’s worth noting that some academic institutions, such as PoliMi, spoke up from the beginning and many, including Queen’s University, started speaking up when three universities in Iran were violently attacked by the government. Yet here we are, at the end of the Diversity and Inclusion Week, shaking hands and ticking boxes proving we are inclusive. Done!

Having the core value of being a diverse and inclusive community comes hand in hand with acknowledging the brutal realities around the world, addressing them, and speaking up. TU Delft needs to be sensitive and fast to respond to the realities of the world, while encouraging observation, engagement, and understanding in its community. For an inclusive community, this is a must. 

Leila Gharavi is a PhD candidate at Delft Center for Systems and Control (DCSC). She is amazed by nonlinear phenomena in her research as she is by the intricacies of humanity in her free time.