Excerpt

Amsterdam United is a student organization of research from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) that aims to create intercultural awareness and contribute to discussions about diversity and inclusion. Students of Amsterdam United developed a fully student-led mentoring program, the Academic Diversity Program (ADP), in which first-year students students are paired up with senior students. During this program, diversity-related topics are discussed to empower participating students, contributing to a sense of belonging and enhancing their academic performances and study success.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

Amsterdam United is an activist student-led organization of the research department at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) that aims to create intercultural awareness within the context of the UvA and contribute to discussions about diversity and inclusion that acknowledges the intersections between gender, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic background and mental as well as physical health. From this perspective, students of Amsterdam United organize different activities like debates, movie nights and trainings, as well as coordinating different mentoring programs.

The Academic Diversity Program (ADP) is an annually organized, student-led mentoring program at the research department at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). In 2016, students of the student organization Amsterdam United launched the ADP with two goals in mind:

  • To contribute to a sense of belonging of (first-year as well as senior) students by creating a community of like-minded people.
  • To increase and enhance the academic performance and study success of first-year students.

Amsterdam United developed the framework of the mentoring program in which first-year students are paired up with senior students (meaning second- and third-year Bachelor students, or Master students). Besides providing individual mentoring, all mentors and mentees come together at monthly meetings. The goal of these monthly meetings is to learn about different diversity-related topics, create a safe space to discuss levels and experiences of exclusion, but also to analyse what these topics mean to different kinds of people and how that relates to differences and shared perspectives. The ADP thereby aims to support students in examining how their experiences are related to others and their own identities.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

The Academic Diversity Program (ADP) is considered to be successful because it combines elements of individual support through mentoring, but also aims to provide context as well as increase knowledge and consciousness about diversity-related topics. This combined approach contributes to a sense of belonging to students that, before, have been feeling left-out at the UvA. ADP is a student-led initiative that is picked up, supported by and currently even working together with the Diversity Office of the UvA. This collaboration is considered proof of the success of the initiative. In collaboration with the Chief Diversity Officer of the UvA, the mentoring program has been implemented to all faculties of the University of Amsterdam. What's more, Amsterdam United is granted funding by the Students-4-Students campaign to professionalize the ADP program and develop a mentoring program to facilitate access for students from the University of Applied Sciences Amsterdam (HvA) to the UvA as well.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

In 2013, the founders of Amsterdam United felt that the university lacked a platform to discuss diversity-related topics and missed a safe space or community for students who felt excluded at the university. Students self-organized through Amsterdam United to be able to voice and share their experiences. The goal was to work together to implement change within the context of the university. Since Amsterdam United was formed by students of the UvA, of which many experienced different levels of exclusion themselves and developed the ADP, this initiative is a clear example of a bottom-up grass-roots initiative.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

Within the context of the project

First, it remains a constant and important challenge to find a balance in facilitating inclusive debates that appeal to different people with different standpoints. For example, the general belief is that extremist-oriented people should not be provided a platform to express their thoughts and ideas. On the other hand, excluding certain groups based on their beliefs and ideas is also exclusion and discriminatory. Amsterdam United aims to find this balance and keeps on working to create an inclusive environment.

Second, one of the initial goals was providing academic support, as well as building a community of students that lacked a sense of belonging at the UvA. Mentors used to apply to be able to connect with and support those students. However, from the academic year 2018-2019 onward and due to funding that was provided by the national Students-4-Students campaign, mentors receive contribution for their work in the program. Since then, Amsterdam United observed that the incentive for many new mentors was different than it was for the original program that was based on voluntary services. It has therefore been a challenge to select the right mentors to be able to protect the initial mindset and quality of the program. The mentoring applicants that Amsterdam United turned down, were encouraged in finding alternative UvA mentoring programmes to support these students in finding their place. But because of the focus on diversity and inclusion, not all students can be suitable mentors in the ADP mentoring program and Amsterdam United tried to communicate this thoroughly to the applicants.

Within the context of the university

What's more, the ADP faced some challenges before it was known and supported by the university. One of the challenges was to find out how to gain the trust of the university and to be able to distinguish themselves among all the other activities and programs that are organized. The ADP has been running for four years, but it has only been successful for the past two years. The first 2 years were important for setting up the program, becoming visible, getting the word out that the program exists and works, building a network of professors and policy makers within the university, but also for making a name among other UvA students. Having the support and trust of the university, and the Diversity Office in particular, made it much easier to get things done.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

The convictions and ideology of Amsterdam United as well as the ADP is inspired by the theoretical framework that is coined in terms of intersectionality by civil rights advocate and gender studies professor Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989). An intersectional perspective is mindful of the intersections and inter-relatedness of differences like gender, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, religion, mental as well as physical well-being and how that relates to marginalization and exclusion within societies. Some other important theoretical concepts that inspired Amsterdam United to develop the ADP are sense of beloning, being included (S. Ahmed, 2012), decolonization (V. De Oliveira Andreotti, 2015), Doing Diversity (G. Wekker et al., 2016) and study success (R.P. Wolff, 2013). 

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

The ADP is part of a bigger, more holistic approach of Amsterdam United to connect to students that feel excluded at the UvA. The ADP sets the goal to enhance academic capabilities of first-year students, as well as empower all students (not just members of Amsterdam United) by organizing different events and debates with diversity-related topics.

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

The ADP is specifically designed for those students that do not feel at home at the university. Most of these students have a bi-cultural background or are part of a minority group. Initially, the focus on the mentoring program has been on reaching first generation students that benefit most from the ADP support. But since there are many other programs that support first generation students in their academic performances, Amsterdam United broadened the initial target group for the ADP and also included other UvA students that, for whatever reason, do not feel safe or at home at the university.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

Currently, Amsterdam United has about 200 active members and around 50 to 60 students join annually. Of these students, some enroll in the mentoring program while others are engaged in other activities that are organized by Amsterdam United.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

An intersectional approach is taken into account when new applications are accepted and selected for the ADP. Before the program starts, one-on-one introductory meetings are planned with the ADP coordinator and applicants (both mentors and mentees) to get to know the students and create a good match. The mentors and mentees are matched based on their backgrounds to ensure a good match. Amsterdam is the geographical area covered in this program, so all students that participate in the ADP are enrolled at the UvA.

On which level is the project implemented?

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

When Amsterdam United was founded in 2013, and the ADP originated a couple of years later, students self-organized to be able to work on empowerment of UvA students that lacked a sense of belonging. Former Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker, laid out policy frameworks to increase equal opportunities for all students and strengthen a sense of belonging.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

The ADP is currently being funded by the Students-4-Students campaign, which was launched in 2017 by former Dutch Ministrer of Education, Culture & Science as part of policy frameworks in relation to equal opportunities. Since last year, the UvA’s Diversity Office contracted the ADP coordinator. Thereby, since the ADP is a part of the Students-4-Students campaign and the coordinator works with the UvA’s Diversity Office, the mentoring program fits into national policy as well as institutional policies.

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

  • The board of Amsterdam United, including the ADP coordinator
  • The Social Science Department (from the faculty of social sciences UvA) The Diversity Office of the UvA
  • ECHO, Expertise Center for Diversity Policy
  • The Students-4-Students campaign

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

Amsterdam is known for its super diverse population, a majority-minority area in which one (or more) ethnic minority make up a majority of the population. However, the student population of the University of Amsterdam is not representative of regional demographics. Whilst the city of Amsterdam is very multicultural, in comparison, the UvA is relatively culturally homogeneous.

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

In recent years, UvA's institutional policy has been focusing explicitly on diversity and inclusion. The UvA installed a commission under the leadership of professor Gloria Wekker, to do research and formulate recommendations with regards to policies for improving diversity and inclusion. As a response to the outcome of the report, Let's do Diversity: report of the University of Amsterdam Diversity Commission, the UvA installed a Diversity Office.

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

Since the academic year of 2018-2019, this initiative has been picked up by the educational organization and by the Diversity Office in particular. The ADP evaluates the mentoring program at the end of every academic year. Since Amsterdam United and the Diversity Offices started working together, the ADP provides the Diversity Office with data to improve institutional policy. In doing so, the ADP initiative influences educational diversity policies of the UvA.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

Application & matching

The coordinator of the program is a student board member of Amsterdam United and he/she is responsible for the application process, the matching of mentors and mentees, the organization of the different trainings for mentors and coordination of the different joint meetings. To facilitate this mentoring program, at the beginning of the academic year, potential mentors and mentees are asked to complete an application form. The coordinator of the program ensures that the mentors and mentees are matched, based on these application forms and the individual introductory meetings. After the coordinator matched the different mentors and mentees, they have a one-on-one session to tackle problems and set goals together. From this moment onward, the mentor and mentee are partners for the rest of the year.

Training mentors

The mentors in this program are involved in diversity-related topics and are educated to be a mentor. Amsterdam United provides three different trainings for the mentors that include communication, didactics and diversity. Additionally, the mentors are trained in translating their personal experiences and (soft-)skills to tutoring the mentees.

Monthly meetings

The goal of these monthly meetings is to learn about different diversity-related topics, create a safe space to discuss levels and experiences of exclusion, but also to analyse what these topics mean to different kinds of people and how that relates to differences and shared perspectives. Examples of monthly joint meetings are centred around themes like safe space and community building, identity and micro-aggressions, gender and sexuality, patriarchy and orientalism, privilege, discrimination and racism, diversity and mindfulness.

Evaluation

At the end of the academic year, the ADP coordinator facilitates an evaluation meeting in which the mentors and mentees discuss the ADP.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

The Amsterdam United student board - and especially the role of the ADP coordinator who is a member of the board of Amsterdam United - is crucial to support and facilitate the entire structure of the ADP. The UvA's Chief Diversity Officer as well as the Diversity Office Team provide both organizational, institutional as well as financial support. What's more, the role of the mentors and mentees is crucial to creating a community of students. Lastly, ECHO since it coordinates the Students-4-students campaign and provided funding for the ADP.

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

What are the final revenues of the project?

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

The funding from the two-year Students-4-Students campaign and the collaboration with the Diversity Office of the UvA resulted in a three-year plan of the university that provides enough resources to sustain the mentoring program for the upcoming years. 

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

At the moment, the ADP coordinator is contracted by the UvA and the Diversity Office for 3 years. After this time, the Diversity Office will be evaluated and discussed for continuation. 

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

The Students-4-Students campaign selected student projects in service of sense of belonging, diversity and inclusion within Dutch higher education and were granted a maximum amount of funding of € 50.000. Before the Students-4-Students campaign, Amsterdam United’s annual budget was €1000 per year. This funding was provided by the UvA’s College of Social Sciences. This was not enough to cover all the costs for the annual activities that were carried out. The individual board members used their own money to organize events. Currently, the Diversity Office also supports Amsterdam United, facilitates locations for events and contracted the ADP coordinator.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

Initially, all events and the entire ADP was voluntarily organized. As mentioned above, that changed when the ADP was selected as one of the student projects that received funding as a part of the Students-4-Students campaign. Since the academic year of 2018-2019, both the mentors from the Students-4-Students campaign and the coordinator from the UvA's Diversity Office are granted a financial contribution.

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

The Amsterdam United ADP mentoring program was designed to provide students with the tools, support and resources to successfully finish their education. In order to be able to support students in what they need, the first activity of the ADP focused on transferring knowledge about the structure of community building and creating a safe space. During this session the mentees were asked to write down their own individual goals and ambitions with the program. Next to that, the group of mentees were also asked to discuss and set the collective goals for the group. During the last session the individual and collective goals were evaluated. Amsterdam United developed an evaluation form to support the mentees in looking back at their formulated goals and analyse how the students experienced the activities that are carried out by the mentoring program.

The majority of the individual goals were met and the students that did not meet their individual goals, learned from their experiences during the program. The evaluation showed that the participants felt that the collective goal of the group and of Amsterdam United, namely to be empowered and to contribute to an increased sense of belonging, was reached as well. The students that finished the mentoring program show a strong giving back mentality, use the knowledge they learned during the program in society and apply to become mentors for the upcoming years themselves. The most important success factor was the engagement and intrinsic motivation of the students (both mentors and mentees) that participated in the mentoring program.

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

The main objective of the program is to enhance a sense of belonging and improve study success for participating students. These objectives are met in the ADP mentoring program. The ADP measured and demonstrated success with regards to qualitative indicators of a sense of belonging, empowerment and individual goals of the mentees.

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?