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College Café – Bachelor of Social Work, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences


Two teachers at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS), together with Students Social Work (BSW), noticed that other students and teachers felt uncomfortable and unheard in how to deal with public debate. They set out to set up the framework for College Café, a place where students are encouraged to organize events about complex societal issues within and outside of the educational institution. Through multiple successful events that tackled different diversity-related topics, College Café contributed to creating a more inclusive educational environment. The program is incorporated in the Honours Program for students of other bachelors at AUAS. In addition, the success rate of first year BSW students increased from 64% to 75% since the implementation of College Café.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

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

College Café is a project initiated by teachers and founded within an inclusive framework in which students play a central role. They are encouraged to organize events about social issues for students, teachers and social professionals within and outside the educational institution. Students organize events in which various perspectives are offered with regard to complex social themes. Inspiring keynote speakers, experts and students share their knowledge about specific social issues in an interactive way to contribute to awareness and mutual understanding for students and professionals. College Café wants to empower students and pays attention to social themes that play an important role within the student population. These are, in particular, themes that are less exposed within the existing curriculum and are seen as more difficult to discuss within the educational institution and the classroom. College Café was set up in 2015 within the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS).

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

Many students do not feel heard and acknowledged by their fellow students and teachers. They deal with exclusion in the form of micro-aggression and discrimination based on, among other things, gender, religion and/or ethnicity. These experiences often do not have room within their own study program. During and after College Café, students indicate that they thought they were the only ones experiencing this and often do not know where to go with their experiences. A consequence of this may be that the students don't feel at home within the educational environment and become demotivated, and sometimes even fail. The presence of a community in which you can identify and accept yourself is crucial for sharing personal experiences and feeling strengthened to make your own voice heard. Students are trained to become social professionals who can also take on this role in working with various target groups in society.

The events that are part of College Café have been a great success and reached a wide and diverse audience. The events are fully booked and people inside and outside the institution attended the College Café events. This has contributed to making the different perspectives and inequality of marginalized groups within the educational environment of the Bachelor of Social Work more visible. College Café stimulates exchange and dialogue in and outside the classroom to share experience and knowledge, which contributes to awareness and professional action within the educational institution.

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

After the attack on the satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris on 7 January 2015, two teachers and two students of BSW decided to set up College Café. They found that students and teachers felt uncomfortable in how to deal with the public debate. Many students had a feeling of not being heard. Next to this, there was no room and time for conversation and dialogue within the classroom and not all perspectives were being heard or appreciated within the educational environment. For some students this resulted in feelings of not belonging and being acknowledged within the educational institution. Because of this, teachers, Mahutin Awunou and Sameha Bouhalhoul, and BSW students decided to make this problem and effect visible and to give students room to express themselves in the form of a College Café.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

The themes of the different events of College Café are formed by social developments, related public debates within society and the educational institution and social themes that play an important role among young people. These are often complex and sensitive topics that are less exposed within the existing curriculum and are seen as more difficult to discuss within the educational institution and the classroom. Recognition of the importance of the initiative and involvement within the student population, but especially of members of the staff, formed a challenge, especially in the beginning. What's more, negative reactions were not entirely unexpected when discussing socially sensitive themes. The students involved in the organization of College Café prepare themselves for these consequences. Students do research in which dynamics, discourses and theories related to the social theme take part in related social discussions and categorize the different types of criticism. In this way, students can enter a discussion well prepared and be able to respond in a convincing way to the various forms of criticism. Next to this, students and teachers involved in College Café are aware that it is not realistic to reach and influence everyone and convince them of certain views. It is more about creating support, stimulating teachers and students to get to know different perspectives and insights in order to be able to base their own viewpoints on this and start an open discussion about sensitive social topics.

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

It is important that students are able to identify with the educational environment and experience that they are fully part of the school community, which can be referred to as a sense of belonging (Elffers, Oort & Karsten, 2012). In addition, students must experience that their education has personal and practical value for them, also called valuing (Finn, 1993 & Elffers, 2016). A sense of belonging and valuing are important factors in creating an inclusive learning environment within BSW. Within this framework College Café was founded. Elffers (2016) indicates that the behaviour of students is also an important part of being involved in the program. Actively participating in lessons or projects, perseverance and participating in extracurricular activities, like a College Café, is a form of behavioural involvement. In addition to the intrinsic motivation, 'feeling at home' within the educational environment is important for increasing student success. Acceptance of and identification with fellow students and teachers are central to the concept of feeling at home. Emotional safety, personal investment, recognizable symbols, and recognition are indispensable factors in whether or not students feel at home according to Reparaz, Ardjo-semito-Jethoe & Rijk (2018). College Café is appointed by BSW students as a learning environment that contribute to feeling at home and student engagement.

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

College Café is part of a more holistic approach. Since 2013, BSW has been working on creating an inclusive educational environment with the commitment and involvement of students. All students should benefit from peer learning facilities and have the opportunity to experience study success. The most important starting point is a `high level of expectations = a high level of support‘. High expectations and level of support and ‘giving back’ are important preconditions in creating a culture of bonding and involvement. The diversity of the student population and an inclusive learning environment are set standards from which different programs have been developed, like College Café. Other examples of social impact programs within the BSW are 'Viewing a Documentary‘ and 'Burning Issues'. 'Viewing a Documentary’ takes place during afternoons where documentaries are shown and debate about the relevant theme is stimulated. 'Burning Issues' are interactive mini-lectures with a social theme, where research on the topic and a more practical example or good practice is discussed. In all these programs students are ‘in the lead’.

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

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

At this time, the program focuses mostly on students, teachers and other professionals of BSW, but all people within and outside the educational institution are invited to College Café events. No specific differentiation has been made to target groups. The aim of College Café is to stimulate social cohesion within BSW and to make it possible to discuss different perspectives with regard to sensitive social themes. The initiative hopes to contribute to students feeling more heard by their fellow students and teachers and gaining confidence in expressing their opinions and perspectives that may deviate from the general standard within Dutch society. College Café aims to involve teachers and other educational professionals in the experiences of students and to develop skills and knowledge with regard to discussing sensitive social themes within the classroom. The initiative aims to promote awareness and mutual understanding among students and professionals.

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?

As already mentioned the program focuses mostly on the students and professionals of BSW of AUAS. Based on the current student numbers the student population contains around 3,500 students and approximately 185 professionals. But with the collaboration with AUAS debate center, called FLOOR, College Café is able to reach more than 25,000 students within the educational institution. Students from the faculties of Education, Business and Economics and Digital Media & Creative Industries have been involved as participants in previous editions of College Café. The internal communication channels and other means of communication make it possible to inform and involve other target groups.

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

Although the program is aimed at all students and professionals within and outside the educational institution, specific social characteristics are taken into account in relation to inequality of marginalized groups. Examples are gender, sexuality, cultural background and religion. College Café aims to highlight perspectives within the educational environment that are often not part of the curriculum and less accepted within the public debate. This has led to College Café events focused on themes such as gender identity and sexual freedom (Mind Your Sex, 2016), gender roles (Cars or Barbies, 2017) and racism & discrimination within the educational institution (Dear White HvA, 2017).

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?

In recent years more attention has been paid in politics for inequality of opportunities of students within higher education in the Netherlands. The Ministry of Education presented a plan for equal opportunities that includes a number of proposals to promote equal opportunities in Dutch education. In 2017 the Minister promoted ‘giving back’ activities in higher education within the framework of equal opportunities in education and made a request to contribute to inclusive education. In 2017 the national campaign Students-4-Students was introduced, giving higher education institutions the possibility to present programs that contribute to inclusive education in Dutch higher education institutions. This year, BSW received financial support from this campaign for a submitted program proposal of which College Café forms one of the program components. Next year College Café will be part of an offline and online student community center called SESI Community Center. The aim is to set up inclusive learning environments that will do justice to the diversity of the student population of BSW and enable study success for all students.

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

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

Part of the support College Café receives comes from the debate center of the AUAS, called FLOOR. College Café has been working together with FLOOR from the start until now. They offer the location where the events of College Café are organized. In addition, support is provided in the form of sharing ideas, promotion of the planned events of College Café and designing visual material that is used. The teaser of the 'Dear White HvA' event was created between students from CMV and project managers from FLOOR.

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

In recent years the composition of the population of the city of Amsterdam has changed drastically. According to statistics from the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of people of Dutch descent has dropped from 59% to 49,7% in previous years. The majority of the residents in Amsterdam have an immigrant background. Only one of three young people under the age of fifteen is of Dutch descent (Crull). As a result of this the student population within higher education institutions has changed drastically in recent years and diversity has become the norm. This diversity also contains a broad scale of perspectives, experiences and opinions. The diversity of the student population and creating an inclusive learning environment where all these students can excel and feel at home are a set norm from which College Café has been developed.

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

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

The success of BSW programs focusing in creating an inclusive educational environment, such as College Café, has resulted in the institutional policy of BSW, focusing on creating a more inclusive educational environment and taking into account the diversity of the student population. In recent years College Café and other programs have been proven successful. They have had a major influence on study motivation and study success. Since these programs have been in place, an improved student success rate for full-time students has been visible from 64% to 75% propaedeutic efficiency, in just after two years.

(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.

In the context of College Café, students organize events in which various perspectives are offered with regard to sensitive social themes. A different theme related to diversity and inclusion is central to every event of College Café. Through keynote speakers, students and experts knowledge is shared about social issues in an interactive way.

Each event consists of approximately three keynote speakers that announce the theme and explain their vision on the subject discussed. During each College Café event, a student panel is presented that shares their personal experiences with the audience. This panel also gives the public the opportunity to share their own personal stories. A panel of experts share good practices, their knowledge and experiences. Every College Café event has a moderator who presents the evening. The moderator is a person who has affinity with the subject and asks theme-related questions to the audience. After each event there will be a discussion, in which the central theme is discussed with the people involved in the organization.

The following College Café events were organised focusing on various social themes:

College Café: Social Harmony
The first event focused on how, as a (future) social work professional, you can best pay attention to tensions in society and discussions about discrimination, radicalization and intolerance. Terrorist attacks and the situation in the Middle East increasingly causes feelings of insecurity and conflicting ideas in the Netherlands. Social workers in the cultural or educational sector increasingly face tensions that arise from these developments. Discrimination, terrorism and exclusion have become concepts professionals are confronted with during work and in the private sphere. Both students and professionals indicate that it is difficult to deal with situations like this. It is therefore important to talk about these themes together and to look for solutions. How are tensions experienced in various communities in Dutch society? What skills do social professionals need to make it easier for the people they help and for themselves?

College Café: Mind your sex
During the second College Café event, concepts of sexual diversity and gender identity were discussed. The idea exists that within the Dutch context people are tolerant, have an open mind and embrace uniqueness and being 'different' from other people within society. Is this an ideal, an aspiration, a reality or an illusion? In reality, there are people who feel that they cannot be themselves. Individuals experience pressure to meet the social norm of what is male or female. People are confronted daily with one-sided projections about sexuality (for example in the media and in school books). What do people actually know about lesbian women, homosexual men, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) and what is the best way to deal with differences in sexuality and gender?

College Café: Cars or Barbies
The third event of College Café focused on the relationship between men and women in society. Every day we are confronted with unwritten rules of conduct about what is 'masculine' or 'feminine'. Boys already learn in their childhood that playing with a football and cars is masculine and cool. Girls learn that playing with pink Barbie dolls is something they should do. To what extent do these images influence our behaviour? To what extent are these images harmful to our self-image? During the event participants discussed what effect education and media have on a social level between men and women. Do these implicit ideas influence how we interact with each other? How does this perception work in the labour market and what can we do to promote gender equality?

College Café: Dear white HVA
In the fourth event of College Café, attention was paid to tensions and issues of discrimination and inequality based on race, gender and religion. In Dutch public debate, discrimination and inequality based on race, gender and religion are widely discussed. Opinions about these themes are frequently shared, but also provide questions and divisions. Educational institutions can play a crucial role in this and can be a catalyst for change. Everyone should have equal opportunities in education, but does that actually happen and what does equal opportunities in education really mean? Are there successful examples of an inclusive learning & working environment in our current education system? And are there mechanisms to maintain inequality and exclusion? During the event, personal stories of students and professionals played a central role and there was a plea for an understanding of the other together with shared experience of micro-aggressions and exclusion.

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

During all the events of College Café students play a central role and are responsible for the content and organization, design and implementation. Teachers form a cooperative partner in this, keeping track of the development of the event and support students where necessary. A new team of students is formed for each College Café event. Every year students of BSW are asked to come up with a social or diversity issue and organize a College Café event together with other students. The students are responsible for the organization and content of College Café. In addition to developing skills related to event management, students feel heard and taken more seriously by their fellow students, teachers and other professionals within the educational institution. In this way they feel empowered to talk to teachers and fellow students about sensitive social themes and to share their own perspective. Students also develop the feeling that they are part of a social movement and can make positive changes within their educational institution. This can contribute to a sense of solidarity between students. Teachers and other educational professionals are encouraged to pay attention to the perception and perspectives of the diverse student population. In this way, teachers are triggered to discuss themes in the classroom that play a crucial role within the student population and to involve these themes in the existing curriculum. The central themes of the events of College Café provide a reason for initiating discussion and sharing experiences about certain sensitive social themes and highlighting multiple perspectives within the classroom.

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?

College Café regularly seeks cooperation with other initiatives in Amsterdam related to themes of diversity and inclusion. In this way, people involved in other initiatives in Amsterdam, including the student organizations called Amsterdam United and University of Color, are also invited to attend an event of College Café and take part in the student panel. College Café tries to learn from the approach of other similar initiatives and cooperate in order to achieve shared goals.

Originally College Café is designed for students within BSW. Recently interest from students from other study programs has also been expressed. In the beginning, these students did not have the opportunity to participate in the organization of a College Café. Therefore, attempts have been made to involve other study programs, so more students are offered the opportunity to be involved in the organization of College Café. To encourage the participation of students from other study programs, College Café has decided to make the initiative part of the Excellency & Honors Program of AUAS. This program is meant for students who want to excel and do not find sufficient challenges in the regular study program. The Excellence & Honors Program aims to encourage talented students to reach their full potential. Every faculty gives its own interpretation to the program and organizes different programs for students. Every student can register for one of the offered programs, including College Café. Students are rewarded for their participation in the form of excellence rating points. For every participation in an excellence program, the student gets 5 points. If the student gets a total of 15 excellence rating points, he or she will receive an additional certificate when graduating stating that the student has completed an excellence track during his or her education.

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

During the process of College Café the ambition grew of creating a platform in the field of ​​diversity and inclusion that can continue to exist structurally within the educational institution. BSW developed a community center for and by students called SESI (Student Engagement, Social Impact). This program will start in 2019/2020 with financial support of the national Students-4-Students campaign. The aim is to set up inclusive learning environments that do justice to the diversity of the student population of BSW and enable study success for all students. SESI aims to be a physical place where a targeted online and offline community can be set up. It is expected that these new developments can lead to an impact on an institutional level.

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

Active involvement of students contributed substantially to the success College Café. At first, involvement of students and teachers has only been based on intrinsic motivation. In some cases it was possible to reward efforts with ECTS, but many extra curricular activities were on a voluntary basis outside the regular teaching hours. This means the involved students and teachers take on a lot of extra work in their own time (often evening hours). With new financial support of the Students-4-Students campaign students can be compensated for their dedication and work. In the project budget, also part of the budget is meant for the employees (senior project employees). When the Students-4-Students campaign has ended after three years, BSW will include the SESI Community Center and involvement of students in its regular funding.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

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.

Given the experiences of recent years at BSW, programs aimed at creating an inclusive learning environment, like College Café, had a major influence on study motivation and study success. Since these programs have been in place, improved students success rates have been visible from 64% to 75% propaedeutic efficiency, for full-time students after two years. Further research is needed to determine which factors influence this increase. A (cautious) assumption is that stimulating investment in study involvement (students and employees) and social involvement in educational programs have produced this effect.

College Café is appointed by students as a learning environment that contributes to a sense of belonging and student engagement. According to students involved in College Café, improvement is necessary in the current educational environment when it comes to equal opportunities and equal treatment. College Café has helped to visualize the inequality of marginalized groups in society and marginalized students in our educational institution and has provided exchange and dialogue to share experience and knowledge, contributing to awareness and professional action.

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

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

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