The following speech was given by Natalie Scholz at the demonstration De UvA kan niet terug naar normaal, Friday, 19 June 2020, Roeterseiland, UvA.


I am standing here in awe and in bottomless anger.

I am in awe, because a group of former UvA students has refused to let themselves be silenced.

Dear phenomenal women, I hope you are here today! I wish I could sit down with you and hear your story in full. I hope you are okay! I fear you are not, but I hope that seeing all of us here today will make you feel just a little better.

I hope you hear me, you hear us saying: Thank you for your bravery!

As a teacher in the humanities faculty I am grieved and furious that you had to experience what you experienced. Studying at the university should be a period in which you learn and grow and unfold your potential in the field you have chosen. Instead, it became a period in which you were cynically pitted against each other, systematically humiliated and reduced to having a body that is there only to please men.

I have experienced sexism, I have experienced discrimination, but I have never experienced being physically assaulted by someone with institutional power over me.

In his letter to the NRC the dean insisted that the sexual assaults had stopped in 2016 after the director of the program had talked to the lecturer. But he did not mention in the letter that the sexist and sexual remarks did not stop.

I have news for you: Sexist remarks and sexual assault are interrelated. They are also interrelated with intimidating behavior. If one of them is accepted, it prepares the terrain for the others. Stopping merely the sexual assaults is not properly reacting to the students’ report. This is allowing a structurally degrading situation to continue. This is accepting it as normal.

A while ago, I summarized what being exposed to sexism at this university felt to me  (and I want you to think about race and the effects of racism here, too):

“When someone like this happens, it is difficult to understand.  A different world penetrates and disrupts the world you think you are living in. In the world that you live in, your gender doesn’t matter, quality matters. In the other world, your gender entitles men to talk about you as an object. It entitles them to put you in “your place”, to make clear that this entitlement exists, that they have the power of the male gaze, of reducing you to a physical surface made to be judged by them, made to be defined as inferior.

Sexism works by making itself disappear under the surface of the speakable. First, it creeps under your skin without you noticing it. Once you do notice it, you don’t want to acknowledge its reality. Once you do acknowledge its reality, it makes you fearful of speaking it. By not speaking it you unwillingly accept it as “normal”.”

You, brave UvA alumni, did not accept it as normal. In a situation in which your world was turned upside down, in which you were systematically dehumanized, you, brave students, managed to pull yourselves out of the pressure to stay silent. You spoke among each other to break the isolation. You spoke to the incoming students to warn them. You spoke to those whose job it should have been to protect you. When they would not take you seriously, when they would not take their responsibility to protect students seriously enough, you took the next step and went to the NRC. You persisted.

I cannot imagine how difficult this journey has been for you, and still is.

But look what your bravery has achieved, look at all of us here today!

You, and the women who were harassed at the law faculty and spoke to the NRC a year earlier, you have woken us up. You have shattered the veil of silence. You have made it possible for us to step up collectively and say to the CvB, to the Dean to everybody with managerial responsibility at this university:

Enough is enough!

So, let me now get to my anger and address those with the most power at this university.

The Dean and the head of the CvB have given an interview to Folia which was published this morning. It represents everything that is wrong with the reaction of the university so far.

You say, power structure is a problem.

But the very last thing you ever were and ever are willing to consider is to change this power structure even a tiny bit. You have even made the hierarchy worse by pushing through a governance structure which gradually disempowers the departments.

You say, the ombudsperson is completely independent. But the ombudsperson is dependent on you, the CvB. You clearly think no bad thing can ever come from yourselves. That is how you understand the problem of power structures.

Your whole strategy consists of saying leidinggevenden, those with institutional power over others, have the first responsibility when it comes to social safety.

Well yes, they do. But you don’t admit that those with power over others are also the ones who produce the problem by abusing their power. As we have seen clearly in last year’s NRC article, not only students become the victims of such abuse, but also staff members. Yet, the ones who are the problem, those with power in the hierarchy, cannot be the ones on whom the solution solely relies. The problem of abuse of power cannot be solved by those with the most institutional power but without any structurally ensured accountability towards students and staff and their representational bodies.

You still openly contradict the NRC article and say the students, those who were brave enough to ring the bell and demand an investigation, were contacted by, but did not react to the ombudsperson when she investigated.

If you want us to believe you, show us the e-mails that the ombudsperson allegedly sent to the students or stay silent forever and stop right now blaming the victims!

You say, reputation management is not at all an issue for you.

After countless of people have pointed out how your initial reaction was nothing but reputation management, you continue to manage your reputation by saying that you don’t do reputation management? And you really expect us to buy into that?

Finally, you insist that you did not make any mistake.

Those who say they did no mistake, cannot be those who solve a problem that they co-produced by doing nothing.

In this interview, you manage to reduce the already embarrassingly low number of official complaints at the UvA by claiming that “only a handful of complaints are filed at the UvA each year”. The numbers of official complaints don’t reflect the reality, but they are higher than this.

A member of the Central Works Council has recently shared the following information with the rethink UvA mailing list:

According to the annual report of the complaint committee

In 2017, 45 complaints were filed, of which only 9 were dealt with.

In 2018, 55 complaints were filed, of which only 7 were dealt with.

In 2019, 44 complaints were filed, of which only 2 were dealt with.

Why do you call an annual average of 48 complaints in these three years a handful?

If you are, as you say, aware that there are much more cases of sexual harassment than appear in the complaint procedure, why have you refused, even after the Beltzer story broke a year ago, to expand the statute of limitation beyond the ridiculously short period of only one year? You refused to act although you must have known by then that a one year limitation prevents many cases from being filed or, if filed, from being accepted by the complaint committee, as we can see in the numbers.

Holding on to a one year statute of limitations means that the majority of people who experience the worst kind of abuse of power will have no chance to ever file a complaint with success. Why? Because serious abuse of power breaks you and makes you ill and weak. You have to assemble your strength and assemble your support in order to even be able to consider filing a complaint, something which would be true even if the procedure was better than the one we have now.

Holding on to a one year statute of limitations means only one thing:

You, the CvB, do not want to know. You do not want to deal with it. You do not want to expose how badly the current hierarchical system hurts the very people whose safety you are supposed to protect.

But you still say the ombudsperson who depends on you for her job is “independent”.

I say: Empower the works and student councils with managing this crisis and give them the financial means to do it without having to beg for it. Make them the responsible bodies for the ombudsperson. They are not perfect, nobody is, but they represent staff and students and are accountable to them by elections, something which we cannot say about you. In their reactions to the current situation they have shown precisely the moral leadership that is shockingly lacking in all of your reactions. They already take the responsibility that you are unwilling to take by insisting that you did not make any mistakes.


Let me finish with this.

There is a revolution going on.

Women and people of color and other marginalized and powerless people have been diminished, and crushed, and even broken, for years and years and years. They say, and we say: Enough is enough!

We have found and we will find new ways of trusting each other and telling each other our stories, just like our brave alumni did, and we will continue to challenge the structural problems that you are not even willing to admit, let alone act upon. We will persist until we succeed in crushing and rebuilding a system of hierarchical power that continues to crush too many of us, and, as a consequence spreads a culture of fear that affects many more.

And why do I know that we will persist until we succeed?

Because, in the words of the comedian Hannah Gadsby:

“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”