'There is this tendency in public debate to avoid anything that makes us feel uncomfortable when discussing diversity. I hope we can fill in this conversation with our project.'

In this episode, we speak with Suzan Abozyid (Ph.D. Candidate, Leiden University/DiDi Project) about her academic and professional background, her work on the DiDi Project, why such a project is crucial to present-day society and how she sees the Centre. 

By Vanessa Ntinu

Suzan AbozyidThanks for sitting down with me today, Suzan! Tell us a little about yourself (e.g., your educational and professional background).

Thank you for having me. Well, I was born and raised in Zaandam and have lived here for most of my life. I grew up in a neighborhood in Zaandam that is infamous for being a deprived neighborhood. This has been very instrumental in my choice of professional and academic career. I started out with a Bachelor's in History at the VU University in Amsterdam and though I enjoyed the course, I always felt like there was something missing. In hindsight, the program was rather Eurocentric and hardly gave space to narratives outside of western ones. After pursuing a few new courses in migration history towards the end of my Bachelor, I realized where my passion lay. I simultaneously pursued a BA in Arabic Language and Culture to give me a deeper understanding of my Egyptian roots and thereafter followed the GMD Master's program. I appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of the program and the different disciplines that migration was being approached from.

You recently joined the Dilemmas of Doing Diversity (DiDi) project - tell us something about the project and about your work there.

After working at the Municipality of Amsterdam following my studies, I craved a return to academia. When I saw the DiDi vacancy, it was very much me and something I wanted to pursue.

In terms of the project, I am still figuring it out, ha! I joined the project well after the research proposal was written. On the one hand, this has been beneficial because I don't have to do all the groundwork of compiling a proposal. However, on the other hand, I'm also noticing that it's not necessarily my thought process and I am still trying to grasp the intricacies of the project. Despite this, I feel like I have a lot of room to make the project my own.

The project is centrally about diversity policies and how they work in practice. There's also this element of dilemma we are interrogating: where diversity is perceived as something 'difficult to do' because society at large must make many concessions. Within the project, I am adopting a historical approach where I'm mainly responsible for assessing diversity policies in the Netherlands since 1945. Though the term 'diversity' is rather novel, the idea of differences and the accommodation of differences is not new to Europe. I want to assess how these policies focused on differences, how they changed over time, how much they were influenced by the media, and who erected them. To gather these policies, I will make use of the archives in the Hague and start with both a national and local policy analysis.

Though the term 'diversity' is rather novel, the idea of differences and the accommodation of differences is not new to Europe.

Why are the workings of such a project so fundamental to present-day society?

I think we need to interrogate how we approach diversity nowadays. We currently see this push for a 'happy diversity' where we only speak on the positive elements of diversity and never interrogate the underbelly. This, of course, does not mean that no beautiful elements exist within diversity, however, a more nuanced discussion should take place. It should be noted that diversity also breeds inequalities such as racism and discrimination and these are consequences that must also be highlighted when discussing the topic. There is this tendency in public debate that we should avoid anything that makes us feel uncomfortable, thus pushing for social cohesion and eliminating any kind of “polarization” - hence, the recent SIRE campaign. I hope we can fill in this conversation with our project.

You've also been a part of this LDE GMD family for quite some time now - first as a student and now as a researcher - is there a particular role you think the center should be playing?

That is a good question! Firstly, I am happy the Centre exists and that it is doing so well. When you look publicly, there really are not many esteemed knowledge-backed migration centers or institutes around. I think the LDE GMD Centre can therefore play an important role in migration research but also in offering knowledge-backed policy recommendations to practitioners.

How can we as a center continue to support you and your work?

Having sit-downs like these is a good way to start! As a starting researcher, it is always hard to generate interest in your research, therefore, blogs and interviews like these expose me more to our network. I also appreciate the different workshops and events the Centre organizes in that I meet new people and further expose my research. Keep it up!