Rona Jualla-van Oudenhoven

Column: A call for clarity

Do privilege and power corrupt people? Not if they use it to help the powerless and choose to be an ally. In her new column, Chief Diversity Officer Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven describes how to be a good ally.

In our joint Radboud article on the power conversation, my colleagues and I  shared multiple angles of how power presents itself in the structure and culture of an organization and shed some light on the psychosocial impact on individuals within these institutions. In this article let us deconstruct the power dynamic a bit further, touching on the element of power and choice.  

Help the underdog 

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Baron Acton (1834-1902), historian and moralist, expressed this opinion in 1887. I asked in a recent article of mine, is it necessarily true then that as one’s power increases one’s moral compass decreases? Or are there sufficient cases in history that renew the humaneness of mankind? As we look around us at Radboud University, are you able to identify cases where a privilege-holder stepped in and challenged the status quo in favour of the underdog? I hope there are many. 

This leads us to that element of choice: Do power and privilege bring with them certain responsibilities? Let’s say to uphold truth and justice maybe? To speak out? To act? To choose be an Ally? We spoke about the disempowering impact of the abuse of power. Please allow me to share the liberating feeling experienced when in the face of adversity, a single holder of privilege steps in to set things right, when there is no gain to self. That individual simply or with difficulty chooses to be an Ally. Yes, a White, heterosexual privileged male chose to say, “This is not okay”, when witnessing a colleague in a power-abuse scenario. This is woke! 

What is woke? 

We often talk about wokeism, as if it is some indiscernible undefinable notion. This one courageous act of standing-up for what is right is an act of wokeism. Let us not overcomplicate things. 

Wokeism is being weaponized and referenced for example as a “destroyer” of free speech and academic integrity, when in fact, it seeks to do just the opposite. Let me simplify it: Anti-wokeism is simply a distraction tactic, a phenomenon or way to create a scapegoat or an imaginary enemy (thus those “woke police” with their “cancel culture”) so that we detract from the social justice momentum gained through solidarity, thereby repositing threat where society manufactures it and where it comfortably rests: in the bosoms of the powerless. 

In 2023, as Radboud University celebrates its historic centennial birthday, let us KISS [Keep It Short and Simple]: Woke is being conscious, woke is speaking truth to power; woke is reality, not fiction. Woke is to not be asleep to injustices, to open our eyes to the disparities around us, to no longer remain inactive — to Act. 

The landscape of diversity, equity and inclusion is rapidly becoming riddled with rhetoric deliberately designed to obscure, churning over and over again in a melting pot of chaotic fake news and misquoted narratives so that we can no longer see where truth begins and deception ends. 

This is an invitation to stay on track. This is a call for clarity. 

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This column is part of a series of columns on social safety, equity and inclusion. Regularly, a new column will appear in the weekly news.