Vote Tanja for Dienstraad SEA

After some hurdles I am now officially a candidate for the Employee Council or Dienstraad of SOZ/SEA. This council represents the interests and welfare of staff members and promotes, to the best of their ability, openness, transparency and consultation within SOZ/SEA.

Why do you want to join the Employee Council?

I want to make a difference. As part of my work I’ve built a very wide network within the university, and I would like all SEA employees to benefit from that in the (digital) transformational changes that are before us. I strongly believe in diversity, inclusion and sustainability, and the benefits that would bring to all employees of Leiden University.

What do you want to accomplish in the Employee Council?

While I have a wide experience in promoting staff wellness, I would like to work in particular on inclusion and sustainability within SEA. I am thinking concretely about things like:

  • Thinking deep and well about all our digital events and all our communication. Is it accessible to everybody? Is there a sign language translator? Do we subtitle things? Is an English version available? Do presentations follow guidelines on font and colours? Is everybody represented at SEA? Do you count as well?
  • Connecting different parts of SEA, and breaking closed circles by working on shared projects. What can we mean for each other, and how can we bring inclusion and sustainability further?
  • How can we contribute to inclusion and sustainability of Leiden University as SEA in concrete ways. For instance: how can we create green spaces in and outside SEA buildings both to promote staff & student wellness and in a larger sense reduce the carbon footprint of the university.? What can we do to green other parts of our ways of working like travelling less and consuming sustainably ?
  • How can we reduce work pressure and increase staff enjoyment, for instance by increasing agile workmethods & digitalisation and decreasing bureaucracy so we can be more flexible in reacting to opportunities and challenges.

Who are you and what are your experiences?

My name is Tanja de Bie, and I’ve been working with the Centre for Innovation since 2013. My portfolio includes online learning, community management, social media and digital platforms. Before moving to CFI,  I worked at the Bestuursbureau at what is now SAZ, which gave me an unique insight on how Leiden University operates, as well as a very wide network in all faculties. This past crisis year I have concentrated on knowledge transfer of the tips & tricks of online learning to teachers and support staff. I have also been exploring how to better run digital events. Me and my team organize (online) workshops and other digital events. I have also helped launch the Sustainability Network in Teams by supporting LUGO with coaching, and am currently working on the peer to peer network Teaching@Science, an initiative of SEEDS, the teacher support desk of the faculty of Science. I am embedded at SEEDS for two days a week. I am also a member of the Digital Accessibility working group.

I studied history at Leiden, and later moved to healthcare management in home care, before returning to my alma mater. I have hands on experience in quality care, team coaching and care planning. I also have a (hobby) background in roleplaying games and online resource communities on that subject., which I often find useful in my work. I have a passion for gardening and green spaces, and was one of the initiators of the Mindful Garden @ Schouwburgstraat The Hague,  part of the De-Mystifying Mindfulness Course of Leiden University.

You can read more about me on my personal page in this blog.

What are your values?

This is what I stand for:

  • Diversity and Inclusion  (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ability)
  • Sustainability (individually, but also systemic)
  • Deep listening & empathy
  • Collaboration & helping each other
  • Positivity

Day of the Turkey

Thanksgiving is a very specific American celebration (though there exists a Canadian variation at another date, and one could consider other European harvests fests like the Octoberfest in Bavaria as similar in origin if one was a historic pedantic, which of course I am ).

There are many academic angles to look at this party. There is the Thanksgiving myth, the rather more nasty historic reality of colonialism and the interaction with indigenous people, and the present day cultural phenomena of a family get together that is getting a big wack this year due to the pandemic. All of those are, at least in part, American in origin.

So why then does a Dutch girl force her family to each year to eat Turkey, not at Christmas, but late November?

First of all I am part of a family of expats, who have lived in the USA among other places. Not just once, but twice. My mother learned some pretty good Kansas recipes in the early sixties, before introducing young me to 1974 Houston culinary delights such as chili, BBQ and Turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce. It delights me to continue these cooking habits. Food, and the history of recipes, is an underestimate social history act that we can continue to keep alive.

I studied North American studies as part of my history studies (doctoraal history was so different from Ba/Ma), and so there is a lot I picked up then too, and made my own. I just like that being reflected in my food choices and habits. It is a little fan habit, just like enjoying English food on other occassions.

There is something nice too, even in an atheist household, to asking everybody to reflect with gratitude on the year past. It is something I hope my children eventually see the value of (right now they hate it, its just Mum being difficult again ). I ask each of them to specifically state what they are grateful for before digging into the food.

So yes, this year I will be making the Kansas Turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, and for good measure might attempt pumpkin pie. We will remember in gratitude that nobody in my family has yet succumbed to COVID. Celebrate the fact that all adults in the room, including two kids, decided to volunteer to become poll volunteers for our national election because following the US elections made us aware one needs to cherish democracy and never take it for granted. And enjoy much good food.

The language of secrets

English is a skill most of my family from my maternal side have on a (near) native level. There are reasons for that, but it is also a very carefully crafted family myth that motivates younger generations to fill those big shoes.

Let me start with the origin story. After World War II and the Indonesian Independence war my grandparents decided to live outside the Netherlands for a while, like many of their contemporaries disappointed with the Dutch government. I’ll talk war stories at some other point in time. For now it is enough to know that my grandfather, previously a radio media man, became an immigration civil servant in Rhodesia in the 50’s, taking his family with him. Rhodesia was an English colony at that time, and my mother and her siblings, most of them in their teenage years, attended an English boarding school that also took in day school students. Very, very English.

So, enter two things into my activist maternal family: an intimate knowledge of the injustices of racism in Africa, and a fluent, very fluent understanding of English and English culture. We can talk about those racial injustices at some other time, but for now, note that all siblings learned English to such a degree that once they returned to the Netherlands they were fluent. It also became the family language, the language in which secrets are spoken that you do not want the young ones to understand. Often it became an instinctive use of English on certain topics that, really, as a young person you want to know about. Plus a family love for all things English. London. Tea. Shakespeare and historical drama’s. Watching The Crown.

So subsequent younger generations have had a very high level of expectations on their level of English, but also an instant motivation: the language of secrets, who doesn’t want to know? Aided by a stay in Houston (Texas, USA) when I was a small child, my English got a further boost, but even my younger siblings and cousins were pretty good at it. No longer perfect, but still pretty remarkable. I’ve used it to my advantage during my career, as have they.

In turn our children ALSO excel in English, for, let’s be honest here, it is still the language of secrets. Plus the proud encouragement from several elder generations. For instance I took all 3 of my children to London once they could order an English breakfast. Honestly, with this positive reinforcement, who wouldn’t learn English?

Right now my eldest son is learning to be an English teacher, while the younger ones and their cousin are scoring pretty high on the scale too, even if that doesn’t match with the rest of their education level. They are very proud to perform too. My mother meanwhile, who is suffering from Dementia, speaks to us in Dutch and English as the mood strikes her. We indulge her. We all speak secrets.

A blog without a questionmark !

Blogging is an interesting medium in an academic setting. It is popular form of scientific communication. You want to be clear and brief, but you also want to stick to the facts. Other academics no doubt have written about it more. I am just exploring it now in a personal capacity.

What I have learned from my first month on this personal site is that it needs more planning, so I can better link in sources and do a bit of research before mouthing off on a topic I am interested in. I am not unfamiliar with the work involved (I do it regularly for my work, and was trained as a student to always source material) but I find that I also need that on my personal site. In a way it has become a way of life.

This is true also for social media. I tend to be cautious in the way I communicate on Twitter, making sure I can link to authorative sources for instance, or formulating something in a more balanced professional way. In addition I try to avoid controversy, unless it is a question of ultimate justice. Just as I use my personal media, I should use my blogging opportunity as a grey zone between personal and professional, because you are never NOT a professional. Are you an academic? Then academic integrity also applies to your personal sphere or it would appear weird, not authentic. That is just my humble opinion.

In the weeks ahead I will be working with many departments in the university about how to handle expectation management in communities and in social media, both in and outside the university. It will be interesting to see if we find a solution for the grey zone that works for everybody.

2020: Annulus Horriblis or Annulus Mirablis?

I always knew that 2020 would be a year of reflection for me. It is one of those anniversaries you can mark on your calender decades in advance. Born in 1970 I have an easy way for people, including my children to keep track of how old I am, and so there was no avoiding 50 and really, why would I?

Now, counting in decades is not always a useful way of describing periods in one’s life. There are other markers along the path that may be more useful, such as graduation, the birth of children, new jobs etc. Still, I think 50 deserves special consideration, at the very least because unlike 40, most women I know are willing to acknowledge such a momentous ocassion. Meeting Sara. It is when you stop hiding and say, yes, I am older than yesterday and yet here I am, with all that I am.

As 2020 started I was full of optimism. I planned several holidays, and booked them in the university system to be efficient. The first one, a trip down memory lane in London with my son to celebrate his propedeuse for English Teacher, in retrospect was rather omniously predictive. In the last week of February we smiled at some people in the street wearing masks, mostly Asian visitors, and had a lovely high tea in the British Museum, saw a most wonderful Royal Stuarts Exhibition and, of course, some pints in the pub. I think it might be several years before either of us returns to this town close to our hearts.

By the time my second holiday kicked in, to celebrate the 18th birthday of my Freedom girl early May, we were all at home already since mid March. Easter had seen us doing a family pub quiz. This time I had help from some of my innovative co-workers so friends and family could celebate with us with a nice creative digital project with well wishes and pictures. We were making do. We were, against all hope, still expecting we’d be back to normal soon.

By the time summer came, and we escpaed to a small castle tower in the Ardennes for a week, nobody in my family was under any illusion of normality returning and instead we found ourselves a hiding place. We enjoyed the sun, the Belgium beers and a lot, a LOT of card and table top games. Yet, we also knew that my work would would extend the staying at home period till somewhere in 2021 and the kids too feared most of their learning would be online for the foreseable future.

Now it is Autumn and my fourth break, originally to celebrate Leids Ontzet and my birthday, both of which are now virtual and but a pale imitation of what could be, with a grim lining because my household is in self isolation, for the 2nd time. Being in touch with many young people has its drawbacks, bless ’em.

Yet, is it all doom and gloom? I must admit that my work has never been so exhilerating as this last year, with years of hard work, research and innovation coming to the rescue of my 445 year old Leiden University. We have explored online learning, platforms, trolling, data analytics, virtual meetings & seminars and more in the past 7 years and finally, the campus was ready for it. We have all worked ourselves to death, I’ve written my fingers blue, but it has been very, very satisfying to be of help and getting that work recognized by the university. I even got to attend the Opening of the Academic Year as you can see from the glorious pictures on my site.

It helps, I think, if during a crisis you have something worthwhile to do, keeping people first in a digital age. Not to mention the fact that tech developments now allow for online communities to form at our university, opening whole new levels of digital transformation, efficiency and cohesion. We started the Sustainability Network and even the Luscious Leiden cooking club. For somebody working as community manager that is exciting! People are connecting and even collaborating. It will bring us further.

It is a year full of new chances, already apparant or still to be sprung upon us. One upcoming chance at least is clear in my mind: the road back to hope in the USA, my original object of study. I foresee a few days off from work in November just to keep track of history there. I always keep in mind what prof Lammers told class “Always keep close attention on presidential election news, it will save you a lot of work when you have to catch up.” Indeed. The T. wil remain the T. but the end of this presidency can’t come soon enough.

Speaking of history, think of how we will look back on this year decades from now. In 2020 we will have survived a very memorable (if not perhaps wonderful) year that historians will write about for a long time and which you might tell your grandchildren about. I hope for future historians you have all kept diaries, logging your actions and most importantly, your thoughts. Donate them to museums and archives, to prosperity, to historians and your descendants. May the new decade be the dawn of new social movements, the end of neo liberalism and substantial action for climate change.

As I celebrate my last holiday of this year, three months from now, I hope you will raise your glass with me and say goodbye to 2020 with all its horrible lows and wonderful highs. Another decade. Another road full of discoveries.

Starting a blog?

Never easy, especially as I have a ready publishing place at the website of my work. However, there is enough to keep my occupied over the years, so I will in share some thoughts here from time to time, on writing, on gaming and on going green.