If you are a frequent visitor of the Polak building, you have probably seen a mysterious whiteboard pop up near its entrance not too long ago. “Diversity is…”, it said, inviting curious passers-by to share their thoughts on the topic. And share their thoughts they did: after a few days, the board was full of ideas, comments and opinions. Last week, the initiative was claimed by a local student-led social movement called #UNWRAPPED. In April, this movement gained presence on social media, and now they are moving offline. Who are the people behind all this, and what do they want to achieve? We spoke with IBCoMmers Inge Wessels (BA-3) and Wei Wha Xu (BA-2) to learn more.
The #UNWRAPPED team consists of eight EUR students who came together in February and have since worked together to build an online platform to fight extremism and division and to create awareness of the benefits of diversity. Both Inge and Wei Wha are part of the social media team, where they discuss and implement social media strategies and create online content. Inge explains where #UNWRAPPED came from. “It’s part of a worldwide initiative aimed at fighting extremism through online campaigning, and Erasmus University wanted to set it up here. Indira Gerards and Etienne Augé posted about it on Facebook, and we just responded.” Wei Wha: “Officially, they are our supervisors. But we are encouraged to do things autonomously, because in the end, it’s a student-based project. We have the authority to do what we think is best, in the social media team as well. As long as we stick to the strategies we came up with together, of course.”
Although the team contains members from all across the university, our programme is well represented with no less than three out of ten members. Perhaps because much of what #UNWRAPPED does is very much in line with IBCoM. With its diversity theme, of course, but also as a social media campaigning project. Indeed, Wei Wha joined the project primarily to put the knowledge he gained about media campaigns and communication into practice. “I’m interested in how media can influence people, and for that, #UNWRAPPED is a great learning opportunity.” Inge: “I’m really happy there are people from other courses in our team too, though. Everyone has different insights and skills. For example, we have someone from IBA who is really good with money and numbers, which is something most IBCoMmers don’t enjoy. It’s good to have that kind of diversity.”
These kinds of perks of diversity is what #UNWRAPPED is all about. Inge explains: “We want people to see that everyone is unique and can bring great things to the table, but also that this uniqueness makes us all similar again. A lot of people think in terms of ‘us vs. them’ and fear the unknown other, and we want to change that. Because you never know what beautiful things other people have to offer. #UNWRAPPED is a platform to make that happen, by bringing people together from all sorts of backgrounds.”
A nice idea, but how does that look in practice? Right now, the team mainly focuses on its live event that will take place on the 29th of May. Wei Wha: “There will be three speakers who talk about the wins of diversity in academia, business, and society, as well as a fun social experiment and drinks.” A social experiment? That sounds exciting! “With the experiment we want to show that thinking in boxes is not the way to go, but that’s all we can say for now. Just come and see for yourself!”
But #UNWRAPPED is doing more, especially on social media. Inge: “We recently organised two photo shoots, and we regularly post a column on our Facebook page where a student explains what diversity means to them. Wei Wha adds: “Everyone can contribute and share their own stories of how diversity improves their life. That’s also the purpose of the whiteboard: it’s a means for people to get involved. To share freely what they have to say about the issue.”
With all these initiatives, the #UNWRAPPED team hopes to first create awareness of the benefits of diversity and the us vs. them mentality, and then to appreciate diversity and actually do something with this information. Wei Wha: “We focus mostly on students, because they have a lot of potential later in life. We hope they will bring their awareness with them in their work lives and use their influence to help fight extremism and promote diversity.” Although it’s still very early, the movement seems to be doing very well. “We notice that people actually want to get involved, they are very enthusiastic about the cause. The whiteboard was full within a couple of days, we get a lot of columns, and we get a lot of help from inside and outside the university as well. We recently got mayor Aboutaleb to help us out, that was amazing.”
Did you get excited to contribute, too? There’s a few things you can do. Follow the project on Facebook, visit the live event on Monday or contact Inge or Wei Wha for a column, for example. Or stay tuned for opportunities to join the team, as some positions may become available when members of #UNWRAPPED have to leave for masters or internships next year. And don’t forget about the little things. “Keep an open mind”, says Wei Wha, and Inge wholeheartedly agrees. “You have no idea what someone can bring to the table.” They may have a lot to offer, no matter what you see on the surface.”