Every day, the editorial staff at the UK wonders: What are we writing about, why are we writing about it, and how are we writing about it? A weekly look behind the scenes.
Two years ago, the UK asked RUG staff and students about Black Pete. Did they think he should be black, blue like a Smurf, rainbow-coloured, or covered in soot? More than half of the people interviewed were in favour of maintaining Sinterklaas’ helper’s traditional look. In short, he should be black.
Last week, we polled people again. We wanted to know if, over the past two years, there had been a shift at the RUG or if people had doubled down on their opinions – or if everything had remained the same.
This year’s poll was an exact copy of the one we conducted two years ago: the same questions, the same cross section of the faculties, the same number of respondents (100), proportionally divided into Dutch people and internationals (other countries have different – much more critical – thoughts on Black Pete).
It turns out that some things had indeed changed. People who supported Black Pete back then have apparently begun to have doubts or have even switched sides. Two years ago, half of those interviewed were still pro-Black Pete; in the most recent survey, that was only a third. That is quite a difference.
One pleasant and well-meaning person who had dressed up as Black Pete for years to entertain people wrote this in response to the UK survey: ‘It’s so annoying how people just take every opportunity to accuse us of discrimination.’
Opponents had a different response: ‘Just change Pete at the university; it’s a small thing that will make a lot of people happy. Every year, the RUG hesitates or squabbles about this issue, it shows that it’s just a conservative country bumpkin university rather than a modern and internationally-oriented organisation.’
Draw your own conclusions.
Some questioned what these numbers even mean. ‘You only interviewed 100 people, but the total RUG population is 37,000 strong. You cannot possibly think that this is a representative survey.’
Fair enough. But it wasn’t a survey. To provide an accurate picture, a survey needs to meet various requirements (male/female ratio, ages, backgrounds, socio-economic status, race, religion, postcode, etc., etc.). We did not meet any of these requirements. It was just an exit poll – a snap shot, if you like.
And it was the same kind of snap shot that we made two years ago, using the same (admittedly somewhat simple) methodology. That means that it is a fairly reliable indication of people’s sentiments.
My own interpretation of the criticism is this: People probably thought that the UK was opposed to a traditional Pete, so we came up with this crappy poll.
Of course we discussed whether Black Pete was still okay in this day and age here in the newsroom, just like many other people in offices all across the Netherlands and at the RUG have done. And yes, some editors are diametrically opposed. And there were also proponents. And there are people who just aren’t really sure (I’ll readily admit that I am among this last group).
We can’t really help but conclude that the poll we held at the RUG doesn’t differ all that much from what people in the newsroom think.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a nice reflection of reality.
Rob Siebelink, editor-in-chief