The History of the SHIELD Club
By Founder Heather Dannyelle Thompson
MPP Class of 2021
Part I: The landscape of DEI at The Hertie School in 2019 and a catalyst for change
In November 2019, the late president of The Hertie School (then ‘The Hertie School of Governance’), President Henrik Enderlein, called together an all-school meeting to present the results of the ‘Climate Survey’, a student, faculty, and staff survey distributed at the end of the 2018 school year to assess where the school stands on its diversity efforts and how comfortable the school community felt as far as diversity.
During this meeting, President Enderlein also presented an 82 point plan for addressing diversity concerns within the school. When it was first presented, it had no space for progress bars — only the anticipated dates to finish. It has since been updated.
During this event there were several inciting incidents. When announcing the school’s commitment to no ‘manels’ (panels with only male speakers and no women present), a current first year student asked the president if they could also commit to having no all-white panels. In response, President Enderlein dismissed the suggestion as infeasible, noting that there were not enough specialists of color to commit to the idea. When other students pushed back further, Enderlein stated that he felt race was not an appropriate indicator of diversity.
For those students not from continental Europe, this seemed a radical idea. His statement reflected a soon to be understood fact of German life: the taboo of addressing race.
In response to the uproar that soon followed, President Enderlein called a meeting with some of the most vocal students from the meeting. In what would become the precursor to the official Hertie club, Babatunde Williams and Heather Dannyelle Thompson became the unofficial leaders of this small group of representatives, among other very vocal first year students. The meeting served to cool the air between the late president and to calmly exchange ideas and points of view. However, it was clear very soon that the two views on how to handle diversity were incompatible.
The university’s stance on race was to exclude it, preferring to focus on gender diversity, as was reflected by the original survey and 82 point plan. President Enderlein explained the limitations of asking about race or ethnicity in Germany to the students. The plan also lacked points to address diverse sexual identity and orientation. To our vantage point, the plan largely rotated on addressing gender and sexual harassment in response to an inciting incident the year before.
When the tension did not die down, President Enderlein called a meeting of a listening session for aggrieved students to come and voice their concerns over the schools approach to DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Though the meeting was during exam prep week, the attendance overflowed the modest room it was booked in, with at least 30 students attending plus President Enderlein and Susanne Park-Gleissner, Enderlein’s administrative assistant and head of the 82 point plan. The attendance rate was thanks in no small part to the campaigning efforts of Babs and Dannyelle, who even took to email the distribution lists for the university’s student bodies to remind students to attend (the list has since been made private so that only school administrators can address the student body in this way).
While the meeting was successful in engaging the student body and in challenging the administration to rethink their stance on diversity, the issues brought forward largely remained unresolved as the school headed into finals season and then into the holidays.
Part II: Being ready; in the right place at the right time
Before the campaign could continue, the world plunged into the pandemic, with the school announcing its own closure on Wednesday, March 11th to begin immediately. We believed the campaign had met its natural end as all else remained unsure during the early stages of the pandemic.
In the end, the pandemic brought not a stall to our efforts, but a new life. When, in May of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement erupted all over the world, our efforts found new light. With new fire under our belts, we campaigned for the Hertie school codes to include protections for students of diverse origins, backgrounds, and identities. The first step was to garner a petition. The petition, called “An Adequate Grievance Procedure for Hertie” was authored by Babatunde and circled by the same students who led the efforts from the beginning. The petition asked “to include racism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia in our grievance procedure,” of which were not included in the grievance procedure in a systemic way (they were covered in a blanket statement for interpersonal student harassment).
The petition went on to gain signatures from 284 members of the Hertie community (292 including the co-proposers and seconders), past and present. As a single cohort of Hertie is about 300 students, this was considered a huge feat. The petition was delivered to President Enderlein on July 25th via email by Dannyelle Thompson.
This petition was followed by a feature in Bloomberg News for Germany, featuring Dannyelle as the leader for the campaign at the Hertie School in a piece illustrating the resistance to addressing social justice on the basis of race in Germany. The article was published on 28th August 2020.
Part III: The birth of SHIELD
This same month, Dannyelle began the work of assembling a group of students to lead the school in a policy and advocacy-based approach to DEI. Recruiting her close ally, Becca Burgmeier, and, of course, her fellow campaigner, Babatunde Williams, they next sought to bring on incoming first years. Previous DEI efforts had largely remained unsuccessful, due largely to the fact that turnover in the university is extremely high due to its 2 year length and the large percentage of students who choose to stay at Hertie for either one or two semesters to opt for a semester abroad, a dual programme, or a professional year. Creating a coalition that always included incoming students has always been crucial to the design of the organization to ensure continuity, the passage of knowledge and procedures, history, and brand/reputation.
Through the student life office, Dannyelle placed an ad for incoming students to contact her for an interview to serve on the board of the new org, and after a round of interviews, Lena Wagner, Caelan Graham, and Diksha Choudhary were added to the inaugural executive board. It was Diksha who eventually came up with the name and acronym for the organization and Dannyelle who designed the logo.
Unbeknownst to the predecessors of SHIELD, President Enderlein was facing his own personal battle with cancer. In a personal message to the Hertie community on 6 September 2020, President Enderlein that his malignant melanoma had resurfaced and he had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Departing immediately to undergo treatment, he named Managing Director, Axel Baisch, Dean Mark Hallerberg, Dean Christine Reh and Dean Andrea Römmele as the joint committee to cover his responsibilities in his absence.
Over the first year, SHIELD became widely known on campus, not only as a premiere club within the student body, but as a reliable source for advocates and a voice for the student body on diversity and inclusion. We hosted events on women’s rights, the BLM movement in Europe, launched the Ally Programme to encourage dialogue among students about the intersectional nature of identity, and consulted with the university administration on the selection for professors, DEI efforts and serving on the Anti-Discrimination Taskforce with led by Dr. Emilia Roig, which eventually resulted in the creation of a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.
In February 2021, President Enderlein sent a letter to the university expressing that he felt his long-term path to recovery could not sustain his duties as President. He tendered his resignation on the 7th of February and Dean Hallerberg became Acting President.
SHIELD finished its first year strong and Dannyelle selected Eduardo Campbell and Lena Wagner as her successors as First Chairs. She currently serves as the Alumni Chair for this year and future years and it is her hope that the organization continues to make pragmatic and paradigm shifting campaigns, policy, and advocacy efforts for the school and to become the model of university DEI policy within Europe. See SHIELD’s archives for more detail on his previous events, guest speakers, policy initiatives and campaigns.
In May of 2021, Acting President Dean Hallerberg announced to the university that former President Enderlein has passed away from melanoma after a swift and brutal downturn in his health. We join the school in its mourning of our former president. Though it is tempting to view President Enderlein as an adversary in SHIELD’s efforts, the truth, as is usually the case in this field, is much more complex. Though we differed in our views, priorities, and commitment to intersectional identity, Enderlein never shied away from the conversation or was unwilling to listen to new ideas. In matters of diversity and inclusion, it is tempting to engage in ‘calling out’; however, my ethos and the cornerstone of my approach to building SHIELD’s operations, approach, and brand was instead to ‘call in’. Enderlein personally allowed us to do so. May he rest in peace.