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Inequalities in the 21st century


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes.

Topics: Income inequality, gender inequality, racial inequality, disability and inequality, educational inequality, intersectionality, diversity
Disciplines: History, economics, gender studies, race studies, educational science, psychology
Skills: The skills students will learn:

  • Public speaking (incl. pitching)

  • Applying the method and mindset of Design Thinking

  • Collaboration

  • Interviewing

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.


This course engages with a crucial challenge for the 21st century: how do we deal with the growing inequalities within our society? Despite the meritocratic ideal, many inequalities persist. For example, Thomas Piketty has recently shown that economic inequality is back at the same high level as on the eve of the First World War. Others have demonstrated that more unequal countries do worse on a host of indicators: life expectancy, social mobility, education and mental health, but also obesity and teen pregnancy. In addition, recent research shows that the gender pay gap still exist and prime minister Mark Rutte confirmed the existence of systemic racism in Dutch society.

These different forms of inequality often intersect and can reinforce each other, which is why this course focuses on five different but overlapping inequalities: social-economic, race, gender, education and ability.

The first part of the course gives you the theoretical background you need to tackle a societal challenge. You will engage in discussions with invited guest speakers from both academic and the professional field. In the second part of the course, you will choose a specific challenge from a societal partner (like the municipality, a school or partners within the university) around a certain theme.

This way, you will tackle a global problem on a local scale, with the aim of making a difference in the real world. Challenges might include: how can we ensure equal chances of promotion within our organisation, how might we make the university more inclusive, or how do we make sure that the transition from primary to high school is fair and successful for every child?

Using the method of Design Thinking, you will analyse the situation, brainstorm about possible improvements and develop them in dialogue with the relevant stakeholders. At the final meeting, you will present your solution to the societal partners.

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Recognise structural inequalities when they encounter them

  • Discuss inequalities in a constructive manner

  • Discuss how different forms of inequality interact

  • Reflect upon the ways in which different forms of inequality might affect them personally

  • Apply the methods and mindset of Design Thinking to a societal challenge

  • Pitch a solution to a societal stakeholder

Programme and timetable:

Wednesdays 17.30-18.45/19.15-20.30

3 February: Introduction, assessment and economic inequality
10 February: Discussing intersecting inequalities
17 February: Challenge Fair
24 February: Design Thinking
3 March: Inequality 1
10 March: Inequality 2
17 March: Inequality 3
31 March: Inequality 4
7 April: Group coaching
14 April: Group coaching
21 April: Presentation of first prototypes
28 April: Group coaching
12 May Final presentations


Old Observatory in Leiden and/or online via Kaltura.

Reading list:

The reading list will be made available on Brightspace.

Course load and teaching method:

This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours:

  • Seminars: 32 hours (participation is mandatory)

  • Literature reading: 40 hours

  • Societal challenge: 58 hours

  • Assignments: 10 hours

Assessment methods:

Assessment will be based on participation, reflection assignments, group work and the solution presented to stakeholders. The precise break-down will be determined together with the students during the first meeting.

Students can only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Students can register for the Brightspace page one week prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

UPDATE 29-10
Registration will be possible from Monday 9 November 2020 up to and including Thursday 19 November 2020 23:59 via the registration link on the student website of the Honours Academy.

Dr. Bram Hoonhout