Dian Wijnstein, a student assistant to UvA EB Diversity Officer Siri Boe-Lillegraven, supervised the seminar, held that Friday morning in the Hybrid Learning Theatre (HLT). Boe-Lillegraven discussed the importance of moving UvA EB’s diversity policies in the right direction, a key aspect being EB’s collaboration with students. In the past semester, 4 students completed a mini-project as a way of supporting and enhancing those diversity policies. It was coordinated by Wijnstein, under the supervision of Boe-Lillegraven.
Lecturers should create more interaction
More and more international students are enrolling at UvA. If their environment is to be inclusive, with students feeling sufficiently comfortable to speak up, good communication between lecturers and students is a must. This is what Adrian-Stefan Oprea, a third-year student, concluded from his study. It was based on a survey of 98 students, student advisors and members of the diversity committee. Students indicated that they actively take part in lectures if they know other students personally and that they are sometimes more reticent if fellow-students are critical. If lecturers take a few minutes to allow students to connect, they will be stimulated to play a more active part. Equally important to improving the dynamics of the group is the greater use of constructive feedback by lecturers even when students give the wrong answer.
Redefining 'Dutch' student
A report entitled Kopzorgen van Caribische studenten (Caribbean student headaches) and issued by the Nationale Ombudsman (Dutch Ombudsman) was the reason for Abdul Dabboussi, a student from Curacao, to examine what it means to be a Dutch student. After all, the Kingdom of the Netherlands consists of 4 countries, namely the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten. But quite often, it is unclear whether students from the Caribbean Netherlands fall under 'Dutch' or 'international'. 'To make a programme inclusive, staff need to be aware of the various nationalities and the problems students face,' Dabboussi explains. A first step is an up-to-date landing page on the website listing all the resources available to this group of students. And a student’s life will be easier if he or she is assigned to a student advisor with a similar background.
Catch-up for first-generation students
Jiachen Zhong, a student from China, discovered that it can be difficult to collect data for research. He received help with the data needed for his project from Dr Silvia Dominguez Martinez and Siri Boe-Lillegraven. Zhong points out that first-generation students are often full of ambition but do not know how to realise it. At UvA EB too, there is a lack of data and hence knowledge about the specific needs of these, as well as other, students. They are less likely to get financial and mental support from relatives and have a greater need for help. Good social skills and networks also play a key role. There is a knowledge gap vis-à-vis other students, who do have the requisite knowledge and contacts. 'UvA EB or more senior students could provide this group with on-going targeted support,' says Zhong.
Flexibility is crucial
Taking action to effect change is a motto fifth-year student Ihab Laachir puts into practice every day. Laachir has a visual impairment and gets help from a student assistant. It is something he spent 3 years fighting for, partly because it was unclear who was responsible for helping him. He points out there are very few UvA EB initiatives designed to improve processes for students with a physical impairment. He proposes that departments keep track of students with a physical impairment so that student advisors can approach these students proactively. In addition, a mentoring programme and a feedback system might help all those concerned think carefully about the accessibility of the faculty. Laachir observes: 'People expect students to be innovative and flexible even though this cannot be said of the organisation. If you exchange ideas and try out new things, students as well as staff will be better off.'