‘Together, we have to ensure that the faculty is a respectful and safe environment’
Student initiative COOP is committed to a respectful and safe academic environment. Here is a report of the activities over the past few months.
A recent Foundation for Individual Rights in Education report reveals that 80% of American college students regularly suppress their views and avoid speaking up. From discussions with students and teaching staff from Leiden University, it appears they share similar concerns.
Self-confidence and compassion
Student initiative COOP is committed to creating an academic environment in which students can develop ideas in a respectful way. In order to move from ‘COnflicting OPinions’ to ‘COOPeration’, the initiative strives for an inclusive dialogue. In this context, several events have been organised to provide students with communication skills they can use when engaging in complex, or even controversial discussions. For example, they worked on ‘self-confidence’ and ‘compassion’ skills.
The COOP events also provided opportunities for open discussions. All student participants emphasised the importance of a safe, diverse, and inclusive learning environment at university. Some students also shared past experiences of microaggressions and discrimination in class. They voiced how certain language used in class made them feel excluded based on their gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, religion, age, or ability. The student participants also addressed the asymmetric power dynamic between students and teaching staff because of grades and evaluation based on participation, which makes them more likely to hold back in expressing their opinions.
Subsequently, several COOP events worked on concrete ideas and strategies for students and teachers to foster an inclusive academic community. Students can use non-aggressive communication to express themselves when someone makes them feel uncomfortable, ask the person they disagree with for a 1-on-1 conversation over coffee, stand up for silenced classmates, report violations (anonymously), and participate in D&I initiatives at the faculty. Meanwhile, instructors should be aware of the unequal lecturer-student power dynamic, their possible biases, and their responsibility as a moderator in class who can redirect the discussion from exclusion to inclusion. According to Mo Gordon, one way to tackle exclusion is to become aware of how we are linguistically socialised. It is better to practise inclusive speech and to learn from mistakes rather than not speaking about D&I issues at all.
These insights only reveal the tip of the iceberg of the many (non-)actions we, as an academic community, could explore and implement to promote a diverse and inclusive learning and teaching environment where everyone feels empowered, safe, and respected. In collaboration with the POPcorner, a panel discussion about the Faculty’s Code of Conduct will follow next semester.