‘Development without Inclusion is not Sustainable’. Catherine Gillo Nilsson and Frederico Cavazzini on Diversity and Inclusion on EUTOPIA Campuses


Catherine Gillo Nilsson is coordinating the Inclusion Group for EUTOPIA MORE, and has also been working on the inclusion team for EUTOPIA 2050. She has been working as the coordinator of the efforts to widen access to and participation in higher education at the University of Gothenburg.

Frederico Cavazzini is an advisor to the Rector of NOVA University, Lisbon. He supports the Rector in the implementation of the university strategic plan and represents NOVA University in the Inclusion Group in the EUTOPIA. He is also coordinating the brand-new office for equality and inclusion at the Rectorate of UNL.

After EUTOPIA 2050, inclusion is no longer a specific work package, but it is transcended over all WPs. How has it impacted the EUTOPIA MORE phase?

Catherine: In EUTOPIA 2050, we had our work package and our own safe space where we could talk about inclusion, formulate our mission and develop strategies. But then the challenge was to connect with the other work packages. Now, we don´t have our own work package, but we are transversal. In EUTOPIA MORE, inclusion is not so visible because it is a small task placed under task 2.5. We are struggling to find ways to be part of all the work packages while being in a small sub-task group.  Work Package 2 is very strategic since it’s about connectedness and continuous harmonization, and the principle of inclusion connects all the work packages.

Frederico:  Even in the Work Package 2.5 Inclusion is not the sole area that is covered. There are several other areas within 2.5. So it makes a difference, and the challenge to make Inclusion more visible and more present is much bigger now. In the first Phase, NOVA University was not part of the Inclusion Work Package, but I was kindly invited to attend some of the meetings as a sort of an observer, and the timing was perfect because we were trying to push forward our inclusion and diversity strategy here at NOVA. The lessons learned from the experience of the six founding partners were critical for the positive changes that have been happening at my university, at NOVA, and particularly in the outcome of this last Diversity and Inclusion Month, in November as shown by the many initiatives that we were able to develop.

Catherine: Even in task 2.5, the overarching principle is sustainability.  It should be inclusion because all the sustainable development goals are based on inclusivity. You don't talk about clean water if it's not clean water for all or quality education; it should be quality education for all. I know that it could be a little bit confusing. But we do not want to lose sight of equality/equity and inclusivity behind the umbrella term sustainability.

Frederico: It must be cross-cutting, and it's not. It shouldn't be seen as a separate area because, as Catherine said, it's transversal to all the other areas of sustainability.

How do you evaluate the transition from EUTOPIA Inclusion Week last year to Inclusion Month this year?

Frederico: It was upgraded this year and was more effective because we didn't have to concentrate all the activities in one week, and in terms of organisation, we were able to spread it across the month, which allowed people to attend different initiatives without having to choose between them.

Catherine:  Last year, we had Inclusion Week in November too. It's practical because we have different semesters; some of us start in September, and some of us start in October.
And some partners, like TUD, already have programs on diversity and inclusion in place as of November. The events were coordinated at each institution, and almost all partner universities came up with interesting programs and actively participated throughout the month. It was a success in terms of being a collaborative and mutual learning activity.

The Inclusion Month consisted of various interesting topics and awareness programmes. How did you identify the kinds of exclusions or discriminations on the respective campuses? Do you conduct any kind of regular survey?  How do you come up with the kinds of programs that you designed for Inclusion Month?

Frederico:  This was the first time for NOVA and I knew that Diversity and Inclusion Week was a success in the previous year. We wanted to set a good example on our side. So apart from the video we produced, which was sort of a teaser for Diversity and Inclusion Month, it was a very interesting exercise to start mobilizing people to think about activities that they would like to organise. At NOVA, we didn't specify or define which activities we were going to develop. We invited the schools, students, professors and staff to contact us with their ideas and initiatives; some of them, as Catherine said, were already going to be implemented anyway, so we just used them. But there were several other initiatives that they brought forward. They approached us, saying it would be interesting to talk about ‘Women’s Leadership in Academia’, or the ‘Integration of Migrants and the Sub-Representation of Minority Groups in Leadership Positions’. Or that it would be interesting if we could have a webinar on ‘Inclusive Language’. So we decided to make people—the students and the staff—feel that they owned the ideas, instead of making them feel like they were being asked for extra work. They contacted me with their ideas. It started with 5 or 6 activities, and once the first draft of the programme was published online, there was a certain positive competition between different schools, and each of them contributed to the success of the monthlong campaign. The only thing that I did here at the Rectorate was the making of the first video and organising the webinar on ‘Inclusive Language’. Even though we had good resources available internally from the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, I thought it would be more effective to involve an external organization to conduct that webinar. So those were the only two initiatives that I organized; all the others came from students, social welfare services, or some of our schools.

Catherine:   I started by sending out invitations to the communications officers at the whole university and asking them if they have any diversity and inclusion-related activities already planned for November because we chose it as Diversity and Inclusion Month. I thought it would be great if we highlighted some activities that they already had in place, besides the new ones that I planned and coordinated.  At the same time, I wanted to see what the other universities and faculties considered as programmes or activities that reflected diversity and inclusion in the institutions and/or fields of study. Fortunately, we also had a conference on migration and integration in contemporary societies. They proposed to highlight a panel discussion and a keynote lecture that were open to all practitioners, decision-makers, and even the general public. It was good because we could invite the general public, students, and staff to the discussion and the keynote speech concerning civil society. Given a very limited budget, two student ambassadors were given the task of initiating, leading, and designing an activity, an event, or a workshop that has to do with diversity and inclusion. The ideas they came up with were amazingly creative! just supervised and acted as a sounding board in their creative process. It was student-led all the way, and that was my focus and objective too. This is to involve the students from the idea to the final execution, not just ask them to do something that staff have already designed or assist in administrative work. Here, they designed, led, and facilitated their two workshops. A success from last year was the ‘International Potluck’, with its cultural flavours and experiences. We initiated this activity because we identified that international students are also vulnerable at our university. They need spaces and opportunities to connect and belong. They had difficulty connecting with the locals, and most of the activities directed at them during the first semester were about “educating” them about Sweden and the Swedes. So in the potluck, it was the other way around. They talked about themselves and shared their own culture, starting with the international dish that they came up with. Last year, it was easier to communicate with the whole group as we only had 50 participants, but this year we had 100, and the diversity of flavours, experiences, and perspectives was highly inspiring.  For me, the focus this year at UGOT was on international students and staff, migration and integration in society, and student-led activities to invite students to come up with their ideas and give them the space and the opportunity to actively do it, facilitate it, and feel it.  The two students have a reflection sheet so that they can share their learnings and what they will do differently next time as a result of their concrete inclusion activities.

You mentioned the vulnerabilities of international students not being able to connect with the locale. How did you identify that? Are there measures in place for the university to identify them and make campus life more inclusive?

Catherine: Yes, we have a section called Welcome Services at the University of Gothenburg. They welcome and support international staff and international students. They work more with the social aspects of welcoming, introduction days and workshops. We have the International Centre, which provides support with more focus on academics and administrative issues. I am also aware that a lot of international students consult Student Health Services for assistance. The student unions also provide information and support to all students. I have facilitated workshops with international students, and the need to belong and to connect, not only at the university but also with the community, is something that they always highlight. Things are always good and exciting at the beginning; it’s the honeymoon phase. Various interesting social activities happen at the beginning of the autumn semester, but then when the winter comes… it's dark, it's cold, and you are alone. It could be depressing if you are not used to it, especially the darkness and being far away from ‘home’.

Frederico: At NOVA, we have foundation years for international students, and during these years, international students are exposed to Portuguese reality, Portuguese culture, and readings, and they write short essays on several different topics. For instance, this year I was invited to give a talk in a session dedicated to inclusion and to share with the students what mechanisms we have in place, what the codes of conduct and ethical codes are, and where they need to go in case they feel that they have been discriminated against or that they need psychological support. This programme is organised by the International Relations Department at the Rectorate. The fact that one of the modules it includes is dedicated to inclusion is particularly helpful for foreign students who are just adjusting to a new country and a new language.

How does the international community add value to the campuses?

Catherine: They come to Sweden as international students because they are not only interested in the subject they are studying, but they are also interested in learning about the culture and the people, interacting with them, and sharing their own culture.  That’s what was highlighted in the potluck because they had the opportunity not only to adapt to the Swedish culture but also to talk about themselves and their culture and share it with others in the group. It's also a matter of pride in what they bring to the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. It is important, and we also have to be grateful for what they bring in and how they enrich our culture, classrooms, and education. We also want to find and open up opportunities for them to involve themselves in the local communities. It needs resources, and we have been trying to find resources for student-led projects in collaboration with communities, civil society and local organisations so that they get experiences beyond the academic ones

What can be done to tackle the lack of visibility and inclusion in EUTOPIA on all campuses? How do you think we can move ahead by implementing the recommendations in the Inclusion Manifesto at the University of Ljubljana?

Catherine: We have an Inclusion Group with very engaged and committed representatives from all ten partners. We are also considered a subgroup within the Sustainability Officers Network. We are in the process of reviewing the current state of our universities to update the EUTOPIA Inclusion Framework to include the four partners who were not involved in EUTOPIA 2050. We do not have an Inclusion work package. However, our overall goal is still to ensure that EUTOPIA is always reflecting on inclusion issues and exploring ways to make its activities, practices, culture, and structures more inclusive. So we want to sustain this continuous engagement about inclusion at all parts and levels of the alliance, but we still lack a natural connection with all the work packages. We would like to explore ways to make use of the Inclusion manifesto as a starting point for continuous dialogue and reflection with the work packages. We have three strategies in our current action plan, and we start with raising awareness.  An annual 'Diversity and Inclusion Month’ is one example of doing it. So we organize activities that could raise awareness about Inclusion issues and efforts. Second, we will try to help design training modules for staff and students. It is within the deliverable called Training Modules to Build Capacity. The third is inclusive communication, which is why association and collaboration with the communications team are very important to us. We are updating the framework and devising the road maps for the implementation of the inclusion strategy of EUTOPIA in all 10 universities. We also have to organise more inclusion-related activities at the EUTOPIA level, like the Expert Inclusion Seminar in Paris. Regarding visibility, there is a lack of visibility not just among the students but also among the staff. We need to involve more students in inclusion activities so that they can step forward, take the lead, and be on the central stage. It’s also an incentive, an encouragement, and an appreciation that they are doing and contributing something valuable.

Frederico: There is a tendency to have the same students and staff participate in all the ETUOPIA events.  Also, with the way the EUTOPIA weeks are transitioning, I'm afraid that we might miss and lose some of the essence, as it's important to connect physically regardless of the formality of the setting.  I think the incentive you mentioned is very important, Catherine. I think that one of the ways that we've been failing here at NOVA, at least about involving and engaging students, is that they don't feel what's in it for them. Thanks to EUTOPIA Week in Lisbon, which was recent, I think that some staff and students already know a little bit about EUTOPIA and there was a lot of buzz around it. But after that, there is a feeling that, with all the assignments and courses they have, why should EUTOPIA be something relevant for them? What does it have to offer them? We have to explain the benefits, opportunities, and incentives. Effective communication is the biggest challenge for us. I think that’s one way to go forward.

CatherineIt's about what's in it for them, and if EUTOPIA is to blossom, we need to show that there is value in this alliance, which national member universities cannot do. We, as EUTOPIA, should celebrate and take advantage of the diversity of students, staff, experiences, knowledge, skills, and perspectives.  We need to highlight the fact that there is strength in an alliance.

What can EUTOPIA do differently than a national university?  How do you think the alliance can define that difference?

Frederico: It’s about having a sense of belonging. The fact that one can go to the University of Gothenburg, Ca’Foscari University Venice, or any other partner university campus and feel that it is their campus too. Being EUTOPIA students, they should feel like they belong to any of the campuses of the multi-meta university that EUTOPIA strives to be, and we haven't gotten there. We are all EUTOPIAns!

As a concluding question, as a workforce or a working group of inclusion, what do you have to tell the EUTOPIA community?

Frederico: To be honest, I'm not an equity, diversity, and inclusion expert. I stepped forward because this was strategic for the Rector, and I have to say that this has been so enriching for me. I've learned so much, especially with our group meetings. I have learned so much from our brainstorming sessions, and I feel very motivated to work on this because this is something that is constantly changing—the concept of diversity and inclusion—and I truly believe in the beauty of diversity and the value that it brings to any organization. Both personally and professionally, it is very motivating for me.

Catherine:  I often quote the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres. He is from Portugal. He said that the evidence is clear: development is not sustainable if it is not fair and inclusive. We can keep on trying, but we should start with equality and inclusion, and it should be at the heart of everything that we do in EUTOPIA. If you want excellence, then you have to put inclusion into practice. Inclusion and excellence should go hand in hand.  In the EUTOPIA MORE inclusion manifesto, inclusive excellence is the term used. The overall purpose is to keep EUTOPIA reflecting on inclusion and exploring how we can build more inclusive cultures, structures, and practices. For that, we sometimes have to meet in person too.