Student Perspectives: Anonymous (1/2)

What does inclusion mean to you?

When I have reviewed how I wanted to be included in the past and now, it is like I want to be behind a screen and want people to listen to my voice that is neutral in some way. I know this is not possible. I really want to be heard for what I say and not only for the other attributes. I want to be on the same page and want that everyone who interacts with me also feels that they listen to what I have to say and understand me. It goes both ways, it bounces back: I need to include people into my life and my perspectives.

Are there any inclusive practices at your university that you would like to highlight?

I started studying my current programme in the aftermath of Covid, but there were some practices from the pandemic still being used. The teacher made videos of lectures but also converted them to MP4 so I could listen to them: I bike to school so this really suits me. It’s nice because he stressed that students learn differently, with some wanting to listen to (or read or watch) materials repeatedly, and some preferring the classic way of learning of sitting in a lecture and asking questions. So that was a really good practice.

However, some teachers only showed slides to those who turned up to class, and wouldn’t share them if you couldn’t be there. There are numerous reasons why people sometimes can’t attend a class – life happens, and as students we’re not different from other people in this way. That was a really bad practice that excluded a lot of students, because they made it clear that the slides would show old exam questions that often came up again.

What new or improved practices would you like to see?

I would widen participation in the practice where you can adjust your studies if you are an elite gymnast, to include other kinds of activities for which you might need to leave for some time. For instance some students may go to do military service for a few days or weeks, and they need help in making adjustments to their studies. Students who are elite gymnasts can be away for a month at a competition, and adapt their exam schedules around this. They have that option but not students who are sick or have other reasons for being absent. This is something that could be improved.

I’m also a big fan of quick fixes and small changes. One small function that could be added is the ability to be anonymous when raising issues or giving feedback. The feedback forms in the library ask you to write your email address so they can contact you: maybe it would be better to be able to send criticism without needing to be contacted, especially if it’s a difficult matter where you are afraid to face further actions. We use Canvas, and I’d like there to be a Canvas page where you can send in feedback anonymously, and if a lot of students are criticising a bad practice, this can be sent up to the correct part of the university.

Again we have to bear in mind what inclusion means for all of us. For me, it means being who I am without compromising; but at the same time I liked what they did for the musicians in a symphony orchestra, where they put up screens so the audience would only evaluate their playing and not their appearance. As a result, recruitment for women increased. I view inclusion in that way, and being able to file complaints anonymously, and have anonymous discussions, is part of that.

Another thing I’d like to implement: when we started to discuss this, we agreed that we all have common ground, we are all on the same level, no one’s experiences stand above someone else’s, and we all need to listen. I’ve never had a teacher who started a discussion like this, and it’s weird because without this common ground a lot of people can’t have a good discussion, with a positive tone. So we should teach the teachers and give them these tools for creating an inclusive environment. Having said that, the biggest difficulty I have had is not with teachers, but with the male audience of my class: they tend to not listen to women.

There was one class where the teacher said ‘You Taliban in the back, can you close the door?’ It became a whole discussion, and the student had to be involved in the process of moving the issue forwards, pointing out what the teacher had said and why it was not okay. They felt pressured in a really bad way. Maybe if there were other ways to tell professors they are wrong, rather than having to stand there in your private self… After university you want a career, so you want to pick your fights. The university cannot work blindly towards a goal without knowing how things really are, and with anonymity you get a better view of that.

Also, we need short-term evaluation for each course, but we also need to see how the university is doing in the longer term. We need people from the outside to evaluate how we are doing in these policies and practices, not laying everything on the students who are in this position for maybe three years. And then we have this problem that a lot of students don’t know who the student reps are: our names aren’t listed anywhere, so how can you value these people who want to make a change for our fellow classmates?