Student Perspectives: Jan (UL)

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

In Ljubljana we recently got a Student Ombudsman: this is an office that operates to uphold equality and inclusion, the implementation of the gender equality plan, the prevention of violence, harassment, and bullying, handling complaints and requests, and providing a psycho-social counselling service. It’s a good practice if it works, but I don’t know exactly what the areas of activity are.

Another thing that is really important to me is the LGBT-friendly certificate. This is not connected to the university, but universities can choose to get certified: the practice operates under the municipality of Ljubljana, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations. If the university or another institution chooses to get certified, they participate in a short training programme where they are educated about these issues. The university is then committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment, and to promote more LGBT-oriented themes. So far, our faculties of Social Work and Maths & Physics are certified. I’m not sure if this is mainly on a symbolic level, or if it works practically, but at least it’s a start that makes you feel more welcome.

Building on that, I also wanted to talk about our LGBT coordinator, a practice that is only in the Faculty of Maths & Physics. The professor has his office and you can come to him with issues. He is openly gay so has some experience and can give psychosocial support, inform you about your rights, and so on.

Are there aspects of life at university that you think are not inclusive?

In 2021, the Slovenian government implemented a law saying that foreign students have to ensure they have €5000 in their account before they can get a student visa. It’s discriminatory, especially for students from the Balkan regions, where a lot of our students come from. No Slovenian students have that much in their account. So in this case the government laws are discriminatory, and the university can’t do much about it. I think some people issued statements that they were against this law, but nothing happened.

What new or improved practices would you like to see?

In the end-of-course evaluations, you anonymously give feedback about whether you learnt what you wanted to learn, how satisfied you are with the professor, and so on. Even with these study-related issues, I’m not sure anything is addressed, because you can give a low score to a professor who is really bad but nothing will happen.

I was thinking we could take this one step further. Using this evaluation system that is already there, could we ask students different types of question about sexual abuse, discrimination, hate speech, and so on? Then maybe these things would have to be taken seriously.

Last year there was a grassroots feminist group called The Resistance, who created an online questionnaire about sexual abuse. They found that 17% of their respondents had experienced some form of sexual abuse. If you gave students a platform to say that these things are happening, we could see a lot more issues that are currently happening in the background.

But of course there would have to be a committee consisting, preferably, of students and professors from multiple faculties, who would actively and continuously monitor activity and consider sanctions. Now that the Student Ombudsman is being implemented, it could be done through them: if you experienced hate speech you could send a form directly to them, or to someone else, and they would take action.

I would also think about implementing coordinators – both students and staff – who could support students from LGBT or minority backgrounds for instance. They could build more trust over time. And the students involved could also be paid: people with marginalised identities are often also economically disadvantaged, so I see it as an opportunity to create jobs for students.