Student Perspectives: Malin Hjort (GU)

What does inclusion mean to you?

Society is unjust. Different parts of society are not equally accessible for everyone – it differs due to how you are perceived as a person. To me, inclusion is every action made to lessen the effects of social injustice, unequal opportunities, and unequal access.

I connect inclusion with a feeling of being welcome in a room, just as welcome as the rest of the people in the room. It’s a relational concept, something that happens in the space between people.

In practice, I think inclusion has a lot to do with being aware and critical of the norms that surround society as well as specific areas of society. Inclusion work is also to take action to change those norms. For example, if white males are overrepresented in a specific university programme, inclusion work could be making oneself aware of what creates this overrepresentation. After identifying what excludes groups of people, it’s possible to take actions to make the space more inclusive.

Inclusion has to do with power structures. You cannot include yourself, only the people that already feel included can let you in. They have the power of inclusion/exclusion. As with most other norms, it’s mostly invisible until you are excluded. Until you do not fit in. Until you are not there as an equal.

How is inclusion discussed in your university?

The interest in matters of inclusion varies depending on which faculty you’re in: if you’re in the faculty of social work, where you work with these issues, it’s much more natural to have a deep analysis about it, because there are people that care about it to have it put into practice. One university consists of so many different faculties and different people, but it doesn’t only depend on the subject – it’s also about the culture and tradition. Not only students, but also staff experience this.

I think that the University of Gothenburg, at least at the faculty of social science, has come a long way with the way we treat each other. There are critical discussions of power structures ingrained in the courses, including the perspective of intersectionality. There is support available for those with disabilities or a different mother tongue. But I do think that we think we are better at this, than we actually are. The body of students is quite homogenous.

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

There are several things that I think are good practices.
The University of Gothenburg is a state agency, and all our buildings have to be wheelchair-accessible. There are laws about the university having to meet the needs of people with different abilities, dyslexia, etc.

We have the Swedish Board of Student Finance (CSN), where you can take out a student loan with a low interest rate, to support you in going to university. That addresses the class aspect of access to university. We have workshops focusing on different kinds of inclusion and oppression.

I appreciate that the university participates in West Pride, an LGBTQI-focused arts and culture festival in the local region. This is a way of showing that we want to be an inclusive environment for everyone.

We also have unisex bathrooms – I hadn’t even thought about it before hearing other students discuss it, because it’s taken for granted here in Sweden.

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

We do have a lot of problems as well. Some have already been touched on: Emelie is definitely onto something when she says the university is quite homogenous. You see a lot of the same people, especially in Economics and Law – the same people are attracted to university. Even though ‘on paper’ everyone in Sweden can go, and there are a lot of chances – if you don’t succeed in school there are other tests, other roads to access university – in reality lots of people don’t feel university is for them. It’s connected to power structures to do with race, sexism, class, LGBTQ – the University of Gothenburg is very segregated.

I grew up in a poor area with lots of crime, and there people are not focused on going to university: it’s not what is spoken about, not the story of who you are. To create real inclusion and widen participation, we need to get to those roots of the problem. We can have as many projects as we want in our own bubble, and they are important, but they don’t go to the root of the problem if we don’t participate in creating the society needed for inclusion. West Pride is a great example of how we can do that.

We also need to give voice to research regarding intersectionality, segregation, how schools are organised: the university can play an important role in heightening inclusion and creating actual change.

What new or improved practices would you like to see?

I have been working alongside my bachelor’s and master’s studies, and when you work in an organisation there are systems in place to make it clear how to handle situations. For instance, if I get sick I can do a phased return to work, doing 50% then 75% of working hours, increasing slowly. That’s not possible at university, and this is very exclusive. I either have to be 100% sick or not at all. That’s how it is at Gothenburg due to how programmes and courses are built. It’s hard if you are worried about your financial situation – it’s a risk to go into studies. If you have mental health problems and need to go at a slower pace, it’s almost impossible to study.

I have been working alongside my bachelor’s and master’s studies, and when you work in an organisation there are systems in place to make it clear how to handle situations. For instance, if I get sick I can do a phased return to work, doing 50% then 75% of working hours, increasing slowly. That’s not possible at university, and this is very exclusive. Since university revolves around terms, or ‘läsår’ (the Swedish word for ‘academic year’), you can’t just take sick leave for a month. This makes it hard for people with health problems to attend university, without constantly risking their financial situation. You can’t be on sick leave for longer than you need to be, but you can’t just return to school if it doesn’t fit with the course you need to take.

I would also like to see an improvement of how we use course evaluations. It differs a lot between institutions and courses: sometimes, there has been no evaluation. I think this should be a mandatory part of education, and include a broad spectrum of factors. Also, if there is negative feedback regarding how teachers treat students, there needs to be a plan of action. Now, it feels like evaluations amount to nothing, matter to no one, and are just a bonus. Evaluation is a fundamentally important part of organisations.

When you work in an organization, you often have a clear idea of how to report problems, injuries and such, at least in the places I’ve worked at in Sweden. I think this is very unclear when you are a student. I have no idea who to turn to if I’m harassed. I think it would be good if there were clear online systems for students as well, or if opportunities to meet the person you are supposed to contact. The student union is not something you interact with very much in your everyday school life, at least not at the faculty of social science. As a student, you are in a very clear hierarchy, and when these systems aren’t in place you are very exposed, especially if you have bad experiences with teachers who might have something against you. Maybe these processes do exist, but if students don’t know about them, and they’re not accessible, then what’s the point?

I think that a lot of the changes needed are on a larger scale than just the University of Gothenburg. Society needs to change. For example, due to the policy related to people seeking refuge in Sweden, the road to university is very long and hard. The long waits in the migration process put lives on hold. Furthermore, the fact that we don’t grant residence permits to youth living in Sweden, studying at high school level, hinders a large group from attending university.

It’s the same with segregation. Gothenburg is a very segregated city, and it creates parallel societies where opportunity and success are seen in different lights. Equal opportunity is not a thing in today’s Sweden. We need to create equal learning opportunities at all schools in our city. Only then can we recruit more youth from a variety of backgrounds. Today, a lot of responsibility lies on the individual, and it takes a lot more to end up at university for a person from Angered than Långedrag. I think that the university has a responsibility to analyse and impact society on a larger level. Otherwise, we are only scratching the surface and it’s only ‘for show’.