What are the lessons from the College Cafe on inclusive education?
Erasmus University Rotterdam wants to reflect the diversity we see in our city of Rotterdam. But how can we incorporate this in our programmes and how do we ensure our students feel welcome? This was the subject of discussion between staff, students and panel members during the College Cafe on 2 October.
Start on day one of the programme
Nizar el Manouzi, who is studying medicine and philosophy, was surprised at the homogeneous make-up of the groups that formed when he first started his studies. All the more astonishing because you wouldn’t expect that in a city-based hospital like Erasmus MC. What struck him the most was that no one really brought this up for discussion. But how can you approach patients without bias if you haven’t learned how to do this during your studies?
Marieke Meeuwisse, an assistant professor at the department of pedagogical sciences, also agreed that students need to learn to look at each other’s differences early on, starting on day one of the programme. “We only teach students these skills in our master programme. It’s something we should start doing earlier on.”
Everyone is part of the solution
Karim Amghar, a trainer at WijWijs, believes the only way to bridge the chasm dividing different worlds is through engaging in dialogue. “You all have the potential to be part of the solution.” He saw that students in senior secondary and higher professional education are often not taught ‘soft skills’, even though these skills are so important when it comes to better understanding each other. He teaches students to listen and show a genuine interest in each other. He also involves teachers in the dialogue with students. Karim believes that teachers shouldn’t be expected to know everything because he or she can learn from the students too.
Offer another perspective
Lecturers are also often biased without being aware of it. In such cases, Karim warns of the ‘academic bubble’. He invites university employees and students to look beyond their own academic world. “Work together with people studying at different kinds of schools ranging from senior secondary vocational education to higher professional education. Step outside and be open to life outside the university.”
Marieke stresses that every student needs to feel a sense of being connected. “Our curricula are often based on a Western perspective, so as a lecturer you have to ask yourself ‘do we also have another perspective we can offer’?”
As a student with a functional impairment, Kristel de Groot was sent from pillar to post. She encountered prejudices and discovered that other students with a functional impairment struggled with the same problem. This was her experience even though one in ten students has a functional impairment. What’s Kristel’s advice for lecturers and university employees? “Do more to help students and don’t turn them away.”
But only talking and being aware is not enough to create an inclusive educational institution. Semiha Denktaş, Chief Diversity Officer at EUR, states that while the process begins with good intentions, that won’t guarantee things will change. Dialogue is important, but that’s only just the first step.