What happens when you bring students and staff together to talk about inclusivity and diversity?

By the FASoS Student Representatives’ DIAS working group, Robyn Ausmeier and Mirko Reithler

On March 6, 2024, we hosted a two-hour workshop on “Inclusivity-Based Learning” at FASoS. The event was an initiative of the Diversity, Inclusivity, Accessibility, and Sustainability (DIAS) working group of the student representatives, and co-organised together with staff members Mirko Reithler and Robyn Ausmeier. The aim of this workshop was to offer an open space for conversation between students and staff to learn from each other and discuss practical strategies for tackling challenging situations in the PBL classroom. We had over 20 participants, with a balance between students and staff members. After a brief introduction, we divided participants into smaller mixed groups and presented them with scenarios to discuss.

The scenarios covered the following topics: disagreements in the classroom; addressing power dynamics in lectures; contention over course content; marginalising individual students; and gendered experiences in teaching. Each scenario asked participants to reflect on whether they had encountered a similar situation before, and to consider how both students and staff members could address the situation. After each group had discussed two of the prompts, we held a plenary session to share the findings.

The photo includes Sonora Ward, Pascalle Paumen, Robyn Ausmeier, Deborah Ahouze, and Mirko Reithler

Findings and recommendations

Based on the group discussions, participants came up with a series of suggestions for how to deal with the scenarios mentioned above. One of the key recommendations was to promote more open discussions between staff and students, making both groups aware of the most pressing issues and how their actions could affect others. This could be done, for example, by incorporating a short activity reflecting on staff and student expectations at the beginning of a course. This was also discussed in relation to the existing Global Studies Constitution, where students co-construct a set of expectations for how to engage with one another in the classroom.

A further suggestion was to return to these expectations at a later stage, such as through a mid-term check-in between students and the tutor. Another recommendation was to create a feedback box in the classroom, where students can anonymously post questions or record their concerns, allowing for more feedback opportunities (and not solely relying on the IWIO evaluations).

In addition to this, diversity and inclusivity training was highlighted as a potential way to raise awareness and better prepare staff and students for difficult conversations in the classroom. One idea was to incorporate a similar workshop into the mentor programme, so that this approach could be implemented on a wider scale. There was also a call to introduce more CPD workshops on the topic, with the aim of getting more staff to participate in these conversations.

Another point raised in the workshop is the need for further information and clearer guidelines when dealing with challenges relating to diversity and inclusivity. This would include making students and staff aware of the available channels to report inappropriate behaviour. For instance, creating an information campaign so that students know where to turn with a complaint (e.g. whether to approach their mentor, the study advisor, a tutor, the student representatives, or to take another approach).

Feedback and workshop reflections

At the end of the workshop, we collected anonymous written feedback and compiled the responses. Our participants appreciated the use of scenarios in the workshop, as they were general enough to start a conversation yet detailed enough to understand the issue. Mixing both student and staff perspectives from different programmes, the breakout groups allowed for rich and in-depth discussions on the various classroom situations.

The feedback made us aware that our plenary session at the end of the workshop should ideally follow another format. Preferably, both students and staff should have the space to share their final thoughts. Rather than having each group individually present their findings, we concluded that the final plenary session could be grouped around scenarios and allow for further reflections and discussion on the recommendations. For future sessions, it may also be fruitful to include student advisors and their perspectives in the workshops, and to advertise more thoroughly amongst first-year students.

Below are some reflections from two student participants and organisers of the workshop:

The workshop to me was successful and very insightful due to the feedback and comments we got during and after the event. Teachers were able to talk to students in a way that forced everyone in question to directly hear about the way they perceive certain situations and how that differs from each other. Overall, a pleasant outcome and hopefully not the last workshop. Deborah

The workshop was a fantastic culmination of the ideas floating around the faculty amongst the various groups: students, tutors, professors. It was wonderful to sit with everyone and work together to find solutions to issues that impact all members of FASoS. I look forward to more such events! Medha

Overall, the workshop made us aware of the need for further collaboration and conversations between staff and students, where both groups can share their experiences and perspectives. We hope that these reflections can inspire similar co-created workshops in the future.