Why is this important?

A recent focus group carried out with Utrecht University students highlighted the issues related to diversity and inclusion still present in the everyday life of a student.

For instance, students sometimes report feelings of discomfort during education when stereotyped examples are used in class. The experience of a Psychology student, illustrates how stereotypes can be damaging when used during lectures: “When we learned about autism in a lecture, a very stereotypical image was given of people with autism. If you have autism, you will not be able to have a romantic relationship, you will not be able to study at university, and so on. Or at least, I felt it like this. But it is not like that for everyone with autism. I understand that people have prejudices, but if you teach, you have to be able to let these prejudices go. I did not dare to raise my hand during the lecture and say: ‘hello, I have autism and am sitting here’ but perhaps I should have done that.”

Additionally, students highlight the need for more inclusive practices, for instance, a student with multiple physical disabilities shared how teaching and learning activities can be exclusive: “Mostly, introduction activities or ice breakers are organised as being a physical activity. This makes it is impossible for me to participate, even in the very first activity of the course.”

The need to re-evaluate the curriculum was also pointed out by a medicine student who illustrated how learning objectives do not always cover the diversity that students are likely to encounter in the field: In a practicum, students were asked to detect the pupillary light reflex by shining a light in each other’s eyes. However, the colour of this student’s eyes is so dark that it is hard to discern between the iris and pupil of her eye, making it impossible to test the pupillary light reflex. The assistant supervising the practicum also had no idea how to detect this. This made the student wonder why, as she and the other students are expected to work as doctor within a diverse society where it is quite likely to encounter patients with very dark eyes too.

The issue of diversity is experienced by different actors in our university. Lecturers may likewise struggle with diversity- and inclusion issues. Sometimes lecturers feel that it is difficult to discuss sensitive issues related to diversity in an open, respectful and yet critical manner. Subjects such as segregation in education, the black Pete discussion, or historical aspects of law that could perpetuate inequality, are experienced by students as threatening and/or not to be discussed. Lecturers may lack the necessary experience or skills to lead such difficult discussions in their classroom, and thus they may benefit from additional professional development in that area. Programme leaders may also find it difficult to realise a coherent and inclusive curriculum at the programme level. Does the curriculum for example target intercultural competences alongside more traditional objectives? Are the topics addressed in the curriculum representative of multiple perspectives and visions? Does the program have policies for students with disabilities?