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Don’t use “low-hanging fruit” in DEI initiatives

Trying to use “low-hanging fruit” to score points in terms of your organisation’s equality, diversity and inclusion efforts won’t get you very far, one university representative said on a recent panel.

When dealing with students from marginalised populations, especially those who are international, Alice McCallum told delegates it’s about making sure all staff are aware. Photo: Roger Harris Photography

Underserved students “understand their social capital better than anyone”, Thomas said

The PIE Live’s discussion on diversity, equality and inclusion gave delegates the chance to think about how one can “authentically” engage underserved populations and what long-term approaches organisations must make.

Isaac Garcia-Sitton, who works in international admissions at Toronto Metropolitan University and focuses on equity and diversity, said that the process must start before international students even arrive.

“What we try to do is find a more balanced approach at devising the admissions processes, so it’s more accessible,” he said.

He also mentioned that, especially in light of the visa processing issues that have been occurring in major destinations like Canada, those delays “need to be considered” if an institution “really wants to be more equitable”.

Duolingo English Test’s Tamsin Thomas said that underserved students “understand their social capital better than anyone” – and what they want out of a study abroad experience.

“I’ve worked at universities where study abroad departments were struggling to get students, and the word that was going round the institution was that they don’t want to go abroad. At the same time, they couldn’t find overseas places.

“We try to find a more balanced approach at devising the admissions processes”

“I think we have to be really conscious that our expectations of study abroad are coming from our own experiences, and a reflection of our backgrounds, whereas others know very concretely what they want to get out of their experience.

“We must make sure that we build education abroad programs to meet the needs of specific groups,” Thomas pointed out.

Also from an outbound perspective, IIE’s Courtney Temple touched on the organisation’s American Passport Project to grant passports to students who wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity to study abroad.

“It is the first thing that opens up their world to [that possibility], so we’re starting at the front of the funnel because you’ve got to get individuals in play before you can really make change across the board,” Temple said.

When dealing with students from marginalised populations on campus, Alice McCallum, SIO for the Middle East and Africa at the University of Sussex told delegates it’s about making sure all staff are aware – especially with emerging issues such as pronouns, misgendering and biases.

“It’s about dealing with our unconscious biases”

“It’s about dealing with our unconscious biases – I think to an extent it’s about preparing us, the staff, and giving them the training that they need – not the one hour training that doesn’t make people question things or make a difference.

“You should be bringing in speakers that know their stuff, people who can ask challenging questions and make a roomful of listeners feel a little bit uncomfortable,” said McCallum.

“Whatever webinars, whatever support you have for students in finding the clubs and the societies that help them find their people – or however they choose to find those people – make sure that’s fully supported,” she added.

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