Universities promoting and celebrating diversity

Universities promoting and celebrating diversity

Students and staff are being urged to avoid discrimination against Chinese students as suspected and confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus continue to increase.

Meanwhile, some universities are leading by example when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusivity so that students from all backgrounds feel welcome and supported.

Bond University opened a new Muslim prayer room in its main campus on Monday, replacing a smaller room previously delegated as a worship area for the University’s Muslim community. The new room also has a swipe card access and Wudu units.

Professor Tim Brailsford, Bond University’s vice-chancellor and president, said that they sought to build legacy projects as part of the University’s 30th anniversary.

Giving representation and voice

As part of gender diversity and inclusivity efforts of universities, the University of Canberra recently announced that it is offering scholarships to improve with the representation of women in certain industries.

The University received a $15,000 donation for its Built Environment Inclusion and Diversity scholarship from the National Association for Women in Construction (NAWIC). NAWIC’s donation makes the scholarship a step closer to becoming a perpetually endowed fund.

NAWIC ACT Chapter co-president Kim Raysmith said that women only make up around 9.9% of the construction industry. Through the scholarship, Raysmith said they seek to ensure that women would be given the needed support as well as mentoring to make it in the industry.

The scholarship is also open to Indigenous students, students from rural and remote regions and those with disabilities or from refugee backgrounds.

But aside from helping women and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Swinburne University is promoting its efforts to give its staff and students in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) community a voice.

The University’s support for the LGBT came in the form of a club, Gender Agenda, which arranges events and activities to support transgender, non-binary – and even gender-questioning – students at the University.

Gender Agenda was formed back in 2017 to help transgender and non-binary students adjust to university life through facilitating communication between students and staff, hosting Q&A sessions, and ensuring an inclusive space for students to share their experiences.

Senior lecturer in writing Dr Julia Prendergast – one of the staff members supporting the club – said a number of students had told her they did not “really have a voice, particularly in terms of use their preferred name” and how to communicate with staff.

“Even for staff with the best intentions, we might use someone’s legal name instead of their preferred name and for some students that can be really traumatic,” Prendergast further said, noting that this is even worse for students undergoing transition or have ill mental health.

“It’s really important to me that students feel heard regardless of whether we share their life situation. Empathy is a huge part of how we do our work well”.

In 2019, Prendergast was the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Inclusion and Diversity for her work with Gender Agenda.

Through the club, students can initiate discussions and these will be acted on by the faculty staff before making its way to professional staff especially when administrative issues are concerned.

Aside from Gender Agenda, the University also has the Swinburne Ally Network and the Swinburne Queer Collective.

Unlike Gender Agenda, the Swinburne Ally Network is composed of LGBTIQ+ staff and students, as well as allies. The network helps in the design and implementation of the University’s inclusion programs and organises awareness events.

The Swinburne Queer Collective, meanwhile, serves as an autonomous representation of the University’s LGBTIQ+ community under the Swinburne Student Union’s welfare department. The collective also hosts events in support of the University’s queer community.