What has HYY’s equality sector done in 2021? In this article, Tiia, our specialist in charge of equality, reports on the major projects of the year as well as measures that are set to continue next year.
Most of the year was spent on realising the equality survey. The survey was included in the wellbeing survey last spring, with over 600 students responding to it.
The respondents felt that equality was realised fairly well both at the University and in the Student Union. However, there is room for improvement in many areas. When asked which aspect of equality the Student Union should focus on, taking accessibility into account received the most support. Improving ethnic and linguistic equality as well as equality between people of different ages were also supported. In the open answers, the respondents especially called for more attention to students from different backgrounds and situations in life and for accessible and flexible study opportunities.
An alarming amount of harassment, discrimination and inappropriate behaviour was reported in the survey. We asked for the respondents’ experiences during the last two years, as we also wanted to hear of instances that had occurred before the coronavirus pandemic. Around 20 per cent of the respondents had experienced harassment in HYY or in organisations operating under it, while 25 per cent had experienced it at the University. In student activities, the cases usually took place in student organisations, with the harasser being another student. In the open answers, many reported having encountered sexual harassment, racism and social exclusion. Furthermore, organisations had not always been able to process reported instances of harassment in a good manner. At the University, the instances of harassment usually occurred in teaching situations, with another student or a member of personnel making discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate remarks. In some cases, this has led to students dropping out of courses.
The survey results were presented in many different groups at the University, including the Equality and Diversity Committee, the wellbeing group, the Academic Affairs Council and the Teachers’ Academy. In HYY, the results were processed by the Board and personnel. The number of instances of harassment in particular evoked plenty of discussion. In the future, we will focus especially on improving our training for people and organisations involved in HYY based on the results as well as investing in communication to ensure that everyone is familiar with our equality instructions, such as our equality instructions for organisations. We will also review the guide for any need for updates. In terms of the University, our goal is to ensure that there are appropriate instructions for harassment situations and that personnel, new students and tutors are provided with training on equality.
Updating documents and instructions
This year, we created HYY’s own principles of safer space. The Student Union has previously had event safety principles but no official principles of safer space. These principles refer to practices that anyone can follow to promote a safer and more equal atmosphere. The principles are in use in HYY’s activities and events. You can read them here.
In the spring, we worked on the equality section for HYY’s Policy Paper. The Policy Paper defines the Student Union’s policies as relevant to the advocacy work it conducts as well as guides our work on issues related to the University and society, for instance. The draft for the Policy Paper was written at HYY’s office by the Board and personnel, with the Representative Council approving the final version. Our goals in the new Policy Paper include the realisation of bodily autonomy for everyone and taking efficient action against bullying at the University. The Policy Paper will be added to our website at a later date.
We have also started work on a page focusing on equality for HYY’s website. This page will collect the central information on equality in the Student Union and at the University. A checklist for organisations on getting started with equality work has also been completed, with translations pending.
Cooperation with the University of Helsinki
This autumn, we have continued our close cooperation with the people involved with equality at the University of Helsinki. We have regular meetings with the University’s equality advisor and the student representatives of the Equality and Diversity Committee. In particular, we have been working on updating the University’s instructions on the prevention of inappropriate treatment and harassment. These instructions contain the University’s policies and processes of resolving harassment situations. Updated instructions will be published next year.
Another major theme this autumn has been the various cases of harassment and discrimination in the University community. HYY’s goal is to achieve equal student life both at the University and in student organisations. We will continue our work for this goal next year. Together with the University, we have already started preparations on including equality and harassment themes in tutor training. The Student Union will also create an antiracist action plan to ensure that we will be able to prevent and take action against racism at the University and in the Student Union in a more holistic manner.