By Vicky Witts | Advice Editor
As a new academic year is on the horizon and we are beginning to prepare to adapt to what university life will become with the new lockdown measures, it is easy to focus all of our attention on finding the perfect decorations for our new room and not so much attention on the matter of inclusion at university.
However, it is important to consider that whilst the return of university is an exciting time for many new and returning students, we may become too focused on ourselves to consider those around us. It is easy when at university to surround yourself with one primary group and not explore the wide number of other cultures and individuals available around you.
Coming from a small town with very little diversity before university, I found that the friends I made in the first few weeks were almost all like me in terms of race, hobbies, and interests.
While sticking to familiar social groups is common for many individuals starting university, it may also be preventing us from creating a more inclusive university atmosphere.
In light of the recent momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and the persistence of individual cases of discrimination in recent weeks, it has become apparent that inclusion and a wider understanding of different cultures need to become more frequent to help reduce much of the ignorance which has led to these discriminatory issues.
But how can you promote a more inclusive atmosphere at university?
The importance of clubs and societies
Most universities offer a huge range of clubs and societies specifically focused on different races, religions, cultures, and other things that make us different.
Even though the idea of going to a club or society that isn’t directly targeted for you may seem daunting at first, it is a great way of meeting people from different backgrounds as well as to experience first-hand different events and activities you may never have experienced before.
With focuses on a wide range of topics and activities such as dance groups, food-focused events, and more general discussions, joining one of these societies does not have to be boring, and gives ample opportunity to immerse yourself in different cultures.
By simply attending these clubs or societies even once, you are already helping to promote a more inclusive culture by demonstrating a willingness to not just be surrounded by, but also directly experience a diverse range of events and people.
Developing knowledge through media
Being at university also gives a greater opportunity for students to educate themselves about how to become more inclusive and understand the history around many of the current issues threatening inclusion. This is found in the libraries and a large number of online resources that students are given access to.
Utilising tools such as books, websites, podcasts and videos can help you develop a wider knowledge of different cultures, disabilities, and religions among other individual differences that you may have little information on, as well as looking at history and the news to learn how to combat discrimination.
There have also been many reading and watch lists curated on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, that can help to create a foundation of knowledge to begin implementing into your daily life, to start ensuring that you are consistently positively supporting inclusion and diversity.
Using knowledge to educate others
Although self-education is clearly an essential step in personally gaining knowledge on matters of diversity and individuality, just merely having an understanding with no subsequent action does not help in changing your community into a more positive and inclusive one.
To do this, it is important to share what you have learned with your peers and those in the surrounding community, so that they to can begin to become more educated and aware of social differences and issues.
Introducing your friends to people you have met in the earlier mentioned clubs and societies or within your wider community also gives them the change to experience different types of people that they may never have gotten the chance to meet before.
Especially if, like me, they came from generally more conservative and less diverse areas before moving to university.
With 2,383,970 reported students in the UK according to Higher Education Student Statistics in 2018/19, and around 485,645 reported international students, there are huge amounts of opportunities to learn about and promote inclusion while at university.