The apparent fulfillment of equality & rainbow community’s rights in university culture

4.7.2021 | Wellness

The principles of a safer space guarantee equal treatment and harassment-free situations for all students in university events. They include general norms on how other people should not be bullied or discriminated against. Their aim is to ensure equal treatment for all people. However, not all student associations and university communities have the principles of a safer space or fully engage their members in them. The problem is continually being recognized more, but many associations should better systematically commit their members to act according to the guidelines for a safer space.

There is usually a certain general acceptance towards gender and sexual minorities in universities, but events and activities as well as people’s assumptions are often mostly heteronormative. All are basically cis-heteros per se. To stand out from the crowd and to be treated as something else, a member of a minority has to make themselves visible as a representative of some minority. Therefore, acceptance remains rather superficial if the content of events and assumptions does not represent a broader view of sexualities and different genders.

Student unions should be responsible for ensuring the achievement of sexual and gender minorities well-being and equality. Many student associations today have those responsible for equality who receive written feedback, but it doesn’t feel completely sufficient to change assumptions and the general climate. In many events, the assumptions are quite heteronormative and often do not take into account the fact that someone’s interest is not necessarily in people of the opposite gender and that not everyone is cissexuals. The themes of the LGBTQAI+ community are not very visible in the world of universities, even if students try to brand themselves as tolerant. University culture would, however, need a reform in the removal of certain assumptions and in heteronormative atmosphere becoming more transparent. Much work remains to be done for equality. 

In addition to the student community, one of the biggest problems is university staff’s lack of education in the field of equality. According to a study commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture in 2020, development measures for equality are almost completely absent from universities. They may be aware of multiple grievances, but fixes to the problems are still often missing. Inequality is maintained every day by a series of small individual policies and decisions. According to an investigation conducted by Inkeri Tanhua the Ministry of Education and Culture is planning on launching a larger study regarding the matter. The investigation would aim to interview university operators at different levels of the organization and delve deeper into the realization of equality and non-discrimination obstacles and opportunities.

After all, a lot has been done in university world for equal treatment, but there is still a considerable amount of work to be done to ensure a safer space for every student. In my opinion, the most important thing in achieving equality is the elimination of heteronormative thinking. Inclusive training should be provided for those responsible for equality in student associations’, and their role in the student environment should be taken into account. If your organization doesn’t yet have a person responsible for equality, bring it up!

Akseli Mikkola

Chair of UN Youth of Helsinki

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