University of Jyväskylä and the local Student Union JYY conducted a survey about racism in the university community at the end of March. The aim of the survey was to gain information about experiences of racism in the university community, as well as thoughts and ideas for the University’s and The Student Union’s antiracist efforts.
The total number of responses to the survey was 99. Of the respondents, 53 were degree students, 12 were exchange students and 28 were staff. Around half of the respondents had encountered racism in the university community in one way or another. The sample size of the survey is small and does not allow statistical conclusions to be drawn about the extent of racism at university. However, the responses provided us with valuable information about the situations and structures in which racism occurs in the university community and the measures that can be taken to tackle all forms of discrimination on campus. Especially valuable were the answers to the open-ended questions: many respondents had made a lot of effort and provided important suggestions for improvement in the functioning of the university and the Student Union JYY.
“I think it is very important that such a survey was carried out. It provided us with information about practices and structures at our university that are discriminatory and against our principles of equal treatment of all people and our university as a safe working and learning environment for all. We must now work together to ensure that the information we have received leads to appropriate action,” says Rector Marja-Leena Laakso.
Racism is encountered in many different situations in everyday university life
The survey received descriptions of a wide range of situations in which respondents had experienced or perceived racism; from teaching situations to other campus activities, work and leisure activities. Responses related both to specific situations and to broader structures.
As an example of potentially discriminatory structures, the responses highlighted in particular the use and lack of use of English. The use of Finnish alone was perceived as putting non-Finnish speaking members of the university community in an unequal position.
“Although it is not possible to make generalizations from the answers, individual situations can give an indication of broader patterns of attitudes. Tackling racism and other forms of discrimination is not just a matter for those who have observed or encountered it, but affects all members of the university community and those walking around the campuses equally,” says Taina Saarinen, Chair of the The University’s Non-discrimination and Equality Committee.
Almost half of respondents did not know where to contact if they had experienced or witnessed racism. Reasons given included simply not knowing where to report, or feeling that reporting would not be useful. One reason for not reporting was that the respondent thought it would be harmful to them. The process following reporting was also unclear to respondents.
“Reporting channels should be easy to find and the threshold for reporting should be low. One of the measures to improve the ease of contact will be to clarify information about contact channels and handling processes in the upcoming website renewal. The level at which discrimination of any kind can be reported and addressed must be lowered,” says Peppi Taalas, vice rector responsible for education.
The results provide background to the university and student union’s work towards equality
Respondents offered many ideas on how to develop the university community in a more equal direction. In particular, there emerges a need for open discussion and greater awareness of the issue. There should be a better understanding in the university community of what racism is and what situations and comments might offend. Responses suggested ideas for training or courses that would raise awareness of racism and its manifestations and provide practical approaches to tackling racism.
The results of the survey will serve as a background for both short- and long-term measures. During the summer and autumn, the new Non-discrimination and Equality Committee, which has just started its mandate, will work on its action plan and update the university’s equality plan. The input from the survey will be taken into account in the planning and implementation of the plan. The Student Union JYY will also take the results into account in the development of its activities.
“The results of the survey will be used in updating the JYY equality plan and in practical activities to promote equality. The current survey and its results will also be used in the planning of future surveys,” says Konsta Tarnanen, Chair of the The Student Union Board.
The results will also be taken into account in the future when planning long-term measures to develop the university community.
Chair of the The University’s Non-discrimination and Equality Committee