Reflections on ‘Somewhere to Belong: Birmingham meets Amsterdam.’

With 2023’s annual EDI Festival impending launch in April, Subomi Ige and Chalisa Chintrakarn, both student ambassadors from UoB, reflect on last year’s iteration of the festival exploring broader conversations about fostering a more inclusive and cohesive community in our diverse cities.

The Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Festival is an annual celebration discussing EDI topics in the context of Amsterdam, Birmingham and in a global context. Student ambassadors of each University collaborate to share knowledge, experience and best practice across our international communities through the partnership. Duo’s representing student ambassadors of both the UvA and UoB hosted five webinars in last year’s virtual festival, which centred on the theme of Somewhere to Belong: Birmingham meets Amsterdam.

Personal reflections of ‘Challenges in Embedding EDI on Campus: A work in progress’ from Subomi Ige

Photo of Subomi
EDI Student Ambassador, Subomi ige.

During this webinar we explored the different challenges in attempting to embed EDI on campus in context of this year’s theme, ‘somewhere to belong’. We asked our panellists about what EDI means to them and were privileged to hear very interesting views ranging from human rights imperatives, creating opportunities for everyone in society and the impact of a non-inclusive society on mental health and how universities should be at the forefront of this. This was perfectly summarised by Dr. Arun Verma, head of Race Equality Charter, when he said, ‘Equity is our mechanism for change and diversity and inclusion is our goal’. He emphasised on how EDI is about centring minorities. We discussed different challenges presenting in embedding EDI in higher education including getting leadership into this space, being proactive and incorporating this into the campus, as well as what we believe Universities are doing to address these challenges. The main challenges across board were the imperative to decolonise the system and curriculum, which was highlighted by Professor Eileen and how the university should disinvest from things that do not promote inclusion and equity in higher education. This was a very intriguing discussion breaking down the different issued with EDI on campus and how we believe is the best way to move forward. We would like to thank our wonderful panellists for their different perspectives and sharing their knowledge with us.

We also looked at artwork from Dr. Pen Mendonca, an artist who draws and writes about equality and human rights, and through several interviews portrayed the relationship between staff and student with the University of Birmingham and the University of Amsterdam as well as the similarities and differences between the 2 cities. Simply put, Dr. Mendonca captured the joy and challenges and how it intersects in 21st century universities. She highlights that the university is a privileged space and not the city, which formulated the title of the artwork, “The University is Not the City”.

The artwork comprises of quotes from Student Ambassadors highlighting similarities and differences between Amsterdam and Birmingham.
‘The University is Not the City’ by Dr. Pen Mendoca.

Personal reflections of ‘Enabling Global Mobility for Disabled Students’ from Chalisa Chintrakarn

Photo of Chalisa.
EDI Student Ambassador, Chalisa Chintrakarn.

In addition to my EDI Student Ambassador role, I am also part of the International Committee within the School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham. One of the foci of the committee is global mobility, which sparked my interest in co-hosting the ‘Enabling Global Mobility for Disabled Students’ webinar.

This event made me reflect on the importance of accessibility for those with both visible and hidden disabilities, irrespective of whether they chose to declare their disabilities. More institutional attention is urgently needed to increase such accessibility, both in physical and virtual forms. Yet, all institutions around the world should tackle this through the lens of ‘intersectionality’, a term defined as interlocking connections between multiple social characteristics such as gender, race, class, and disabilities. This is because the experiences of students vary depending on their social characteristics: for example, middle-class female students with hearing impairment may have different experiences from their working-class male counterparts. Achieving this will help students make the most of their global mobility programmes like overseas exchange. Secondly, based on this webinar, I came to recognise that every institution all over the world ought to create a learning environment where active allyship with people with any social characteristics is normalised. This can be done by constantly highlighting the ways in which EDI is beneficial for everyone. Active allyship generally leads to a sense of solidarity, which can be of importance for people from any sociocultural background. Carefully listening to and regularly checking with individuals with various social characteristics including disabilities are some effective approaches of practicing allyship. These will aid in creating a truly inclusive environment that is largely advantageous for students on global mobility programmes.

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