‘We want to start a dialogue about inclusion’

| Jennifer Cutinha

Identifying barriers and developing equal opportunities for students and employees. That is the main goal of the ‘Feeling at Home @ UT’ initiative by the Shaping Expert Group Inclusion, starting this week. ‘This is not intended to be therapy.’

Laura Vargas, chair of the SEG Inclusion.

Through a series of storytelling round tables, themes surrounding gender, race and religion will be addressed. The Shaping Expert Group (SEG) will use these insights to create an advisory report to higher management. ‘But more importantly, we will already have stirred up conversations across the UT’, says Laura Vargas, chair of the SEG Inclusion.

Different perspectives

According to Vargas, the step towards incorporating and recognizing diversity within the university has already been undertaken. The next step would be fostering an environment where everybody can feel at home and can have equal opportunities, she notes. ‘Feeling at home can have different meanings for everyone. One can feel at home in their job or at a place. We want to have an idea of what that feeling is like for different individuals’, says Vargas.

Each round table session will include six participants and three moderators comprising both students and employees. The sessions will take place at the DesignLab. Before a session starts, participants are asked to share their stories of belonging or not-belonging related to a specific theme, explains Vargas. During the session, the moderators will draw out a common issue for deepened discussion, once the participants shared their stories.

Creating a safe environment

‘This is not intended to be therapy’, stresses Vargas. ‘It is important to have a collaborative discussion where everyone’s perspective is clarified.’ To demonstrate this, she narrates an anecdote: ‘Once, a professor was disturbed by the fact that no student attended his lecture and that he was not informed of it either. When I spoke to one of the students, she replied that she wouldn’t dare to write an email to the professor! Normally when you have discussions of this sort, people tend to polarize. We want to create an environment where everyone can feel safe to share their stories.’

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