As we enter a new year, the relevance of diversity, equity, and inclusivity is growing in all aspects of our lives. This is especially true in universities, where students from all walks of life come together to pursue their dreams and shape their futures. In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion for university students, as well as how embracing these principles can lead to success.
A Celebration of Differences
University life is a transformative journey that goes far beyond textbooks and lectures. It’s a microcosm of the world, providing a unique opportunity to learn, grow, and shape perspectives.
University life in London, personally makes me reflect on how growing up in a small town in the centre of Italy, being the only culturally “different” kid in school and in my friendship groups, moulded me into someone that I didn’t want to be, adapting to customs, social norms and beauty standards that didn’t express my true self. It may sound odd to some, but when I moved to London 3 years ago and I embarked on my University journey, I started experiencing the beauty of getting to know different cultures and I began to deeply reflect upon the importance of diversity and inclusivity in today’s society overall.
Although the path to a fully inclusive and equitable society still seems remote to some, it is crucial to identify and recognise the privilege of living in a society where diversity is accepted and celebrated.
Significant advances in diversity and inclusion over the last few years have benefited under-represented students and improved the climate on university campuses around the world. However, a diverse and inclusive campus is not always enough to make all students feel like they can thrive and get the most out of their university experience. Even the best EDI policy can fail to retain students from under-represented groups because they do not feel like they belong.
If we now take a step back and look at the generational growth and awareness, it is extremely clear to see that Gen Z is the most socially conscious generation yet, passionate about issues surrounding the society they live in, including racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights.
This is a key factor when we consider that Gen Z has developed in a time of increased attention and debate about social justice, equality, and diversity. This consciousness can lead to a clearer understanding of social issues and injustices, but it can also highlight the difficulties and discrimination that certain people or groups face. Diversity issues can in fact have a negative impact on people’s sense of identity and belonging. Those who feel marginalized or misunderstood may experience difficulties with their self-esteem and mental health.
The rise of social media also didn’t help them acquire peace of mind, and whereas there has been an increase in visibility and connectivity, this has resulted in challenges such as cyberbullying, online harassment, and exposure to discriminatory content. Constant online exposure to negative experiences can generate anxiety and depression.
How to Adopt a Sense of Belonging in the University Setting?
A university campus offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to provide equitable support and opportunities to all students. In an ideal world, all students can safely express their opinions, be heard and valued, and feel like they truly belong.
Everyone in the institution must contribute to making the environment welcoming. It takes effort, honesty, creativity, and courage to build a campus with inclusive values at its core. Adopting these values will transform campuses and student outcomes for future generations.
It is essential for anyone’s overall well-being and success as a student to feel as though one belongs in the university environment. When this feeling is present, it is more likely for students to be interested in studies, have a positive approach towards education and create meaningful relationships with peers and other university students. The feeling of not belonging, on the other hand, may encourage isolation, low self-esteem, and even academic underperformance.
1. Take Part in Student Organisations
Take part in existing student organisations that can help support you and make you feel at home, away from home if you are an international student.
Taking part in societies, for example, would be a great way to feel an integrated part of the university establishment. There are plenty to choose from, just pick the one that sounds more suitable for you and your current needs and interests.
2. Attend Diversity Events and Workshops
Attend diversity, equity, and inclusion events, workshops, and seminars to raise awareness and encourage dialogue. You can read more about it here.
3. Learn About Accessible Resources
If you are still struggling and feeling like you don’t belong, make use of the support services such as counselling and academic resources offered on campus. There is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed for doing so, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed at times, and an external opinion could help you in making you feel better.
Bethune, S. (2019). Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns. Monitor on Psychology, 50(1). Available from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z [Accessed 5th January 2024]
Children’s Hope Alliance. (2024). Anxiety and Depression in Gen Z. Available from: https://www.childrenshopealliance.org/2022/05/30/anxiety-and-depression-in-gen-z/ [Accessed 5th January 2024]
Pew Research Centre. (2024). On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far. Available from: https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/ [Accessed 5th January 2024]
Koutsouris, G., Stentiford, L., & Norwich, B. (2022). A critical exploration of inclusion policies of elite UK universities. British Educational Research Journal, 48, 878–895. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3799