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‘The most distressing experiences in my subject organisation are probably instances of belittlement, which I have encountered when reporting inappropriate behaviour. Advances that meet the criteria for sexual harassment have been dismissed with a shrug and comments such as ‘they are always a bit like that when drunk’ and ‘they are actually a good person’.’

As many as 7.5% of the students at the University of Helsinki have encountered bullying. One tenth of the students have a family. All forms of sexual orientations and genders are represented in us. In fact, few students correspond to the image of ‘the average student’ who would not belong in any minority or would not encounter discrimination.

Equality means that everyone is similar regardless of any personal qualities, and that the diversity of these qualities is taken into account.

Why and how should equality be taken into account in organisational activities? Here are some thoughts on this!

Why is equality important?

Taking equality into account in organisational activities is important because the members of any organisation are not alike. By taking diversity into account in organisational activities, we can ensure that everyone is able to participate in the organisation’s activities. Members are ready to give their entire potential for the organisation only if the organisation feels like a place where you can be yourself.

On the other hand, intolerant and discriminatory atmosphere and activities can completely exclude people from the organisation’s activities. At worst, bullying and discrimination may cause self-destructiveness.

Lately, an increasing number of organisations have made significant investments in providing everyone the opportunity to participate in their activities. This development is very gratifying. It makes it easy for others to start promoting equality, too: many justifications, means and operating models now exist on the organisational field. You only need to choose the ones that suit your organisation.

Here are examples from recent measures taken by Dilemma ry and Biosfääri ry.

‘This year, Biosfääri has tried to include themes related to equality in all our activities: communication and events are trilingual, official titles have been made gender neutral and the number of alcohol-free events has been increased. We aim to increase the number of persons in charge of equality in our organisations next autumn. Among our organisational actors, we have also paid attention to customs and practices that sustain discrimination, for instance, refraining from telling condescending jokes related to freshmen.’

– Heidi Annala, person in charge of equality in Biosfääri ry

 

‘This year, Dilemma has been making sure that all event descriptions have a mention of the principles of safe space as well as information on accessibility and that all communications would primarily be trilingual. The objective of increasing our supply of alcohol-free events has been one major theme – we have already organised a gallery excursion, for instance. On the other hand, we have tried to solve the issue of how to influence our organisation’s operating culture and to genuinely have everyone feeling comfortable. In fact, Dilemma organised an evening on safe spaces on 18 April, inviting members to come and share their own experiences and to consider problem areas and solutions. Now we are working on Dilemma’s own principles of safe space, new operating instructions for future tutors and having a specific person named for upcoming events who could be identified by their sash.’

– Saila Pönkä, person in charge of equality in Dilemma ry

Where to start?

In case your organisation does not have an equality plan, drafting one should be started as soon as possible. You can use the version in HYY’s Organisation Wiki (http://wiki.hyy.fi/index.php/Yhdenvertaisuus) or other organisations’ equality plans as models. You could also conduct a member survey on the theme, as the results would reveal which issues should be developed in your organisation at the very least.

To ensure that equality is taken into account, you should name someone in charge of it either in your organisation’s Board or as an official. The Organisation Wiki features examples on what the person in charge of equality could pay attention to in the organisation’s activities.

What to do with discriminatory traditions?

At times, old traditions and practices must be re-evaluated in the name of equality. Changes start from issues that might seem small.

For instance, the way in which guests are placed on their seats at anniversaries might be very significant to the participants. Traditional placement is done by dividing participants into men and women based on their names and then placing them side by side. However, a person’s gender cannot be deduced from their name. Traditional placement also discriminates against couples who cannot sit side by side because they are not assumed to be a man and a woman. Many organisations already take this matter into account; they no longer pay attention to the assumed genders of participants.

It is good to remember that organisational memory only goes back a couple of years. Abandoning sexist traditions, for instance, might be met with strong resistance at first, but no one will want to go back to the old ways anymore after a few years. On the contrary, both new and old members will be wondering how the organisation could have acted in such a discriminatory manner only a few years earlier.

Do you need help? Is something related to the theme puzzling you?
I am more than happy to help you in all issues related to equality that organisations might have.

Lauri Linna
Member of HYY’s Board
lauri.linna@hyy.fi

Have you ever heard of dust depots or intelligent mats? What about interactive stops or Tinder light rail? Neither had I before 11 May 2017, when I organised a workshop to come up with ways in which the Science Tram* could live up to its name in other ways than just the obvious one: combining 10 higher education campuses.

As a sociologist, my biased assumption was that the ideas to come up would be linked to people’s social contacts over discipline boundaries as well as to the interaction between the scientific community and the rest of society. This was not the case. Instead, I was once again impressed by the marvellous innovative force that can be tapped into when people from different backgrounds meet.

Technologies and service design connect people

What ideas came up in the Science Tram workshop?

The dust depot would be a place where fine particles accumulated onto the outer surfaces of the tram during its run are washed away into drainage water. Travel on light rail that uses renewable energy prevents the creation of fine particles when compared to modes of transportation that run on combustion engines. Thanks to the dust depot, the light rail would also actively clean the air of fine particle pollution caused by other traffic. Air would become cleaner and health hazards would decrease.

The intelligent mat in the tram would be able to identify users and collect information that could be used in research and on the market. It would also interact with users, providing foot massages, for instance. Interactive stops would provide traffic data to those who want it, while passengers could also use it to give feedback.

The antisocial act of watching out of windows could be rebranded: tram journeys could be enjoyable breaks and moments for meditation.

Other ideas included the climate change ticket, with a price that varies according to the state of the climate, and a library tram, where people could spend time reading and borrowing books. The Science Tram could be made green: the rails of the tramway with lawn and the interior of the trams with indoor plants. It could act as a test laboratory and a platform for cross-disciplinary experiments: you could conduct experiments or take exams there. When the tram approaches a campus, an information screen or an application on your own phone could tell you what is happening at that campus at the time.

Science Tram to connect people and places

All of these ideas were created in under half an hour using the ‘random pairs’ method. To introduce the participants of the workshop to the theme, Traffic Engineer Niko Setälä provided them with some facts on the Science Tram as a part of the light rail network of Helsinki, while Designer Laura Euro discussed design perspectives on trams.

Anyone is free to steal and further refine these ideas – and you do not need to wait until 2025! In the words of Designer Laura Euro, the Science Tram could be tested in the here and now – in a tram or elsewhere.

If around ten people can come up with such exciting new ideas in just under half an hour, what could be created when tens of thousands of people meet every day in the real Science Tram, where forming connections has been made easier by means of design?

Sofia Lindqvist
Specialist in housing, health and urban affairs
Student Union of the University of Helsinki
Sofia is currently studying for a Specialist Qualification in Product Development
sofia.lindqvist@hyy.fi

*Science Tram 2025 is the joint campaign of the Capital Region’s student unions’ World Student Capital network. The campaign supports the construction of a light rail line that connects 10 higher education campuses. Our goal is that construction work on the line begins by 2025. Do you want this to happen, too? Then sign the resident’s initiative for the Science Tram here as a resident of Helsinki or here as a resident of Espoo! If neither Helsinki nor Espoo is your place of residence, you cannot sign the initiative – but you can tell your friends in Helsinki or Espoo all about it. The Science Tram can also be found on Facebook.

The brainstorming workshop was a part of the City Planning Fair held at information and exhibition space Laituri on 8–13 May 2017. The Science Tram had its own exhibition stand throughout the event.

The worn-out discussion on the alleged benefits of tuition fees surfaced yet again this spring, when the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (Etla) published a pamphlet on the funding of universities. The pamphlet proposes general tuition fees as a means to compensate the cuts made to universities’ funding. Etla suggests that the fees would not endanger ‘equality of opportunity’, as the student loan system would take care of that.

Later, in a seminar on tuition fees organised by the Finnish Economic Association, Professor of Public Economics Markus Jäntti from the University of Helsinki challenged Etla’s claims, referring to them as weakly-argued opportunism. In fact, no evidence exists that the tuition fees proposed by Etla would guarantee social mobility, and the entire concept of ‘equality of opportunity’ has not even been defined academically. The seminar ended in an argument, which resulted in Jäntti’s decision to pack his bags and return to his professorship in Stockholm University. Jäntti’s departure is a loss for Finnish public discussion. There is a risk of a delusion forming of tuition fees having undivided support from economists. This notion is fuelled by parties such as the neoliberal think tank Libera: its podcast consisted of three people who supported the fees to begin with patting each other on the back. Moreover, tuition fees have less support outside economics, in the field of social policy, for instance.

Up to this point, free education has guaranteed that the most willing and talented people in Finland have been able to continue onto the highest level of education regardless of their family background. Etla’s proposal would smash this premise. We already know that people with lower socioeconomic status avoid taking student loans and would rather work to finance their studies. Even if the repayment of student loans would be tied to future income, as Etla proposes, it would still have negative impact on students who avoid taking risks.

Knowledge of the fact that acquiring a degree would automatically result in a large debt burden would direct students to apply to fields of study where graduates have as large salaries as possible. Besides competent corporate lawyers, Finland will, however, continue to need just as competent librarians and kindergarten teachers. Only economists could think that the value of a profession can be defined by how much it pays. Tuition fees can also be predicted to cause brain drain to countries that offer excellent free education, such as Sweden and Germany.

Tuition fees are presented as unproblematic additional funding for the higher education sector. This idea rests on the naïve presumption that the state’s budget funding to universities would not decrease in exactly the same proportion as the collected tuition fees would fatten the university’s coffers. This has already happened in Australia, for instance. No political mechanism has been developed to ensure that the Australian way would not also be the Finnish way. Fresh in the minds of all students is just how much value the promises of politicians have when it comes to education.

Minna Suorsa
HYY Board Member
minna.suorsa@hyy.fi