Inclusion in HE – What role for student affairs and services?

One of the incredible transformations that has taken place in tertiary education around the world in the last century has been the massification and diversification of student and staff populations.

The subjects of diversity and inclusion in higher education are reviewed by seven authors and from several different perspectives in Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education: Global foundations, issues, and best practices, 3rd edition (pp 83-103).

More equal and inclusive

First, in Towards a more equal and inclusive higher education (pp 84-86), Patrick Blessinger, Jaimie Hoffman and Mandla Makhanya provide an excellent global overview of the importance of inclusion in education.

Widening participation initiatives aim to improve access to higher education opportunities for all people. Driven by increased demand for education as well as legal reforms and human rights declarations, these initiatives focus on improving access for students from historically marginalised backgrounds

Inclusion in education takes on a more specific meaning as one looks at the subject on a country-by-country basis. At a human rights level, several related treaties and conventions govern inclusion in education (at all levels), such as the Convention against Discrimination in Education and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

UNESCO defines inclusion broadly to include all marginalised groups. Furthermore, UNESCO explains: “… inequity of education quality and of effective learning amounts to unequal development”.

Fair access to higher education requires both equality and equity, two principles that are complementary, but which frame the idea of fairness differently. Equality is based on the fairness principle that every individual is entitled to uniform opportunity to access and participate in higher education.

Equity is based on the fairness principle that every individual is entitled to just opportunity to access and participate in higher education. Equity entails understanding student learning needs. Since not everyone has the same needs and circumstances, equity-related policies call for providing students with additional assistance and/or appropriate accommodations to make the playing field fairer.

Inclusion in education is rooted deeply in the democratic principles of justice and equal opportunity. Inclusive higher education is vital to the ongoing development of a democratic society. At the heart of inclusive education is the cultivation of a mindset that supports growth and respects human differences.

In an increasingly globalised world characterised by pluralism and interconnectedness, inclusive education serves as an indispensable characteristic of modern learning. Consequently, inclusion involves modernising the provision of instruction, curricula, co-curricular, learning environments, assessment and learning outcomes to meet contemporary learning needs.

The great challenge before higher education leaders and policymakers therefore is to foster social justice without compromising academic quality and professional relevance.

In higher education, inclusion has come to mean equal and equitable treatment for all people. The closely related term of diversity has come to mean that a diverse learning environment can provide many benefits as a result of different abilities, strengths, perspectives etc.

Spotlight on intercultural competence

Education is the basic foundation for all political, economic, social and personal development. Thus, achieving equity and inclusion in education requires a change in mindset and practices that aims to foster inclusion, respect differences and value the contributions of all.

An article, Spotlight on intercultural competence development in higher education institutions (pp 87-90) focuses on the work of Barbara Covarrubias Venegas. Today’s world is much more interconnected via internationalisation and globalisation of higher education. How one navigates this increasingly seamless environment contributes immensely to one’s intercultural competence or cultural intelligence or CQ.

More specifically, the development of cultural competence in students involves their understanding of four dimensions: knowledge, metacognition, motivation and behavior.
CQ knowledge is the cognitive dimension of cultural intelligence, referring to knowledge about culture and its role in shaping interactions and work.

Most teaching courses at higher education institutions focus on sharing implicit knowledge with the aim to teach students to understand the way culture shapes how people think and behave and giving them an overall understanding of how cultures vary.

It is important that CQ knowledge be considered as a macro-level understanding of cultural systems, otherwise having factual knowledge of other cultures will always be contingent on the ability to memorise information rather than on the ability to interact effectively with people from other cultures. Although CQ knowledge is valuable by itself, it does little to solve real-life intercultural challenges and it can potentially be detrimental.

CQ strategy is the metacognitive aspect of cultural intelligence, measuring a person’s ability to strategise before, during and after cross-cultural encounters. People who possess strong CQ strategy can draw on cultural understanding to solve complex problems by planning for an intercultural encounter, being aware of oneself and others during the encounter and finally comparing one’s actual experiences with prior expectations and adjusting mental models as appropriate.

CQ drive is the motivational dimension of cultural intelligence, relating to the level of interest, drive and energy needed to adapt cross-culturally. CQ drive describes the intrinsic and extrinsic interest derived from culturally diverse experiences and includes the aspect of self-efficacy, meaning the confidence that a person has about being effective in intercultural encounters.

CQ action is the behavioural dimension of cultural intelligence, describing the ability to act appropriately in a range of intercultural situations and accomplish goals. Undoubtedly, actions must always be flexible and tailored to specific cultural contexts.

Multicultural classes are often challenging for teachers, staff and students alike considering that students often prefer to socialise within their own cultural groups. Hence, intercultural learning does not necessarily occur in culturally mixed educational environments. This is one of the reasons why the preparation of faculty and staff members is of utmost importance.

One important question concerns how universities measure whether they have developed inter-culturally competent students. It must be noted that there is a lack of specificity in defining intercultural competence which might be due to the complex nature of the concept. Very few higher education institutions have methods for documenting and measuring intercultural competence development with their students (and/or staff).

In conclusion, it can be noted that, besides CQ development and respective measurement, social space is required to produce networks in universities, particularly with respect to the collaborative and social aspects of knowledge sharing and creation.

Sexism and LGBTI in higher education

Cecile Bodibe, a long-time academic and student affairs administrator in South Africa, looks at diversity from a unique perspective in A closer look at sexism and LGBTI in higher education (pp 90-92). Bodibe points to sexism and LGBTI as two dimensions of diversity and inclusion cracking under the considerable weight of neglect and unmitigated prejudice.

Gender violence, abuse of women, rape, sexual harassment and even femicide, continue unabated. The stubborn streak of patriarchy, prejudice, stereotypical thinking and antiquated cultural mores perpetuate the oppression of women.

Gender inequality is a pressing global issue with huge ramifications, not just for the lives and livelihood of girls and women, but more generally, for human development, labour markets productivity and economic growth.

The main challenge in most institutions is the insidious ontological denial of LGBTI students on campuses. There is a subliminal denial of their existence, and where attempts at acceptance are made, they are soured by an inherent denigration of LGBTI students.

Many people, including former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, have shown shocking condescension towards LGBTI people, even quoting the bible in favour of the death penalty for them. On the other hand, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has argued that God is not homophobic, saying: “I would rather go to hell rather than worship a homophobic God”.

Not only do people not choose to be LGBTI, some ‘come out’ at great personal risk including threats of being disinherited or worse. If there is still a backlash against members of the LGBTI community in the United States imagine the challenges for students who are LGBTI in Africa and the Middle East.

Who a student goes to bed with has nothing to do with their ability to make a success of studies. Campuses should assist all students to be the best they can be. Gender identity and their sexual orientation must not be used to hamper their opportunities.

The UNIDiversidad initiative

Maria Amelia Viteri has become an expert in diversity, particularly in relation to sexual identity, race and ethnicity. Her research is based primarily in South American higher education, especially in her home country of Ecuador.

Her article, UNIDiversidad Program: Diversity within an intersectional perspective (pp 93-95), is based on an initiative developed at the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito or USFQ by the dean of students and the student government.

UNIDidiversidad is founded on the objective of creating and maintaining an environment of well-being among those who constitute the university community and its surroundings, based on the central philosophy of the liberal arts, which promotes equal opportunity through social responsibility, empathy and ethics. Also, these tenets recognise the diversity of individuals as well as the protection of individual liberties and development, thereby fostering empathy.

USFQ developed a series of workshops to educate and raise awareness among students, teachers, and administrative and facilities staff. The workshops are based on the theory of social-cultural construction of the differences around identity and its intersections and are part of a programme that gives participants tools to confront discrimination. This in turn helps to improve the institutional performance by creating an open environment based on the principles of respect that should be the societal standard.

UNIDiversidad seeks to create awareness of responsibility through recognition of and sensitising about topics related to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and background among others, that impact on the university community and its surroundings.

For this reason, the university seeks to develop a methodology that eliminates all types of discrimination. Psychological, academic and legal advisory services are available in harassment cases against professors. Academic sanction is the ultimate penalty in such cases.

These steps alone are insufficient for creating an environment of respect and liberty. There must also be complementary actions with tools that identify how discrimination functions. This is the proactive work of the UNIDiversidad programme and the awareness-raising workshops, whose objective is to help the university community address, avoid and correct situations that violate the institutional values of respect and freedom.

Critical multiculturalism will favour an intersectional approach to difference where difference exists within historically determined asymmetries of power. UNIDiversidad strives to go beyond what Gilroy calls ‘benign universal humanism’ that is responsible for building racially harmonious relations devoid of structural inequality and historic difference.

The concept of intersectionality

The concept of intersectionality, which originated in feminist studies, allows for the viewing of the functioning of multiple identities that are mutually constitutive and are in constant conversation. Applying this concept allows for a deeper approach that analyses the interaction of these categories and how they create mechanisms of social stratification that bring about discriminatory practices.

To start a programme such as UNIDiversidad, it was essential to first reflect on the type of spaces USFQ wants to create. The initiative emerged from the desire to maintain an environment of well-being in the university community, principally through empathy.

Places of learning are not neutral territories impermeable to different social dynamics and problems. On the contrary, they are created as institutions composed of tools and cultural practices that play an important role in the definition of identities. In this way, universities present limits, borders and crossings that assign what one can be and do, and what one cannot.

Intersectionality as a theoretical and methodological umbrella has been addressed in multiple ways, distinguishing various elements in the formation of multiple layers of oppression: identities (women, indigenous, young), categories of differences (gender, social race, and age), processes of differentiation (racialisation) and systems of domination (racism).

When analytical intersectional studies began, there was emphasis on social race, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic class. Later, concepts regarding citizenship, nationality, sexuality, religion and age, among others, were included. The categories shouldn’t be static nor become means of categorisation. The conceptualisation of assembly allows us to see the starting point, from which diversity is theorised.

Professors are not neutral in the way they carry their own stereotypical ideas into the classroom. The programme addresses the axes of gender, sexuality, social race, ethnicity, place of origin and disabilities, with the possibility of expanding to encompass all those considered necessary as it grows. The emphasis on the processes of identities and belonging support the possibility of seeing each person in depth and in their multiple social positions.

There isn’t a direct relationship between higher education levels, academic achievement or position of authority and less discrimination. For this reason, awareness-raising, capacity-building and the development of tools are the keys to creating a campus that respects diversity since sensitising has proven not to be enough to change attitudes.

Decolonising higher education

Desire Chiwandire’s article, Decolonising the South African higher education and labour market environments by achieving employment equity and inclusive education for persons with disabilities (pp 96-103), addresses what the country is doing to support the educational needs of students with disabilities and employment needs of employees with disabilities.

The post-1994 South African government implemented numerous disability policies as a way of redressing the historical exclusion of people with disabilities from higher education institutions and the labour market.

Although this supportive policy framework obliges both environments not to discriminate against people with disabilities on the grounds of disability, this group is still being denied equal opportunities to meaningfully exercise their rights because of the gap between policy and practice.

The paper traces and gains an in-depth understanding of the current situation of people with disabilities in higher education institutions and the labour market, particularly measures taken by both environments to support the needs of students and employees with disabilities. Document analysis, a systematic procedure for reviewing or evaluating, was employed as a useful qualitative analytical research method.

Although South Africa’s universities are obliged to commit themselves to increase access for people with special education needs, students with disabilities still face access challenges. Central to these challenges is that there is less than 1% students with disabilities enrolled in higher education institutions. This has been attributed to gatekeeping by financial aid officers and bureaucratising disability funding application processes, cuts in disability funding, and means-test requirements for students applying for disability scholarships or bursaries.

The exclusion of people with disabilities is also evident in the labour market where this population continues to be marginalised and exposed to high levels of inequality and unemployment. Given their lower academic achievements, it is estimated that only 1% of people with disabilities have access to employment on the open labour market.

Employees with physical disabilities are denied access mostly because companies want to avoid having to incur the cost of making their physical built environment more accessible to this group by installing elevators, lifts and ramps.

In some cases, people with disabilities’ gender also plays an important role in determining whether or not they can gain access to higher education or a specific job. South African female students with disabilities, it has been argued, are faring worse than males.

Although access to higher education institutions and the labour market is being granted to some people with disabilities, this has mainly taken the form of a ‘selective inclusion’ or an ‘impairment-based approach’ to inclusion whereby specific disability types are prioritised over others. This narrow approach contradicts the inclusive goal of achieving social equity by being ‘responsive to all students’ regardless of their disability or ability.

Research shows that some people with disabilities continue to experience discrimination associated with barriers to equal participation once they access both environments. These barriers are prevalent in universities that perceive the enrolling and supporting of students with disabilities as costly, especially those institutions that still manage disability issues as separate from other diversity and transformation imperatives.

South Africa’s labour market and higher education policies draw on the Social Model of Disability rooted in the human rights model, as it suggests that the collective disadvantage of disabled people is due to a complex form of institutional discrimination.

Given that the rights of people with disabilities continue to be violated in both environments there is a need to conduct sensitisation workshops targeting lecturers and employers as per Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which oblige member states to prioritise disability awareness-raising initiatives.

Literature has confirmed that sensitising lecturers can help them promote tolerant attitudes to embracing the concept of inclusion, which can positively enable such lecturers to adopt a learner-centred approach … that requires lecturers to adjust their educational practices to enhance learning for all students.

The article concludes by proposing the need to sensitise people in both environments on the importance of the concept of diversity, especially given the narrow approach of South Africa’s campus diversity initiatives, which only pay attention to issues of class, race and gender at the cost of disability issues. The same applies in the labour market.

By embracing diversity, both environments create welcoming spaces for people with disabilities to flourish.

For instance, in order for students with disabilities to succeed they need to feel that their diverse abilities and inabilities are welcome in order to feel safe, capable and accepted, thus enhancing their overall learning experience. Inclusive education can best be achieved by responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education.

Some South African lecturers have begun to embrace diversity. Likewise, some employers were receptive towards hiring and providing employees with disabilities with RAs because of their role in contributing to the diversity of the workforce pool. These employers viewed hiring people with disabilities as beneficial and not as a costly expense because of the belief that employees with disabilities could also contribute talents crucial to the success of business.

Such positive attitudes also stem from employers’ beliefs that people with disabilities holding appropriate qualifications could also equally contribute to the labour market through their ability to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

Roger B Ludeman is Editor-in-Chief of the IASAS-DSW book and President Emeritus of IASAS: Patrick Blessinger is Director and Chief Research Scientist at the International HETL Association: Jaimie Hoffman is Director, Student Affairs and Learning, Noodles Partners: Mandla Makhanya is Principal and Vice Chancellor of UNISA – University of South Africa: Barbara Covarrubias Venegas is Senior Researcher/Visiting Professor at the University of Valencia: Cecile Bodibe is Former Vice President, Student Affairs, at UNISA – University of South Africa: Maria Amelia Viteri is Associate Professor and Researcher at Universidad San Francisco de Quito: Desire Chiwandire is a Lecturer at Rhodes University, South Africa: