Reimagining diversity in higher education for an inclusive future

Inclusion must be deeply embedded throughout every sphere of the university lifecycle, with a commitment to fostering unlearning and relearning, ensuring a continuous process of growth and transformation for students, faculty, and staff.

Sarika Gupta Bhattacharyya

Nikita Tandon

Reimagining diversity in higher education for an inclusive future

Sunday July 09, 2023,

4 min Read

A higher education institution serves as a microcosm of the workplace and society. It plays a significant role in shaping the perceptions and actions of future citizens. Universities that encourage an inclusive environment and belongingness nurture empathetic, inclusive, and thoughtful leaders. 

Inclusion must be deeply embedded throughout every sphere of the university lifecycle, with a commitment to fostering unlearning and relearning, ensuring a continuous process of growth and transformation for students, faculty, and staff.

Fostering diverse representation

The journey towards inclusion begins by prioritising diverse representation within the campus community, encompassing both students and faculty members, including diversity in socioeconomic status, geographic background, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical abilities, and more.

As we strive to create an inclusive and equitable society for all, a crucial starting point involves creating a more inclusive, democratised, and free-from-bias recruitment process. 

As a test prep-focused country, Indian institutions rely largely on a single test score to gauge student potential, which may result in the exclusion of numerous exceptional candidates.

A holistic admission process that values diversity should be accompanied by robust financial support and scholarships. In India, about 25% of students drop out of higher education due to financial constraints. 

By addressing these constraints, universities can create an environment where students feel empowered to pursue their academic goals, regardless of their backgrounds and constraints.

Nurturing an empathetic culture

To foster a truly inclusive environment, a culture of open dialogue and respectful conversations is essential to nurture. Universities encouraging the formation of student-led clubs and forums promote understanding and empower students to express their unique identities and perspectives.

It is equally important to foster a commitment to holistic well-being by providing support services with access to adequate mental health and counselling services.

Creating a safe, interactive classroom environment with stress management activities is also needed. Implementing an open-door policy encouraging students to seek support and share their problems in a safe environment will lead to a culture of inclusion, well-being, and belongingness.

Furthermore, mentorship programmes with faculty and industry leaders can provide guidance, support, and assistance in navigating the challenges of college life.

Mentors play a critical role in helping students from different socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, besides those with a different sexual orientation and gender identities adapt to the campus environment, paving the way for better inclusion and higher possibilities of overall success.

Finally, the importance of encouraging acceptance of differences, dialogues that challenge biases, stereotypes, and prejudices, and celebrate not just diverse cultures, traditions, and backgrounds but also diversity of viewpoints without dismissing dissent. And that typifies the key ethos of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Ensuring democratised and accessible learning

An inclusive campus is characterised by an enabling environment that supports the diverse needs of all individuals.

In India, less than 2% of higher education institutions are disabled-friendly. Thus, creating a physically accessible campus and integrating assistive technologies and tools that support diverse learning styles and abilities is critical.

It can include screen readers, captioning services, braille materials, and other assistive devices that enable individuals with visual, hearing, or learning impairments to access and engage with educational content.

Reimagining pedagogy and curriculum for inclusivity

An often-overlooked aspect of DEI in higher education is the transformative potential of pedagogy and curriculum.

Faculty members should move beyond traditional teaching methods and embrace pedagogical approaches that cater to the diverse learning styles and needs of each student. By doing so, they can create an inclusive learning environment that promotes equitable educational experiences. 

One effective approach is to encourage immersive and experiential field visits, which allow students to directly engage with and understand the societal challenges of exclusion and marginalization. By witnessing these challenges firsthand, students are motivated to bridge the gap with inclusive innovation.

Embracing an inclusive pedagogical approach that emphasises experiential problem-solving is imperative to showcase the real impact of weaving in DEI in academics.

Imagine enabling students that are visually impaired or have other challenges related to speech and auditory abilities. Experiential problem-solving can enable a big leap in reimagining pedagogy altogether to foster a truly inclusive classroom environment.

And at the centre of it is the spirit of empathy that can instill among students a true understanding of societal issues, and the major complex problems the “others” face, and then take to innovation to bring inclusive solutions to the table. 

For sustainable and effective change, it is crucial to collaboratively engage the diverse voices of the community for collective impact.

“Every student can learn, just not on the same day or in the same way.” 

Sarika Gupta Bhattacharyya is the Head of Institutional Advancement and Industry Partnerships at Plaksha University.

Nikita Tandon is the Manager of Institutional Advancement and Partnerships at Plaksha University.

Edited by Suman Singh

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)