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Trinity-INC Student Partner Programme

Trinity-INC Summer Student Partner Programme June-September 2021

The Trinity-INC Summer Student Partner Programme involved 18 Trinity students from all walks of life and communities, which are commonly underrepresented and/or disadvantaged, across the nine grounds of equality (gender, Travelling Community, disability etc.) and other circumstances, e.g. socio economic background, caregiving responsibilities, homelessness, etc. They took part in a series of workshops covering key terminology, concepts and theories regarding inclusivity within the curriculum and exploring their own experience of inclusion, and exclusion, within the teaching and learning experience in Trinity. Students were paid the living wage for their involvement.

The aims of the Summer Student Partner Programme were:

  • To engage collaboratively with students to inform and shape Trinity-INC’s work through the Student Partner Programme commencing in the 2021-2022 academic year
  • To introduce students to language, terminology and concepts around inclusivity, and inclusive curriculum;
  • To hear and learn from students’ experiences through workshops, discussions and material development, and to present these a showcase event in September 2021.

Student Materials

As part of the Summer Student Partner Programme, students were invited to create materials highlighting messages they think are key to creating an inclusive curriculum. Below are a selection - more to follow!

The Meaningfulness of Diversity among Teaching Staff - a Student Perspective

My name is Cathleen Joyce, I am member of the Travelling Community. I studied at Trinity for five years and recently completed a degree in Social Studies (social work). Throughout my studies, I did not see myself represented in the university in terms of teaching staff or fellow students. I was the only Traveller student in my class, and there was only one person from an ethnic minority among the staff. Here I want to talk about how important this one person having to represent me and be a role model for someone like me was, and to call upon Trinity – and all universities – to continue to work towards a more diverse and all-inclusive teaching board.

I feel for people who are coming from diverse backgrounds because I know for myself as a Traveller how hard it has been to access education. Many of my community would have left education early. For me I was lucky that, despite leaving education early, the path I took led me eventually to college. However, there are few spaces where I feel I belong and, in many spaces, I feel afraid to speak out because I fear I will be discriminated against. College was the same: I was uncomfortable to be open about being from the Traveller Community. So, to protect myself, when I started College and even throughout my first placement, I didn’t share.

Early on in my college days, I remember a class led by the staff member I mentioned who was from an ethnic minority in which there was a debate related to the Travelling Community. At that time, I wasn’t confident to speak up for myself. However, in observing her and with her encouragement, I gradually learned to be more open. I found my voice and learned how to use it to assert myself. Seeing others from other ethnic minorities using their voice too, gave me more confidence.

I do not mean that women, or people from ethnic minorities or with disabilities, should be added to staff as tokens for diversity, but that the College should make more of an effort to support such individuals and communities. These people are not only just as capable to work but are so important to show students like me that someone from an ethnic minority – or with a disability – can also be a lecturer or professor or social worker.

Seeing more people from ethnic minorities on board teaching staff would have provided me with a deeper sense of belonging and identity within Trinity. We all like to see ourselves wherever we go, to know we fit in, that we belong. If I saw someone from my background, or who came from a similar background, I wouldn’t have felt so alien. It goes beyond words, however. Back to the staff member who was from an ethnic minority: her being there, showed me that I could do this: “If she can do this, so can I”. It’s inspirational and motivational. I cannot express how big a deal it was for me to meet a fellow Traveller who was a primary school teacher. I had never met a Traveller who was a teacher before. To see myself represented in such a profession was so uplifting. Any space you go into, you want to feel like you fit in; you want to see people you can relate too. It just makes things easier.

For other ethnic minorities too, to see themselves represented may also offer them similar encouragement and a sense of identity and belonging. The same may go for a person who has a disability. I feel inclusivity is subject that is quite often discussed in Trinity and one can see this represented among the students at Trinity at times, but there is a way to go among teaching staff.

Lecturers - why not seek inclusivity-focused feedback from students during your module?

Suggestion from Navika Mehta for the Trinity Inclusive Curriculum Project Summer Student Partner Programme 2021

Students do not have a stake in filling out end of module surveys - due to lack of incentive and interest. Furthermore, waiting for feedback until the end of the module means lecturers may not be aware until much later if there is something they could change during the module that could make a huge difference to some students.

By carrying out a module interm feedback process, you can understand the inclusivity needs of students in real time. It can be flexible in terms of when and how you want to organise it.

Flexibility of the survey: The format is entirely up to the lecturer – it can be in-person/zoom using smaller focus groups conducted by TAs, it can be an quick online survey, it can be in the form of an informal assignment e.g. – “max. 500 words on inclusivity in relation to this module”?

Making deadlines and exams more accessible for students with hidden burdens

Deadlines are an everyday part of college life for both students and lecturers. Many might think of deadlines as fair and non-discriminating across the board for all students, and just part of how we do things and assess people's learning. However, this is not always true as many students have ‘hidden burdens’ which stop them from fully participating in college life (both academically and socially). These can be things such as having to work part-time to afford rent, or having childcare responsibilities at home. These realities frequently restrict their schedule or pop up unexpectedly for them - and cause issues in terms of deadlines and online exams.

Being flexible (where practical) in deadlines for assignments/essays etc. and the timing of online exams may allow these students to participate more equally when it comes to assessment. The key thing here is communication and an open mind. Communicating with students about what works best for them and being open to accommodating them is always a good start.

I'd like to respond to some reservations or opposition to further flexibility and accommodations when it comes to deadlines:

  • “Deadlines act as good motivation”
    Deadlines shouldn’t be in place just to pressure students into working within a certain timeframe. Deadlines that are too tight or restrictive can often cause unnecessary anxiety for students and prioritise an attitude of ‘getting the work done’ over doing good work first and foremost.
  • “Students can fall behind on assignments”
    The onus is still (as it always has been) on students to complete their work.
  • “Students don’t need more time”
    This makes an assumption about students that may not apply to everybody. If there is no legitimate academic reason (based in the stated learning outcomes of the module) for a deadline that students are finding to be tight or hard to aim for, then students should feel comfortable in questioning why it has been set as such.

When it comes to online exams, which many of us - both lecturers and students are getting used to for the first time:

  • “Students are more likely to cheat/plagiarise”
    Students shouldn’t be restricted by the assumption that given more time, they are more likely to plagiarise their answers. Plagiarism shouldn’t be affected by moving an online exam from 5 hours to 24 or 48 hours (or even longer). If the academic integrity of your exam is threatened by giving 24 hours to complete it, then the same thing is true even if it 5 hours or 2 hours – so time isn’t the real issue.
  • "Students don’t need more time”
    The time of the exam may not suit some students – so giving them space to sit and do the exam over the course of a day or two days will allow them to work around any responsibilities/burdens they have.

Recognise that students with hidden burdens may often have:

  • Less time to study/work than other students
  • A more restrictive or less predictive schedule
  • An environment which is non-conducive to online learning.

These factors can lead to issues managing multiple deadlines, and engaging with assignments and exams. Overall, the main thing to remember in relation to this and generally speaking, is that clear and open communication with students is key. In a given situation, the majority of students may not need accommodations to be made, but this doesn’t mean those who do should go without. It is important that they are included and given the opportunity to express what works for them so that they can better engage with college. Communicating constructively with them and being open about what’s possible can be very helpful.

Download a pdf of these suggestions together with infographics

Contribution by Alexander Fay


For further information contact trinityinc@tcd.ie