The Indian Festival of Lights, Diwali, recently celebrated across the world, symbolises the spirit of ‘knowledge over ignorance’. In the burning age of Tumblr and bumper stickers, this symbolisation may seem like a rather common aphorism to come into contact with and discard without giving much thought. However, in an era where the dissemination of false information has taken the pedestal, never has this statement been more relevant. As citizens of this fragile blue planet, how can we, then, preclude our actions from being ignorant about unfamiliar cultures, ethnicities, intersectional details and simultaneously ensure that we do not saturate ourselves in what may only end up being the illusion of knowledge? As an immediate step, for university students, it can start by making the effort to learn and grow from stories of students hailing from a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, an oppressed past or marginalised by interlocking systems of power for their disabilities, race, sexual orientation, nationality or gender identity.
Recently, in order to commit to an inclusionary policy of a society that I partly administrate, I organised a Women’s Social for the festive occasion of Diwali. Fifteen women from over six nationalities gathered to learn about the culture that I was brought up in. That evening, we did not just celebrate the festival of lights but the inclusivity and empowerment of a range of social stratifications. In this capacity, we can reflect how intersectional outreach plays a crucial role in disseminating social injustices.
Edinburgh University’s Student Association) recently revamped their framework earlier this academic year to introduce a new mandatory position within all societies; the Participation/Outreach officer. Having recognised that societies are often dominated by and geared towards able-bodied, cis-gendered, caucasian, financially comfortable undergraduate students aged between 18-22, the Students’ Association has introduced this role of Outreach Officer in an attempt at transforming the status quo. The primary intention is to raise awareness of barriers to inclusivity, champion diversity at all levels and extinguish obstacles to participation.
As Outreach Officer for The Student newspaper, I have a set of key goals that I aspire to achieve by the end of this academic year. My plan of action is multitudinous in nature and the execution process has been efficacious so far. Through this semester, I have meticulously tailored an all-encompassing Equity Policy for The Student, to assure strong legislative action for any inclusionary violations. It is currently in the process of being integrated into our constitution.
Simultaneously, I have been working on expanding our Outreach by getting in touch with societies that represent minority groups within our university to diversify the content we receive and organically provide our readers with a panoramic range of perspectives. I am indeed grateful to the newly elected Editors in Chief for enabling this idea and creating our stimulating section, Voices. This new section is envisioned to be a safe platform for our diverse set of students to publish their thoughts, opinions and first-hand perspectives on a heterogeneous range of issues linked to inclusivity within and beyond the campus. We earnestly look forward to giving you the platform to voice your thought-provoking experiences.
Notwithstanding the frontiers of our university as a mode for outreach, another one of my objectives is to initiate an international outreach programme to receive external, global perspectives on subjects we study. We are extremely happy to announce that our first international collaboration will be with Training and Research Initiatives (TRI), an excelling resource centre created by a committed team of certified psychologists and psychotherapists based in Bangalore, India. We eagerly look forward to receiving their wide-ranging perspectives along the themes of mental health within our education systems.
In addition, I am currently in the process of orchestrating one of the University of Edinburgh’s biggest panel discussions scheduled to be held in late January, ‘Journalism: a spectrum of colours’. Seasoned journalists who identify themselves as part of an ethnic group of colour will act as panellists to explore and scrutinise how the lack of diversity within journalism in Europe is an ongoing issue that threatens and curtails what the industry stands for. Do keep a lookout on our Facebook Page for more details about the event.
When I learnt that I would be pursuing my education at the University of Edinburgh, 8,000 miles away from where I grew up, I was frankly excited about the experiences that it would bring. Curious to understand the kind of students who previously studied in the environment that I would soon be a part of, I looked up the list of ‘notable alumni’. While the list portrayed some of the world’s most renowned thinkers, I was disheartened to observe that in a 436-year-old pristine sanctuary of knowledge that is proud of its diverse student population, this list of notable individuals consisted of a demographic that could hardly be acknowledged as diverse. A demographic of white, upper-class men that I would never be able to identify myself as. A year later, after the multifarious eye-opening experiences and opportunities that the very same institution has provided me, I am indeed pleased to initiate outreach programmes so that in the near future, another young woman of colour who comes across the list, would not have to think twice about their capabilities and potential within the university’s learning sphere.
Image Credit: Hannah Robinson