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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Press Portal | Diversity and anti-discrimination as a matter of course in everyday university life

Diversity and anti-discrimination as a matter of course in everyday university life

The central women's representative advises and supports in questions of gender equality. In an interview, Ursula Fuhrich-Grubert talks about ways to create a non-discriminatory teaching, learning and working environment in which all people can develop their full potential, regardless of their skin colour or origin.

Dr. Ursula Fuhrich-Grubert is the central women's representative of Humboldt-Universität.

What role do you ascribe to Humboldt-Universität in relation to the topic of diversity?

As a large university in Berlin and thus a place of international and intercultural encounters, the HU has a great social responsibility with regard to the topic of diversity. A first step towards fulfilling this responsibility is to acknowledge that structural racism and social inequalities also exist in the context of the HU - as a recent survey on diversity has shown. In a second step, this should lead to the self-imposed claim - and this especially through the Diversity Working Group - to be an actor of positive change, e.g. through the establishment of best practice measures in the field of anti-discrimination and diversity, the transfer of research results or as a place for critical socio-political debates.

Since when has the AG Diversity been in existence at the HU Berlin. What is its mission and what have you achieved so far?

The AG Diversity has existed in its present form for about two years. It has set itself four goals: 1. It wants to promote a positive and respectful approach to difference and to contribute to the fact that diversity is lived as an enrichment at the HU. 2. to discuss and critically reflect on the handling of diversity throughout the university. In order to ensure the inclusion/integrity of all members of the university, AG 3. wants to create barrier-free and discrimination-free teaching, learning and working environments. AG 4. is then concerned with ensuring counselling and support in cases of discrimination. To sum up: the working group is concerned with raising awareness and bringing about a cultural change at the HU in the sense of diversity and anti-discrimination as a matter of course in everyday university life.

Among other things, the working group has launched the above-mentioned survey, evaluated it and decided on initial measures to implement the above-mentioned goals. It also presented the results of this first phase of work to the Board of Trustees. If it has not yet been possible to implement measures to the desired extent, then this is not least due to the effects of the pandemic.

Is one AG enough? What else has to happen for diversity to come into being at HU?

No, one AG alone is of course not enough. However, the model is a good starting point insofar as it ensures internal heterogeneity and thus a diversity of perspectives: Not only are all representatives for the reduction of discrimination at the HU active in the working group, but decision-makers such as department heads and those affected are also included. In this way, expertise can be bundled, needs and personal experiences can be brought in and synergies can be created - in order to work together across dimensions and in an appreciative manner instead of working together on specific characteristics.
In order to promote the above-mentioned cultural change, numerous measures are required at all levels - as advised and decided by the AG. Starting with further training on gender- and diversity-aware recruitment procedures and personnel management, through university-wide events on topics such as racism or German colonial history, to increased empowerment for all persons affected by racial discrimination who study, teach or work at the HU. It must be clear to everyone: Racism is not tolerated at the HU (see also the service agreement and guideline "Respectful Cooperation").  In the event of discrimination, those affected can confidentially contact the Central Women's Representative or her decentralised colleagues, the Anti-Discrimination Counselling Service of the RefRat, the AGG representative or the conflict advisors (including a person of colour) at any time. According to the results of the survey, these contact points and counselling services should be communicated more widely and via a central website (the AG is also working on this).

How can PoC (People of Colour) who work or study at HU be supported so that the word "equality at HU" becomes reality and not just wishful thinking?

Basically racism is everyday life for PoC and is not only reflected in insults and physical violence. This also applies to Germany and to German institutions. People here experience racist discrimination on a personal as well as on a state-/institutional level and universities like Humboldt University have to deal with this.
Having said that, I think the question should be asked differently. It is not primarily a question of 'supporting' PoC students and staff, but rather of creating a non-discriminatory teaching, learning and working environment in which all people can develop their full potential, regardless of their skin colour or origin.
In order to achieve this, it is essential for a scientific institution such as HU to focus more on this topic. There are already many efforts in this area, especially in the context of the Centre for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies (ZtG). On a practical level, the above-mentioned survey called for awareness-raising and further training measures for all students and staff at the HU, as well as advice and support in cases of racial discrimination. It is also a matter of using appropriate instruments to specifically increase the proportion of PoC among staff and students.

How will you deal with this problem in your role as the HU's central women's representative?

Since I have been pursuing an intersectional approach as the central women's representative since the beginning of my work and I am also the chairperson of the Diversity Working Group, my colleagues and I have also been dealing with the issue of racism for a long time. Since it is well known that women who are PoCs are particularly affected by sexual discrimination, I intend - as expressly requested by those affected - to offer specific events on the empowerment of PoC women in future. Furthermore, in our firstgen project for students with non-academic backgrounds, we have, on the basis of the above intersectional approach, paid special attention to persons with a migration background and PoC.
Regardless of the existing initiatives and structures at HU: The recent events in the USA, the "Black Lives Matter" movement and the related current debate on (structural) racism in Germany are for me and my team and - I assume also for HU as an institution - a moment to become aware once again that there is still a long way to go to achieve a society free of discrimination and thus also Humboldt University.


Interview: Hans-Christoph Keller