This week is week against racism, a theme week organised by the Finnish Red Cross. The theme week is annually held on the same week as the UN’s day against racism. The Student Union of University of Turku (TYY) takes part in this week because we believe that students should be able to fulfil themselves without fear of discrimination at the university, TYY organisations and everyday life also outside the university community.
The University of Turku has around 2000 international students. When we collect feedback from their studies, we commonly hear that the students are satisfied with their studies and the city of Turku but it is hard for them to make local friends. The most recent feedback is from the International Student Barometer from 2017.
How can an individual or an association be more inclusive? Is it impossible for a person with a foreign background to be accepted in the Finnish society?
The first thing that comes to mind is the question of language. Does the fact that one doesn’t know the language everyone speaks result in the feeling of not belonging? It is great that so many of TYY’s associations communicate both in Finnish and English. It is important to remember that while we do have many exchange students, we also have many international Master’s Degree and doctoral students, who may have even bigger interest to integrate into Finnish society since they stay here for a longer period and might have plans to start working here after finishing their studies. But language is not the only barrier that hinders students from meeting each other.
It is easy to be around people who are very similar to you. It takes more effort to be curious and meet new people from outside of your normal circles than it takes to stay in a local pub with old friends. That is fine too. But it is important to recognise why we are not eager to let people with different background from us into our lives.
The truth is that all people have prejudice. Prejudice in itself is not a negative thing, it is a built-in way of understanding concepts you are not familiar with. Prejudice becomes a negative thing if a person is not willing to become conscious of their own prejudice and attitudes. A prejudice that isn’t challenged might even result in acts of discrimination and racism. Being conscious means that you can take the next step and start challenging your own attitudes.
So what can we as individuals and as a community do better to make our campus truly inclusive to not only our international students but to all students? The simplest advice is that let’s look further than appearances, language and nationality. Our community is made of individuals who all deserve to feel included.
This year’s week against racism is targeted to individuals but also to communities. TYY challenges you to get conscious about your own prejudice and challenge them and to be critical about the norms in your community.