Problem-solving requires creativity and unique perspectives. It isn’t that far-fetched to realise that in order to produce engineers that develop solutions to global problems without disadvantaging any specific group in society, KTH needs to recruit from and create a sustainable study environment and culture for all groups in society. That is: KTH needs to be representative of society to create the prerequisites for a sustainable future.
KTH is currently formulating a strategy for working towards this: strategi för breddad rekrytering och breddat deltagande (strategy for broadening recruitment and participation). The first part involves making sure that ambitious, presumptive students who would thrive at KTH actually feel that they could apply to KTH, and the second part is about making sure that these students actually are able to thrive here regardless of their circumstances.
But why would KTH need a strategy?
Well, it’s easy to talk about equality, diversity and inclusivity using fancy words. Actually doing something is apparently not as easy. How do we realistically achieve change in an organisation with thousands of students, faculty and staff? Partly, by establishing a strategy that clearly defines:
• a vision for what our culture would ideally look like,
• goals for how to achieve this vision,
• motivations as to why we have this vision and the accompanying goals, as well as
• specific actions and initiatives that potentially contribute to achieving those goals.
Broadening recruitment can be defined in more or less rigid metrics. The overarching vision is that KTH recruits from all groups equally, with applicants to KTH being representative of society. Achieving this requires sufficiently answering certain questions, some of them entirely controlled by KTH:
1. What properties amongst presumptive students does KTH value?
2. How does KTH’s recruitment efforts influence which groups in society apply to KTH?
Other questions are not as easily controlled, and are a shared-custody issue between KTH as an influential institution and us as a society:
1. How does society influence who has the prerequisites to study at KTH?
2. How do societal norms affect which groups become more or less interested in STEM?
It’s easy to wave away the latter questions as somebody else’s responsibility, such as our lower educational institutions’ cultures and a larger societal norm issue. Doing so, however, underestimates the influence that KTH, as a prestigious institution, has on society. It is also our responsibilityto help form societal norms by how we act as a university and how we communicate what type of student we want to apply.
But what happens after admission?
Simply recruiting a diverse student population is not the end goal. As formulated by KTH’s vision documents, the end goal is to equip future engineers with the tools necessary to tackle complex problems with sustainable approaches. Thus, broadening participation is especially important. How do we ensure that suitable applicants thrive in our university environment? As you might imagine, this is a much more complex issue with a potentially endless amount of factors.
But where does KTH’s responsibility end, and where does THS’ domain begin?
If we can have a representative community in the lecture hall, how do we ensure the community in the chapter hall is equally diverse? The chapter reception is arguably the first impression of life at KTH for most, and active participation within the chapter reception is a significant prerequisite for thriving within your studies. I remember arriving on my first day at Campus Valhallavägen and being welcomed by hundreds of chapter buddies by the subway escalators. It was an amazing experience, and that welcoming has to be equally inclusive for all. The chapter’s responsibilities don’t end after the reception either.
Our goal is to create an inclusive community for all students while at KTH. If we can recruit a representative student population, we have the means to and, arguably, a responsibility to contribute to an open, safe and vibrant campus that welcomes all within the study-social area. Creating a chapter culture that is inclusive to all is part of our contribution as a student union and as chapters to KTH’s goal of broadening participation. But defining a general strategy for broadening participation is difficult. Recruiting can be fairly easily measured with predetermined metrics, but measuring perceived inclusivity is drastically more subjective and labour-intensive.
Working with such questions makes me appreciate the times I get to work with truly thought-provoking student-influence topics. A matter of inclusivity and equality suddenly bursts into a deeper reflection upon society and our visions for the future. I remember sitting in a lecture hall on my first day at KTH and being told that we are the future of society. And, over the years, it has truly dawned on me how true that is: we are the future, and we need to think about how we want to shape it. Hence, I want to leave you with some questions to reflect upon and discuss with your peers in a relaxed context:
1. Should the student population at KTH be representative of society?
2. What responsibility do THS and its chapters have for contributing to an inclusive university culture?
3. What skills and perspectives should a KTH graduate after finishing their studies?