While campuses across the country are becoming rapidly diverse, with students from SC, ST, OBC students enrolling in higher education at a rate faster than ever before, this development isn’t translating into an inclusive environment for all, says a new survey conducted at Savitribai Phule University of Pune.
Released on February 12 in Delhi, a report on the survey says that despite the high diversity different social groups don’t interact uniformly, and that “the academic and social competencies of different groups of students varies significantly”. The survey was conducted by a group of researchers working on a collaborative project between Pune University and University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Consider this – while 75 percent of around 2,000 post-graduate students surveyed agreed that the university has ‘broadened their perspective’ and ‘exposed them to diverse realities’, 40 percent students said they still experienced some form of discrimination. “This indicates that very few report incidents of discrimination but that much occurs between individuals, targeting students that are already marginalized in society,” the report says. Thirty five percent students reported they have faced biased or discriminatory ‘verbal comments’, and 15 percent experienced exclusion in social gatherings or negative written comments.
Similarly, while a larger proportion of students (70 percent) reported interacting with students from different caste groups to have intellectual discussions, these discussions, the researchers pointed out, were “polite, superficial, or random”. Nearly half of students (42 percent) said they rarely or never had ‘meaningful and honest discussions about caste or religion’ if their background was different from their peers.
Teachers could facilitate such discussions, especially when a nearly three quarters of the student body reported they had “never taken the time to learn more about their caste identity”. However, faculty were ranked low on these very measures, which suggests, the report says, “that faculty are not willing to or able to facilitate discussions on difficult and sensitive topics”. Half of the students said “open discussions about power, privilege and oppression” either don’t take place or happen rarely in their classrooms.
In such a scenario, at least an individual could benefit from the counseling service of the University, which is seen as helpful in making students belong on the campus. But the survey found that nearly one-third students (32 percent) were not even aware the service exists.
Unsurprisingly, the University is then unable to develop civic competencies among students. An average of only 33 percent students believe that ‘tolerance of others with different beliefs’, ‘ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective’, and ‘ability to discuss and negotiate controversial issues’ are a ‘major strength’ for them. They might believe that preventing social and religious discrimination is very important (80 percent), but when it comes to actually confronting others for the issue very few (29 percent) do so.
The lack of preparedness to handle diversity also affects how students from different genders interact, and little development happens on this front. Twenty-seven percent students said they rarely or never (12 percent) “interacted with the opposite gender”, and over 70 percent have never participated in gender awareness activities on campus.
“They need to go much deeper,” Professor Vivek Kumar, the Ambedkar Chair at Centre for the Study of Social Systems at JNU, told YKA about the report. Perception of ‘General’ students about Dalit icons, faculty’s cooperation with students during research and giving recommendations, and the teacher’s capacity to give real-life examples that would not be discriminatory to already targeted students were areas he suggested where further research is needed, as such issues are likely to go unreported in surveys based on self-assessment.
Professor Satish Deshpande, who spoke at the closing session of the report’s release, said that such studies are needed because macro-level statistics only capture student proportions, which is fast approaching the population proportions, indicating that we have achieved diversity goals. The study, he said, provides “good descriptions of what is happening on the ground that keeps people out even though they are equal members”.