Everyone is capable of anti-racist actions

Decorative image
Bulletin 24.9.2021

This year at our university is an anti-racism theme year to promote a healthy study and work culture. Anti-racism refers to specific active work aimed at reducing racism in society.

In practice, the theme is being promoted through measures such as organising training events at the university and participating in the Finnish nation-wide I am Antiracist campaign. The university is also promoting other themes in the Equality and Non-Discrimination Plan, such as linguistic diversity. To support these values, the university is working closely with students and the student union HYY. More information on the state of equality and equity will be collected through the university’s well-being at work survey at the beginning of September and October and from student feedback surveys, such as the Finnish Bachelor’s Graduate Survey and the International Student Barometer.

Tom Böhling, vice president of the university’s Equality and Diversity Committee, says that anti-racism work requires open ears and cooperation in the university community.

– Our university has many employees and students of international or foreign origin. So being fully included in the university community cannot hinge on ethnicity, nationality, cultural background or language. We have to identify harmful structures and practices so that we can take measures to eradicate discrimination, says Böhling.

Promoting anti-racism means that the university is aware of and recognises discriminatory attitudes and practices that occur at the university. Anti-racism work at the university requires listening to the experiences of people in minority groups and addressing structural issues. Böhling finds that anti-racism works best through everyday actions.

– We want to promote open and appreciative encounters without prejudices and assumptions. As we gradually return to the break rooms and corridors of our university, every one of us can pay attention to the prevailing atmosphere and influence it through our own actions, says Böhling.

Discriminatory structures of everyday life remain invisible

Suvi Keskinen, who works as a professor at the University of Helsinki Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN) knows that a racist atmosphere emerges in organisational structures.

– If we do not identify and recognise racism, we fall short of the ideal of anti-racism. Organisations may advertise a zero tolerance on racism while perpetuating practices that exclude students or researchers in racialized minority groups. For example, we should reconsider the recruitment practices of research and teaching so that we can open up more opportunities for researchers in racialized minority groups, Keskinen says.

According to Keskinen, measures are needed to improve teachers’ and other staff members’ awareness on issues related to racism and anti-racism. Many think that racism is only a problem in extreme right-wing speech, even though many people who place themselves in the mainstream of politics speak in ways that uphold racialized and cultural hierarchies. But the important thing is that this problem has now been identified and that anti-racism has been included as a target of active work at the university.

Planning officer Mona Eid, who works at the university’s Teaching and Learning Services, thinks that the well-being of the student community is also an important factor.

– I think it is important that students can easily contact us when they encounter inappropriate behaviour. In a diverse student community, we have to promote practices that support everyone’s involvement and inclusion. That also means identifying any shortcomings and making an effort to fix them, Eid says.

Everyone is capable of anti-racism in their everyday lives

The university personnel working on equality strive to promote anti-racism in everyday life and encourage the entire university community to promote equality and equity through individual actions. Everyone can be a part of building a healthy study and work culture.

Anti-racism is a hot topic in society at large, and the University of Helsinki is partnering in the Finnish nation-wide I am Antiracist campaign implemented by the Ministry of Justice and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. You can find more information on the campaign at http://www.iamantiracist.fi. The campaign focuses on everyday anti-racist acts. You can participate in the campaign on social media with the campaign’s hashtags #OlenAntirasisti #JagÄrAntirasist or #IAmAntiracist.

In autumn 2021, there will be events and training available on the subject, some for personnel and some for the entire university community.

  1. Workshop-education in antiracism and equal treatment at the University of Helsinki 2021, aimed at personnel.
  2. Discussion on anti-racism in university education from the research perspective. Also for students.
  3. Implicit Bias training aimed at making participants aware of their unconscious biases. Also for students.

Also see other university guidelines:

If you want to comment anonymously or ask about anti-racism work at the university, you can contact the university’s equality and non-discrimination team: tasa-arvovastaava@helsinki.fi

Bulletin 24.9.2021

Read more bulletins