Plan for Equality

Plan for Equality of the Guild of Automation and Systems Technology

The Plan for Equality of the Guild of Automation and Systems Technology serves as a plan and guideline for promoting and maintaining equality in the Guild. In 2019, we conducted an equality survey, which revealed that there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of achieving equality in the Guild. It would be worthwhile to scrutinise our current activities and to address the identified issues as swiftly and effectively as possible to prevent the problems from expanding or being forgotten. It is in everyone’s interest that as many people as possible feel comfortable in our Guild. Identifying and acknowledging areas of development is not a negative thing but shows steps of improvement. As the Guild grows, it is important to focus on moving it to a direction that is more equal, open and takes everybody into consideration. By equality we mean that nobody feels discriminated against or excluded in our activities. Even though it is important to preserve teekkari traditions, some of them are discriminating and offensive, and as such, do not represent the right spirit anymore. Reshaping some traditions does not mean that they need to be abolished entirely. By saying that our Guild is open for everyone, we not only mean that everyone has a right to participate in our activities, but also that everyone should feel welcome and at home here. Not everyone wants to participate in Guild events, but it is important to make sure that the decision not to attend is the individual’s own choice and not caused by our actions. The best way to improve in this aspect is to engage in open debate and to acknowledge and address our shortcomings. Talking about the issues presented in this Plan might feel like making a mountain out of a molehill, but it is essential for changing the prevailing culture and state of affairs in terms of attitudes and public debate. Striving to achieve as equal a community as possible and to make everyone feel welcome is not wasted effort. The purpose of this Plan is not to abolish and destroy old traditions or a good team spirit. The Plan can be used in our ISO tutor, official and other training to ensure that all our officials are better aware of the ways of building a more equal community. The Plan and the proposed practices apply particularly to situations where you do not know all participants or attendees personally and cannot, therefore, know what they find offensive. When reading this Plan, it is good to keep in mind that everybody sees things differently, so even if you do not consider something problematic, it does not mean that everybody else agrees.

1. Multilingualism

Our Guild covers three Bachelor-level majors, one of which is organised entirely in English. Our members also include exchange students and English-speaking Master’s students. It is important to take non-Finnish speakers into consideration so that they can feel at home in our Guild. We can work towards this by publishing as many of our communications as possible in English (e.g. our website, event descriptions, the weekly newsletter, and all relevant and important messages in our communication channels). Other ways of reducing the language barrier include using English in situations where there are people present who do not understand Finnish, incorporating English songs into our academic dinner parties, or ‘Sitz parties’, and making it possible to participate in different events using English. It is also important to encourage and enable organisation of events fully in English and to foster new, English-speaking traditions. Encouraging Finnish students to attend exchange student activities would also improve everyday communications in English. Although our international activities have taken major strides forward in a short time, they are still relatively new. We have many active individuals responsible for international activities who do a great deal for exchange students, but we still need to engage the whole Guild in changing attitudes towards English use and in encouraging participation in international activities.

2. Gender minorities

Our Guild is one of the most male-dominated guilds of the Aalto University. This is why it is important to ensure that it will remain open for everyone. Those identifying as something other than male can be considered to be part of a gender minority. Even though highlighting minorities increases rather than decreases segregation, it should be taken into consideration in order to promote equality. We can advance gender equality by examining our activities, especially in terms of language and attitudes. Attitudes are influenced by subconscious prejudices and assumptions of what a person should be like when identifying as certain gender. For women, this might mean that pointing out shortcomings or areas of improvement can be perceived as “nagging”. Everyone should be able to be their true selves and express themselves just as they are and wish without others telling them what they should be like. In our Guild, and in the technology sector in general, prevails a very masculine ethos and culture, where expressing femininity can often be seen as something to be looked down on. You can make a difference in the Guild’s atmosphere and culture by considering how you refer to your fellow students, how you talk about other people, and what kind of jokes or quips you make about gender and in what kind of situations. For instance, technology students are often referred to using masculine terms. Among a group of friends this is rarely a problem, but it is good to consider what kind of message this practice conveys to new students on their first day. Another way of promoting gender equality is to intervene when you notice someone acting in a sexist or otherwise disparaging way towards a sexual minority. By remaining silent you allow for discriminatory behaviour to gain foothold, even if you would never act the same way yourself. It is, therefore, important that we, as a community, indicate what is acceptable and what is not. Further, gender equality can also be improved by taking sexual minorities into consideration in situations and events where belonging to one may for some reason discourage participation. For example, many facilities in Otaniemi and student facilities elsewhere meant for activities that require changing your clothes or showering, such as sauna bathing or using a hot tub, do not have separate changing and shower rooms for different genders. Even if this may feel perfectly normal to a large number of people and does not affect their participation in these activities, some might feel uncomfortable and not be used to such situations. It would be a good practice to allow people to prepare for these situations by notifying them about this in the event description. These problems might not occur to the event organisers, especially if they do not concern themselves personally, so it would be worthwhile to create a practice of considering the event from the perspective of each person participating in our activities.

3. Sexual minorities

Sexual orientation is everyone’s private matter. Everyone can decide for themselves whether they wish to share this information with others and in what manner. Sexual orientation is not connected with anyone’s other qualities, nor does it make them certain way even though it might be a significant part of their identity. Sexuality can also be very diverse, and everyone has the right to define their own identity. The fact that you cannot relate to someone’s experiences does not mean that either one of you are in the wrong. You can never know from the outside what someone has not shared with you. We live in a heteronormative society where everyone is assumed to be heterosexual until proven otherwise. This, however, is not true, and you should not assume anyone’s sexuality. Assuming may easily lead to a situation where people find it difficult to talk about their experiences and feelings, as it is still not possible to know how others react to a sexual orientation that deviates from the mainstream. Moreover, some may not want to share their sexual orientation with others even if there is open discussion about the topic. The language we use has major impact on the culture we foster. Comments about sexual orientation, in particular, are not acceptable in modern-day conversations. For example, the word ‘gay’ is still used as a slur. Someone being a member of a sexual minority is no reason to insult them or to treat them differently. As is the case with other issues discussed in this Plan, you can make a difference by paying attention to your own language use and intervening when you see discriminatory behaviour taking place. In our Guild, everyone must be able to be themselves and to express themselves freely and without being judged.

4. Racism and xenophobia

In this section, racism refers to discrimination on the basis of a person’s skin colour or ethnicity, and xenophobia to discrimination based on a person’s foreign status regardless of their skin colour or ethnicity. According to a report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Finland is one of the most racist countries in Europe (‘Being Black in the EU’, 2019). This is a widely discussed and debated topic, also in Otaniemi. Our Guild and the Aalto University host a large number of students from different cultures and countries. It is important to remember that jokes such as song lyrics may target real people in our community. Because racism and xenophobia are so deep-rooted and structural, they are reflected in our language use and our way of talking about other people. This is why it would be good to stop and reflect on our behaviour and beliefs every once in a while. Even if we do not intend to discriminate, we might do it subconsciously or simply not consider matters from a different perspective. This applies to other topics discussed in this Plan. The Guild is meant to be a place where everyone can feel respected as themselves and as individuals and feel part of our community. Discriminatory language use is also closely connected to our way of talking about exchange students. In Otaniemi and even in our Guild, it is not uncommon to hear more negative comments about Asian exchange students compared to European exchange students, for example. The debate can sometimes be very polarising and generalising and perpetuate unfair stereotypes. This behaviour reinforces the idea of what kind of language use is allowed in our community without anyone talking about or addressing it. A large part of this kind of debate revolves around cultural differences and may stem from not genuinely trying to understand the other person’s point of view. Willingness to talk about cultural differences helps addressing these problems. We should be more open-minded and understand that our way of doing things is not the only possible way. We should also examine our own behaviour to see whether we reinforce prejudices with our actions and our way of talking. Since differences between cultures can be numerous and vast, talking and joking about them can be very entertaining and enlightening. This does not mean, however, that looking down on other cultures or considering your own culture superior is acceptable.

5. Reduced mobility

A large number of people is likely to include persons with reduced mobility. We have taken steps in the right direction in this respect: the front door to the guild room building has been remodelled and a ramp added by the entrance. The most important aspect of taking people with reduced mobility into consideration is to notify them in advance of situations and events where reduced mobility may pose a problem and of premises which do not allow access in a wheelchair, for example. It is much more inconvenient to become aware of physical barriers after getting to a venue than being notified of them in advance and making an informed decision about whether to participate. Reduced mobility should be taken into consideration in events such as checkpoint races as far as possible. For example, it could be possible to offer an alternative way to participate or to inform the participants of the possible obstacles in advance. It is also important to be honest and direct and admit that we cannot always offer the same opportunities to persons with reduced mobility. While it would be ideal that this kind of situations would occur never or rarely, activities organised on a voluntary basis do not always have enough resources to make this possible.

6. Socio-economic background

By socio-economic background we mean a person’s or their parents’ financial status, educational background, hometown etc. It affects the culture a person has grown up in and may vary greatly between people. The university brings together people from many walks of life, and even though diversity is a strength, some people might not want to discuss their socio-economic backgrounds because of the prejudice and attitudes attached. We must acknowledge that education and wealth are passed down. Often graduates of a technical university attain a high-earning job, which may be in stark contrast to the environment where they have grown up in. Peoples’s socio-economic backgrounds always impact in their lives in some way, but the way they are reflected on the outside depends on the individual. For example, leisure activities may bring out differences in consumer behaviour. This is why joking about poverty, employment or a similar topic may be inappropriate in a lot of situations, as it causes inequality between people and can be offensive especially to those who are the butt of the joke. As stated above, this Plan does not concern friend groups but situations where people do not know each other and their backgrounds. The best way of promoting equality between socio-economic groups is to avoid making assumptions. We can also make sure to organise free events in addition to those with an entry fee. In fact, this is our current practice, and it is important to remember to keep it this way.

7. Alcohol consumption

Even though alcohol use is part of many students’ life, it is also important to be able to talk about its negative effects and not to romanticise degeneracy in the name of the Guild. There are real health hazards connected to alcohol use, which may impact a student’s social life or studies negatively. It would be ideal if everyone were able to monitor their own alcohol consumption. However, this is not always the case. Many of us may have been present in a situation where an ambulance had to be called because of drinking. Alcohol consumption should not define a person, and it should not make a difference if a person consumes alcohol or not. Abstinence is everyone’s personal choice, which should not be probed or questioned. Alcoholism is also a real issue that requires outside help and often stems from a bigger problem. If we could create more open dialogue around alcohol, it might be possible to make alcohol consumption, if not healthier, at least more responsible. The situation might be improved by e.g. explaining to new students during orientation that even though the culture in Otaniemi emphasises alcohol consumption, other people’s abstinence or moderate use of alcohol does not affect them. At events, we should not assume that everybody drinks alcohol, and there should always be a non-alcoholic option available. In addition, we should organise completely alcohol-free events. It would also be useful to discuss how to act in different situations, such as when to call an ambulance, how to put somebody in the recovery position, and what to do if you are genuinely worried about your own or somebody else’s alcohol consumption.

8. Dealing with harassment

When witnessing or experiencing harassment, notify the event organiser, a confidential counsellor, a member of the Board or your ISO tutor. They often have better chances of removing a person from an event and helping to take the matter forward. Our Code of Conduct defines the consequences of violating our common rules in more detail. It lays down the official procedure for dealing with harassment. By conducting an equality survey at regular intervals, it would be possible to monitor the extent to which equality is achieved in our Guild and the effectiveness of the official measures taken. The Aalto University Student Union has a harassment contact person for those seeking help, advice or support after having experienced harassment, or simply wishing to talk about an incident. Everything that an individual determines as harassment constitutes as such. Communications with a harassment contact person are always confidential. For more information and the contact details of the harassment contact person, please visit the website of the Aalto University Student Union.