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Take Advantage of Resources, Reduce Inequality

Gender and diversity equality in teaching is about acknowledging the range of difference among students and lecturers without such differencing creating disadvantages. It is also about dismantling discrimination and inequality. Instead of discounting diversity, it reveals everyone’s strengths.

The General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG) lists six categories of prohibited discrimination: “on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.” Many institutions also include the category of social background. However, what ultimately causes discrimination are not people’s individual traits or group identities, but existing mechanisms of sexism, racism, classism, and other prejudices in the university and larger society that assign those traits meaning.

To illustrate the difference between these two perspectives: When describing forced emigration during the Holocaust, instead of writing that people left Germany “because they were Jewish,” this can be reframed and formulated as follows: people left Germany “because they were increasingly endangered by antisemitism” (source). If Mrs. X is not taken seriously at lectures, this is not because she is a woman, it is because of widespread sexism. If people with Arabic names or dark skin are repeatedly asked where they are from, this is not because of their skin color or their names, but because of racist notions about place of origin and “German-ness”. If a person whose parents did not attend university has a lower chance at a professorship, this is not due to her family educational background, but due to elitist structures within the career ladder.

Gender- and diversity-conscious teaching should highlight, address, and change these structural mechanisms to guarantee all current and future students an education that is free from discrimination – regardless of their “traits,” their past experiences, or their group identities. Therefore, gender- and diversity-conscious teaching is not only concerned with individual students’ circumstances. It is expressly interested in the structural conditions that enable discrimination and exclusion to begin with. This is also demonstrated by the German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency’s report on discrimination-free higher education (in German).
Structural factors often lie beyond lecturers’ sphere of influence. It is easier to change your own behavior if you are motivated to deconstruct the causes and have the time and space to do so.

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Version April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.