Treating Students Fairly and Equally
Universities are obligated by law to treat all students equally. This is legally grounded in the German constitution as well as federal and state laws. The mandate of equal treatment is closely tied to the commitment to guarantee equality and fairness while recognizing different walks of life and sets of experiences. Social inequalities and power relations do not vanish at the gates of the university; they also affect students unevenly. For this reason, it is not fair to ignore students’ diversity of experiences and backgrounds or to base our teaching on a “normative life story” to which all students must adapt. In keeping with Article 3(2) of the German Basic Law (the national constitution), equal and fair treatment can also mean taking “steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist.” So rather than absolute equal treatment, this is a question of relatively fair treatment (which sometimes may include differentiated measures) with the goal of establishing equal treatment. Part of this entails taking students’ individual learning needs and life stories equally seriously while recognizing that they are often subject to social inequalities that concretely affect their daily lives.
Teaching that acknowledges the tensions of equality and fairness in view of gender and diversity does not presume that “all women,” “all students with international heritage,” or “all mechanical engineering students” share identical interests and draw on identical experiences. Instead, such teaching takes each student seriously as an individual. At the same time, gender- and diversity-conscious teaching should take note of power-based structural inequalities between social groups of students in order to counteract these inequalities – for example, between male and female students or between students with German citizenship and those with other nationalities.
For teachers, this means not taking equality and fairness for granted, but setting them as an educational goal and seeing them as requirements for good teaching. That includes taking steps to ensure a good learning environment for everyone. On a didactic level, that might mean offering flexible and equal examination formats and attendance policies – as appropriate, in coordination with the responsible offices, such as each academic departments’ studies and examination office and the central Office for Students with Special Needs. But it is just as important in your seminars to foster communication that incorporates the broadest range of experiences and perspectives and moves away from stereotypical representations. Some suggestions for this are listed under Resources.
Version April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.