On May 23rd of this year, Germany celebrated Diversity Day. Alexa Magsaam, the esteemed Diversity Representative of Kiel UAS, agreed to be interviewed on that day despite her busy schedule. Alexa shared her insights with me into her groundbreaking role and its significance in fostering inclusivity and celebrating diversity.
In Germany, the appointment of Diversity Representatives at universities is a relatively recent development. According to university regulations, institutions with a student population exceeding 5,000 are required to elect a Diversity Representative. Schleswig-Holstein introduced Diversity Representatives as key figures in promoting inclusivity in 2016. While these roles are still maturing, universities are diligently developing appropriate structures.
Alexa embraced her inaugural tenure as Diversity Representative in 2019. This politically charged position required a formal application and presentation before the university’s senate. Initially, the tenure for Diversity Representatives was three years, but recent revisions to university law have extended the term to five years. Alexa secured her second term in June 2022 and will continue to steward this role until June 2027.
“The Diversity Representative exists to support everyone, irrespective of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, socioeconomic status, age, religion, or culture“
Journey to Diversity Leadership
After completing her bachelor’s degree in Political Sciences and History, Alexa dedicated herself to an NGO in Sicily, Italy, from 2012 to 2017. The NGO monitored the European border and provided assistance to refugees arriving by boats. However, after five years, Alexa’s increasing disillusionment with European border policies and the sluggish societal change prompted her decision to pursue a different path – one that would allow her to make a more direct and personal impact by supporting individuals.
In 2014, Alexa began organizing the feminist festival, “LaDIYfest“, in Kiel. Throughout the process of organizing the festival, she gained valuable insights into diversity and anti-discrimination. Her deep passion for feminism drives her belief that feminism could serve as a catalyst for profound societal change. In 2017, a co-creator of the festival informed her about an open job opportunity at Kiel UAS in the department of Equality. Considering her profound interest in gender equality from an intersectional perspective, Alexa realized that the role of a Diversity Representative resonated even more strongly with her passions and aspirations.
Alexa recounts one of her most challenging experiences: the implementation of a diversity questionnaire called “Experiences of discrimination and diversity at Kiel UAS“ among students. Garnering responses from 872 students, this project marked the university’s first step in quantifying diversity. When university staff members reviewed the results, some reacted defensively, as it can be difficult to acknowledge the presence of discrimination. However, Alexa firmly believed that being aware of these issues is a positive step, as it empowers them to take action and identify the areas in need of improvement. Despite criticism, the results continued to be presented university-wide and a discourse on student diversity, needs and experiences of discrimination at the university could be initiated. Ultimately, the results of the survey were incorporated into the diversity strategy of Kiel UAS.
“Our strategy emphasizes recognizing discrimination, acknowledging its prevalence at the individual and societal levels. It is essential to understand that diversity and discrimination are interconnected; you cannot discuss one without addressing the other. They are two sides of the same coin.“
Alexa collaborates with the other Diversity Representatives from Kiel, Flensburg, and Lubeck, with their collective mission to devise sustainable solutions and solidify the role of Diversity Representatives. Additionally, she partners with the international office, counselors, the university’s presidium, and various departments at Kiel UAS. Alexa strongly believes that everyone should contribute and acknowledges that fostering inclusivity is a collective responsibility, requiring active engagement from all.
What milestones have been reached?
One achievement was the five-year journey to install all-gender toilets at Kiel UAS, resulting in a total of 29 facilities by February 2022. Moreover, the university now offers trans*, inter* and non-binary (TIN*) students have the option to change their email addresses. Currently, Alexa is working together with the equal opportunity commissioner, the queer department of the AStA and a group of students and employees of Kiel UAS on an initiative that would allow students to change their names in university documents, reflecting their true identity. The first meeting discussing this matter is scheduled for June.
In March 2022, the university put significant effort into developing a racism-critical dictionary specifically for Kiel UAS. The dictionary’s main objective was not only to foster understanding and empathy but also to increase awareness and sensitivity towards racist speech behavior. Additionally, it aimed to offer alternative approaches that promote critical thinking and actively address and confront racism.
In September 2022, the university launched a service website aimed to provide support for students with disabilities throughout their academic journey. Additionally, the university implemented a counseling service within the central student advisory service specifically for students with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses who have an interest in pursuing higher education.
Kiel UAS takes pride in actively organizing and celebrating multiple events related to diversity. These events include Transgender Visibility Day, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, German Diversity Day, the International Day Against Racism. These significant occasions are celebrated with the aim of fostering awareness, promoting acceptance, and commemorating important aspects of diversity.
The university additionally commemorates the Trans Day of Remembrance to honor and mourn transgender individuals who have lost their lives due to violence and discrimination. Moreover, it observes November 9 to remember the Reichspogromnacht and to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime’s persecution and murder of Jews worldwide.
The diversity strategy of Kiel UAS was approved by the Senate on January 26, 2023. This sets the groundwork for diversity initiatives at the university for the next five years, spanning from 2023 to 2028. On February 14, 2023, in Berlin, the Kiel UAS was awarded the “Vielfalt gestalten“ certificate from the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft. Universities receiving this certificate are recognized for their proactive development of strategies and initiatives aimed at proficiently handling diversity.
“I hope that our efforts in organizing events and providing education on diversity will reach every individual. I believe that the transformation of structures will occur gradually, taking step-by-step process. In society, my aspiration is that when students graduate from universities, they carry with them a strong awareness and understanding of diversity, which they can then promote in their future careers.“
For those students inspired to drive change within the university, Alexa offers the following advice:
- Stand for election in university committees;
- Become a member of AStA (General Student Committee);
- Engage in constructive dialogues with department leaders and the University President’s Office;
- Report to Alexa any instances of discrimination – rest assured your identity will be protected;
- Attend all diversity-related events and maintain a courageous mindset;
- Participate in the Feminist Café during the Interdisciplinary Weeks, featuring film screenings and discussions on a range of feminist topics;
- Listen to their enlightening diversity podcast, “Pfirsich im Tee“, available on Spotify.
If you are passionate about making a difference in diversity and genuinely care about the issue, Alexa warmly welcomes all students to share their thoughts and suggestions. You can reach out to Alexa or schedule an appointment by emailing her at email@example.com.
You can find additional information regarding diversity on the Kiel UAS Commissioner’s website.