“Our aim is to bring more equality to student life, and to make the university accessible to everyone. We believe we can achieve this through debate and awareness of how the situation is today,” says August Sundberg, iQual chairperson.
When it comes to statistics for gender balance, Industrial Engineering and Management is one of the best engineering programmes. But iQual wants to investigate other aspects as well.
“For instance, if we look at what part of the country the students come from, and whether they have Swedish-born parents, we see that the programme’s students are very homogenous.”
Consequently, the engineering world can seem quite exclusive. iQual works with the various committees in the section, by holding workshops and presentations. The strategy is to build trust between iQual and the section members, and to generate dialogue rather than lecture on right and wrong. Many participants have, after some initial hesitation, been positively surprised.
“The issues we raise are uncomfortable. What is the atmosphere in our section? What are the norms that guide us? Who are the students here, are we privileged? We want to build an awareness, and the first step in this is making people think.”
In future, iQual also wants to organise more workshops and presentations that are open to all students.
“What’s needed is low thresholds, to create an openness that includes everyone.”
The threshold was low during the exam period last autumn when iQual held the event ‘Exam Anxiety with iQual’. A classroom was filled with objects selected specifically to reduce exam anxiety: hammocks, cushions, candles and refreshments. As well as a tolerant atmosphere where participants suddenly started to talk to each other across class and year boundaries.
“It might not be the most obvious example of fostering equality, but I think if you allow an atmosphere where people can talk to and take care of one another, conditions will soon be right for change.”
August Sundberg now works for the Union of Technology and Science Students at Linköping University, helping to organise a more centralised initiative in the same spirit as iQual. The questions raised by iQual are not specific to Industrial Engineering and Management; they apply to the entire university.
Photos: Susanna Lönnqvist & August Sundberg