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What does it mean to be inclusive ?
What does it mean to promote an university where everyone can be accepted as she or he is, acknowledging our differences and building a better society upon it ?
We, at Université Grenoble Alpes, decided to take small steps toward that goal.

In 2016, the french government decided to clear the so called “Jungle” camp from Calais, then the biggest migrants and refugees camp in France.

Thousand people were relocated in asylum centers in the french countryside.

Like many other towns, Grenoble opened a refugee center.

And it was right in our campus.

What did we do ?

We took a small step : we included them.

Students, teachers and our deans immediately called for solidarity. We organized various meetings with our new guests, taking the time to meet them, to listen to their stories, to understand their needs and their hopes.

And we took another step.

One of our academic departments is the CUEF, University Centre for French Studies.

The CUEF offered free intensive french courses for every refugee that asked for it. 60 out of them spent more than 80 hours for a month, with our best teachers, learning the tools for a better life for them : french language and culture.

And then we took the next step.

As an university, our role is not only to follow courses and deliver diplomas, but also to allow everyone to resume their studies if they are willing to.

So we created a new university diploma, aiming at helping any refugee to obtain a B2 level in french language in 4 months, so they could resume the studies they interrupted when they fled their country.

Like any course, this one costed money. So we created a crowdfunding campaign that raised next to 6000 euros, more than what we needed, allowing us to transform this one time experience in one of our regular courses.

And we took many other steps.

Negotiating with the french ministry of foreign affairs to obtain 3 study grants for our new students.

Joining “the scholars at risk network”.

Mobilizing our administrative departements, (scolarity, Careers and Employability, Student life and of course International Relations) to be sure that every new student could have the answers and the support they needed.

Why did we do it ? Because we believe that university can and should play a major role in building a better society, more open, more diverse.

But why stop there ? Why not take… the next step ?

Gender discrimination is a real challenge for most of our European societies.

You don’t treat such a problem when it’s already there. You treat it before it appears.

From its very beginnings, the Université Grenoble Alpes appointed a vice-president to gender equality. One of her first tasks was to write, with the students, a gender equality charter, stating the rights and the duties of everyone at UGA.

And we took the next step, asking every student association to publicly sign this charter, if they wanted to ask for an office inside university walls, or any kind of university support.

And we took the next step, creating a special course on gender equality, open to everyone, but that at least one student of every association has to attend.

And then we took the next step, extending this charter not only to gender inequalities, but also to homophobia and transphobia.

Our main goal was not only to promote gender equality toward our students.

Our goal was to promote gender equality to the citizen they are, so they can internalize this spirit of inclusiveness, and transfer it in their businesses and in their administrations, later on. 

We extended this spirit of inclusiveness to everyone in our university, from students with disabilities (we were the first french campus fully accessible to people with a mobility handicap, we lend special computers and technological aids to our visually impaired students, we created a program inviting students to takes notes for their friends who can’t), to our atheletes student specially in winter sports, for whom we created a special program allowing them to follow their courses in summer and fall, thus practicing their sports in winter and spring, and setting up distance learning platforms specially for them.

We *must* build an inclusive university if we want an inclusive society.

And we are building it with small steps. But a step for everyone, by everyone.

And, although we don’t know what will be the next step, we know that we’ll take it together, with our partners from the Aurora network.

 

Filipe Ferreira

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