UG launches Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity Policy Unit

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

The University of Guyana on Tuesday launched its Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity Policy Unit. The purpose of the policy is to frame the University’s approach to inclusive education and to provide guidelines to implement its principles and practices on all its campuses.

The Unit will see to the accommodation of all individuals within the university community and others who engage with it, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, national origin, impairment/disability, political belief or affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, genetic information, and socioeconomic status.

Speaking during the launch, Vice Chancellor of the University, Dr Paloma Mohamed stated that the pandemic drove the University online, which had some major effects on the general student population.

“A number of students suddenly began to report cases of extreme distress in handling the change of medium of instruction,” Dr Mohamed recalled.

To this end, she noted that this call was not ignored, highlighting that even with all that the University was dealing with at the time, “we still found the time to check one-on-one with them to figure out what exactly the problems were”.

This, she informed, birthed the question of a disabilities policy. However, she noted that upon having discussions with the team led by Assistant Dean within the Faculty of Education & Humanities, Dr Lidon Lashley, that was tasked with creating the policy, it was decided that the policy would be an inclusive policy due its scope and the fact that its focus is way beyond that of a person with physical challenges.

“We had to find ways to support these students and staffs who were facing challenges… as COVID wore on, we began to realise there were several other widespread problems so, psychological vulnerabilities as well as learner typical issues,” Professor Mohamed explained.

“We are not [just] talking… we’re into making sure our research is also robust and the policies based on this research are also robust. We are also implementing as quickly as we possibly can. We not only had the policy move through the various University of Guyana bureaucratic steps that we have to take… we have put in place the inclusion unit to ensure that the policy is not only enforced but also that our students have the ability to progress, they have people who can help them to navigate the system.”

Mohamed went on to reveal that a meeting with the Human Services and Social Security Minister Dr Vindhya Persaud subsequently after she had taken up office as Minister was centred around supporting persons with disabilities. The Professor noted that the policy, in a general sphere, focuses on creating that support system.

To this end, Dr Persaud lauded the policy stating that “it could not have come at a more timely point” when Guyana, like the rest of the world, “is looking towards recovery from adjustment to from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact”.

She highlighted that during her discussions with Professor Mohamed, she expressed that she not only wished to see persons living with disabilities be included, but be equally included in events of opportunities being presented to those persons can be utilised.

The Minister went on to state that, “…persons would normally consider, I believe, in the University, in Guyana, in a way in which transcends all of the differences to focus on persons living with disabilities through this policy is an admirable one.”

The creation the Unit is said to have utilised some nine months before being approved back in June of this year.

The team members that worked on creating the policy were Co-Chair, Dr Roslin Khan; Co-Chair, Faculty of Education and Humanities Dean, Dr Lidon Lashley; Faculty of Education and Humanities Assistant Dean, Dr Mellissa Ifill; Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Institutional Advancement, Dr C Nigel Gravesande; Registrar, Dr Paulette Henry; Faculty of Social Sciences Dean, Pamela Rose; University of Guyana Berbice Campus Assistant Director, Dr Jacqueline Murray; Institute of Distance and Continuing Education Director, Debbie Hopkinson; Faculty of Social Sciences Lecturer and Coordinator, Master’s in Social Work Leann Kendall; Faculty of Social Sciences Assistant Dean, and University of Guyana Medical Officer Dr Melisha Hanif.

Dr Lashley, in giving an overview of the policy informed that, “The University of Guyana’s inclusivity, diversity and equity policy is firstly, a dynamic policy. It is not a policy that is written and everything is cast in stone. This means that this policy will continue to evolve with our student population, with the composition of our staff, with the needs of our country, and with the needs of the wider stakeholders who are interested in supporting inclusion within the university community.”

To this end, he pointed out that the policy in itself emphasises the University of Guyana’s triple A approach to inclusion. That is, awareness, access, and accommodation.
Moreover, he explained that “From the conception of the inclusion unit, the task of, and action of representing Guyana’s multicultural multifaceted characteristics, and to represent inclusion and inclusivity at this core was started in the conception of the unit.

“It represents Guyana’s ethnicity, in terms of the ethnicity in the country, in terms of having a rep from each ethnicity, in terms of having persons who are abled, disabled in society, so that the policy itself reflects that which is in practice, that which can be improved in practice, and that which we need to further strengthen in our country, in our university, and in our society as a whole as we aim to utilise all the resources in Guyana, both human and otherwise, to enhance our overall development.”

Some of the objectives outlined in the policy are: students with disabilities occupy the same space(s) as individuals without disabilities and they engage as equals; cultures, policies, and practices eliminate exclusion, reduce discrimination, and remove barriers to learning and participation so that the University responds to diversity in ways that value everyone equally; marginalisation and discrimination based on abilities, background, religion, culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status, and impairments are discouraged. Student-centred pedagogies are adopted to ensure high-quality learning for all regardless of diversities, abilities, background, religion, culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status, and impairments, each lecturer is guided to uphold the practice expectations of inclusivity in every course, and forms of access and support given to staff and students are not limited to those based on abilities, background, religion, culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status, and impairments.