We need to make our sector much more inclusive

Orestis Collins-Alamanos is Vice President at Falmouth and Exeter Students' Union

For those unfamiliar, Cornwall is situated in the southwest of England and hosts two universities across three campuses – Falmouth, Penryn, and Truro.

Notably, things like accommodation, libraries, chaplaincy services, and even the SU itself are shared among Falmouth and Exeter students.

It’s a setup that presents a uniquely challenging yet stimulating environment.

Since starting in this role, I’ve actively engaged in conversations with students regarding matters of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

The geographical context of our universities in Cornwall exacerbates issues of diversity – often leaving students feeling disconnected from a sense of belonging.

Our research has found that 39 per cent of our students don’t feel represented in the community – and instead they feel like they stick out in the crowd due to either their skin colour, religion, ethnicity and even sexuality.

Making progress

As an SU, we staunchly advocate for all students. Some of our key initiatives this year have included establishing student networks catering to diverse demographics such as mature students, international students, transgender individuals, those with ADHD, and students with disabilities.

We’ve also launched a Gender Expression Fund, providing financial support for transgender and non-binary students to access gender-affirming products like binders, packers, makeup, and clothing.

Our campaigns, like the “Rolling Forward: Wheelchair Campaign” aim to spotlight and address accessibility barriers on our campuses. We have also built a community through student-led societies such as the African & Caribbean Society (ACS).

Working hand-in-hand with the International and Asian Societies, we support these groups in hosting events and initiatives that celebrate diversity, promote cultural exchange, and provide platforms for underrepresented voices.

But despite these efforts, we continue to receive feedback from students expressing concerns about EDI issues.

Teaching and learning

Through feedback forums and personal interactions, it has become clear that one area requiring attention is representation within the curriculum and classroom.

Lecturers and IT technicians serve as role models and sources of inspiration for students, but particularly in creative fields, there is a noticeable lack of diversity across the UK.

As many are now aware, Black academics constitute only 2 per cent of the academic population, and often face disparities in recruitment and progression compared to their white counterparts.

So my question is, how can students feel supported when the system is broken – when the sector itself is not inclusive?

Facing realities

Recently, I’ve become involved with FACE (Fashion Academic Creating Equality), an initiative dedicated to securing representation in higher education.

Within this framework, FACE invites creatives from the art and design fields to contribute their teaching experiences to a brief 5-10 minute study.

Insights gathered from both minoritised and non-minoritised educators, course leaders, technicians, and support staff inform efforts to improve recruitment, retention, and progression pathways for minoritised educators within predominantly white institutions.

It’s a study that is open to everyone – both minoritised and non-minoritised educators, technicians, and support staff regardless of status and contracts. FACE believes that the lived experience of participants will reveal greater insights towards better representation in our institutions.

SU officers and staff can add their voices to the study here. And to become a pro-active anti-racist educator JOIN US minoritised and non-minoritised FACE members here.

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