Taking up Space at UdK

A timelapse of how the autonomous student initiative I.D.A (Intersectionality. Diversity. Antidiscrimination) came to be.

Illustration by Athena Grandis

After 3 years of studying at the UdK, I had accumulated many, at the time “unpleasant”, experiences in which I felt that my work wasn’t being taken seriously, I wasn`t being offered the same opportunities as my white male Cis peers and my identity was not being reflected in the people teaching.

It is important to say that these are my personal experiences and they can vary especially between the study programs and feel different for different situated people. But as I later learnt these “unpleasant” situations have rather been moments where I got to experience or witness discrimination happening on multiple levels. Interpersonal but also structural discrimination.

Back then it wasn’t easy to pinpoint the problems and see the structures that are perpetrating the discrimination.

Being part of these structures and having fought for a place inside those structures makes it hard to be able to take a step back and reflect on the discriminating nature of an institution.

And even when you try to, it quickly becomes apparent how extremely complex and intransparent the system insde this institution is. There was no safe space to ask for legitime information, there was no safe space to get help in case of experiencing discrimination and most importantly there was no safe space to talk about those experiences with other students from marginalized communities.

Moreover, the diversity that exists at least in my study program but also generally at UdK is very two-dimensional. There are a lot of international students enrolled at UdK but as far as German students with a (non-European) migration background go, there is little to no representation in the study programs. Though if we look at the makeup of Berlin and Germany as a whole, it becomes clear that the makeup of the UdK does not reflect the diversity of its surroundings. Why are there almost no people of color, queer and trans* identifying and people with disabilities teaching at this university? Where are the German students with an Arabic, Turkish or Vietnamese migration background? Who is choosing who gets accepted into UdK and who doesn’t?

There is something really isolating about existing in a space where you are the exception to the rule and therefore you are tolerated rather than welcome.

In the beginning of 2019, I started working in AStA as the department for antidiscrimination and intercultural affairs. At the time, the department only existed for one year and had originally been initiated and created by international students inside of Stupa. Here it is important to point out that yet again the work and responsibility was put on the shoulders of people who are already suffering under the system as it is.

When I stepped into school politics, I found myself being almost the only “official” position for antidiscrimination inside the structures of UdK politics. There is no other position which is specially designated to antidiscrimination accept for the office of the Frauenbeauftragte* which is more centered around sexual discrimination. To sum it up: there is no official space for students to go to in cases of racism or antisemitism etc. and AStA is paying a single student out of student money to create a position for antidiscrimination that the university is not providing even though it is desperately needed.

Speaking from experience, it is not possible for one person to be representing all marginalized students and their experiences inside UdK and it is irresponsible to leave the responsibility to students that are not educated and equipped enough to be able to handle intense discrimination cases.

Illustration by Athena Grandis

In the first couple months working in AStA, I quickly realized how difficult it was to gather all the information needed to be able to evoke change or even join the right conversations that would maybe later lead to positive developments. There is no way that a student suffering from discrimination, navigating their study as well as a language barrier or a difficult financial situation is able to invest energy and time into understanding the discriminatory structures at UdK and it definitely shouldn’t be expected.

I was privileged enough to not have a language barrier and be able to put my studies on hold for a semester to get an overview and invest time into antidiscrimination work.

Finally, after one year the Council for Diversity and Equality constituted itself out of the Commission for Equal Opportunity to develop a diversity policy. To open up the process, the Council is made up of professors, lectures and students which created the opportunity to connect with students of other studies. After discussing how antidiscrimination could be further implemented into the structures, we realized that many of us were missing the same thing. Space.

A space to get information. A space to get help when you need it. A space where you get the opportunity to work with others on making an impact and changing the status quo. A space to share experiences. A space to educate one another.

It took time but after a couple months, we founded the I.D.A. Initiative. An autonomous student initiative made up by the AStA department for antidiscrimination, people from Stupa and regular students of different studies. All of us experience discrimination in different forms and on different levels and I.D.A became a safer space open to share, listen and discuss.

We meet weekly and do check-ins with each other, discuss political issues inside of UdK and how we can change them, while parallel working in other groups like Stupa, the Ag for intersectional discrimination, the Council for diversity and equality, the AG Critical Diversity and Interflugs.

I.D.A became a network for marginalized students to come together. It became an information pool where being active inside school politics didn’t have to be something overwhelming anymore.

Jamila, BK and part of I.D.A:

“For a few years now, I have been working on topics related to (post-) migrant society and intersectional feminism. I would like to study at an art university where it is “normal” for women of color, queer, fat or disabled people, professors, deans and presidents to be part of it. I want representation. I would like us to finally get things done and not just leave the problems of society such as racism, sexism, anti-Semitism etc. to the students. I want the university to take on this responsibility. That’s why I’m part of I.D.A.”

Illustration by Athena Grandis

Sarah, Architecture and part of I.D.A:

“It is a matter of great concern to me to work for the fight against structural and institutional social injustice, towards a UdK that is equal to opportunity. I am the daughter of a Lebanese mother and a German father. Intersectional experiences in the overlapping of different discriminations and privileges shape my identity significantly. I therefore feel an immense urgency to work on solutions in the sense of intersectionality, diversity and anti-discrimination. At I.D.A. we work to recognise discrimination at the university, to take active action against it, to strengthen the university’s internal awareness of the problem, to further develop measures and strategies against discrimination, to ensure contact points for those affected and to establish empowerment programmes for those affected. In doing so, we pursue the interests of the students of the UdK, but also of all those for whom access to the UdK has been closed to date. For me, I.D.A is the space where I can speak openly about things I experience, things I perceive, things I would otherwise have to keep to myself. It is a space where I don’t have to explain that there is discrimination.”

Alex, Architecture and part of I.D.A:

“I am with I.D.A because queer, anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles are close to my heart. Whether it’s a matter of declaring war on racial and post-colonial oppression, challenging binary gender differences and standardized ways of loving, or making social class and power relations visible and turning them around – carrying these struggles in educational institutions is very important to me. In places like the udk, power imbalances are conveyed and internalized alongside content. It is important to me to disturb these dynamics. And it’s fun to do it together with others!”