Equality, Diversity and Inclusion are very important subjects within the Higher Education sector. As undergraduate students, we are usually in the audience listening to others informing us of best practice and how these topics are dealt with by The Open University (OU) and other institutions.
However, at the Jisc CAN (Change Agents Network) Conference which was held on the OU’s campus in May, we were the ones doing the ‘presenting’. In our allotted 30-minute slot, we were able to tell our audience about how the OU and the OU Students Association keep these important issues at the heart of their mission statements and at the forefront of their thinking and daily practices.
Preparing at the CAN Conference we set ourselves one major outcome. Simply, our presentation would be to bring to the forefront the audience’s knowledge of the topics, rather than a session of preaching to people who already know about it. A key factor in the presentation’s success would be its relaxed and light-hearted approach. We made sure the PowerPoint presentation was not overpowering with lots of text and information and that the delivery included getting the audience to participate in a ‘fun’ but very meaningful exercise.
Nervous, excited and anxious could best describe us as we were getting ready to deliver the presentation for the first time, this changed to relief, satisfaction and pride as we left the room at the end. A successful presentation with positive feedback from participants was how we summed up the experience.
Within a few hours of our presentation, we were approached by Nick Hillman (Deputy Academic Principal) from Bloomsbury Institute in London. Nick told us how much he had enjoyed our presentation and asked if we would like to deliver it at their 9th annual teaching and learning conference in July entitled “Bridging the Inclusivity Gap”.
Needless to say, we were both honoured and excited to get such an invite from another Higher Education institution, especially as it was only the first time we’d delivered this presentation to an audience.
Over the next few weeks – via phone and email - we worked on and added to the presentation to include ‘accessibility’ issues. We showcased the tools used to overcome accessibility obstacles because our slot in the Conference programme was entitled: 'Accessibility and Diversity: The keys to success'.
Travelling to London the day before the Conference and both staying in a hotel close to the venue gave us a chance to relax a bit together before the ‘big day’ and dispel any nerves. Nick had arranged an evening meal for the keynote speakers, staff and a student rep to allow us all the chance to meet up, which really helped calm the nerves and anxiety. After an enjoyable evening, an early night was called for to make sure we were fresh and ready for the next day.
Arriving at the Congress Conference Centre, we were met by Nick and his team and taken into the impressive Council Chamber, where the keynote speeches would be given. And how amazing it was. Everyone was very welcoming; wanted to know all about us, the OU and the Association.
Following a series of presentations around the themes of ‘equality’, ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’, it was time for us to take to the stage.
As we both left the stage at the end of our presentation; we were on a natural high and very proud at what we had just achieved both as OU students and Association student reps. The audience participation, questions and feedback were more than we could have hoped for.
We were delighted to read what Nick had to say about us:
"The joint presentation Billy and Cherry gave had real meaning for us here at Bloomsbury Institute, resonating so perfectly with both our staff and students. We were all captivated by the activity Billy led when we were invited to come up with a word that represented us as individuals and to capture that word from a breath into our hand for safekeeping. Each clutching tightly our word for fear that it might escape, we were then invited to entrust that word to another for safekeeping. There then followed a series of exchanges in which our precious word (representing our very essence) travelled often from stranger to stranger within the room. At the end of the activity, one audience member shared with all how empowering an activity it had been. Not only had she been made to feel confident in sharing her essence, but she had also experienced a feeling of belonging and security."
Through the remainder of the day, we met and spoke with many other delegates and participated in the further workshops being delivered. Overall this day was a fantastic opportunity for us to take the positivity of the Student Association and The Open University to others within the sector. From the interest, comments, feedback and praise we received it was obvious that we had achieved the outcomes we set ourselves at the start of the process.
We’d both like to express our thanks to Nick and everyone involved in this successful day and for allowing two very nervous students to take centre stage at such an important event which dealt with such important issues.
Within the OU Students Association and The Open University, we know that the ‘student voice’ is a very important part of our culture so we hope we did you proud too.
Posted on behalf of:
Faculty Association Representative (FASS)
OU Students Association
Vice President Equality and Diversity
OU Students Association