LGBT & Internationalisation
By Ali McDonald
In January along with two colleagues, I attended the Stonewall Scotland LGBT and Internationalisation Seminar, hosted by the University of Dundee. Having worked in International Student Support for over 8 years and more recently becoming a Staff Dignity and Respect Advisor, this sounded right up my street. Part of our remit in the International Student Advisory Service is to provide help and guidance to students transitioning into their lives in Edinburgh – though we currently offer a lot of cultural advice and highlight the diverseness of our ever-expanding international campus, do we explicitly offer sufficient support and advice to LGBT+ students at the pre-arrival and induction stage? This was one of numerous questions I had in my mind whilst travelling through to Dundee.
The seminar itself was really thought-provoking and had great representation from Universities throughout Scotland and Northern England. Early in the seminar, we were split into teams for a quiz. Our team sadly didn’t win however we did learn some stark facts, such as: Same sex relationships or sexual acts is illegal in 76 countries and homosexuality is punishable by death in 13 countries – scarily, this number is actually on the increase.
Through a variety of discussions and knowledge sharing between the Universities, I felt proud of the University of Edinburgh and the work we have already done in this area. BLOGS – the LGBT+ Student Society are very active and it’s fantastic to see the LGBT+ staff network has been newly revived. The International Student Advisory Service also provides a lot of pre-arrival advice and cultural support to students, particularly highlight the diverseness of our campuses and how we promote inclusivity. There is definitely more we can do in this area and I am keen to develop this further.
We are quick to celebrate – and rightly so – how wonderfully diverse our University is, with staff and students coming here from over 135 countries. Each individual will arrive with their own set of values, beliefs and ideology. It’s important to acknowledge and appreciate an individual’s journey is not linear and with such a diverse staff and student body, it is inevitable that beliefs and values will unfortunately clash. I believe our job as representatives of the University is to encourage open, honest but most importantly accepting and understanding conversation with no judgements made. I think our biggest challenge here is with such a diverse population, how do we promote inclusivity whilst not excluding any particular group at the same time?