On November 2, 2022, the University Day in the winter semester 2022/2023 took place under the title "Inklusion geht alle an - Barrierefreiheit und intersektionale Verschränkungen". The day was preceded by the observation that accessibility and inclusion are occasionally found as study content, but not in the mission statement of ASH Berlin. The university day therefore served the exchange of different actors of the university and offered space for (self-)reflection and suggestions for organizational development. In order to enable participation for as many people as possible and to reduce hurdles, it took place in hybrid form. 100 people in the Audimax and participating in the workshops and another 40 people who participated online showed the great desire for more exchange on the topic of inclusion at ASH Berlin.
Testimonies of people with disabilities in Germany and Ukraine
The University Day started already one day prior to the actual date with the traveling exhibition 'überZEUGEN: Geschichten von Menschen mit Behinderung in Deutschland und der Ukraine' of the ABiD-Institut, which found its place in the hallway in front of the Audimax of the Alice Salomon Hochschule. The exhibition presents perspectives of people with disabilities in the context of contemporary historical events from the end of World War II to the end of 2021. In addition to visual exhibits such as photos and texts including Braille on the wall, tactile exhibits were also provided on tables. Linus Beer, a student assistant in the Aesthetic Practice workshops, notes the emotional resonance of the exhibition: "It was especially the people's everyday experiences, which differed from my experience, and their actionistic efforts for more recognition and participation in their respective societies, which sometimes impressed me." At the opening, ASH Berlin Chancellor Jana Einsporn, exhibition curator Nataliia Zviagintseva, ABiD Institute Vice-Chairman André Nowak, and Bundestag Vice-President Petra Pau delivered opening speeches that pointed out the relevance of the exhibition and its significance for the German-Ukrainian partnership. The opening ceremony ended with a donation of books by the ABiD Institute for the library of ASH Berlin and finally with a walk-through of the exhibition.
Multiple perspectives on an accessible university
On Wednesday morning, the rows of the Audimax filled with guests, eager for the exchange. The Vice Rector for Studies and Teaching, Prof. Dr. Dagmar Bergs-Winkels opened the University Day. In order to thematically enter the topic of inclusion, impulse lectures followed, which aimed at enabling a critical approach to the terms inclusion and accessibility. Anne Gersdorff, former student and speaker at Sozialhelden e.V., shared her own experience as a student at ASH. Critical points such as the accessibility of the building and the study content, in which people with disabilities hardly ever appear, were pointed out by Anne Gersdorff and linked to the question of what access to the university means. The topic of inclusion falls far too often to the back of the agenda, Gersdorff criticized. This observation was also shared by other speakers. Azize Kasberg from the Commission for Accessibility and Corinna Schmude, Professor for Inclusive Education, pointed out that the statement "Nothing about us without us" is crucial for real inclusion at universities. Promoting self-empowerment and self-determination is essential for achieving an inclusive university and an inclusive society. In research, participation is one of the most important issues in dealing with inclusion. To conduct participatory research and participatory teaching should therefore be imparted as an attitude in teaching. In her contribution Corinna Schmude emphasized that inclusion is a social and legal obligation.
Exclusions based on language
Saeed Kalanaki also addressed the topic of participation in his presentation. As a student with refugee experience, he conducted research on discrimination experiences of people with refugee experience due to language barriers at ASH Berlin for his bachelor thesis . According to this, German is understood as a prerequisite for 'successful integration' and is acted upon as a prerequisite for studying at ASH Berlin, and this despite the fact that the university also offers exclusively English-language degree programs. People with refugee experience are in fact divided into "good" and "bad" students solely on the basis of their language skills, regardless of how they deal with seminar content. Language could be used by students with more privileges as if in a competition, while this remains inaccessible for others. Experiences of exclusion through working with other students at ASH Berlin and online teaching also led to negative effects for students with refugee experiences and a loss of social capital. Students with refugee experience often developed their own strategies to deal with these experiences, as concepts such as diversity and inclusion do not seem to really break through existing barriers and name the problem as a structural one.
"So far, language and communication, digital accessibility, and inclusion of student perspectives have been identified as key action areas. Addressing these areas of action is the responsibility of ALL university staff members."
Already before the university day itself had started, controversy arose around the inclusion of English-speaking and international students at ASH Berlin, as funding for English-German translation was not provided by the university. The demand for the costs to be covered was also taken to the Academic Senate. On University Day, a group of students protested, drawing attention to this institutional exclusion and affirming that there could be no inclusion at ASH Berlin without translation services. This topic was also discussed in more detail at the student-organized workshop in the afternoon, which focused on a student perspective on inclusion at the university and was held in English. From a student perspective, a very clear statement was heard: "We demand that the university administration take the struggles, voices, and needs of students seriously and include them in their decision-making process and actively work to make the university a better place for all students." Following the students' protest, Lucas Mielke presented the University of Potsdam's inclusion concept. This was developed in a far-reaching process based on the data from the social survey of the Studierendenwerk and identifies the fields of action study and teaching, employees and accessibility. It shows present gaps in terms of accessibility and points out necessary changes. The measures described are to be implemented at the university by 2030. This is not a voluntary commitment, but the implementation of legal requirements, says Lucas Mielke: "It is our damned duty to make the university a university for all." The morning was rounded out by an impressive spoken word performance by Stefanie-Lahya Aukongo. The Black, queer, socially challenged artist captivated attendees with her power of words and multiple emotional approaches, and inspired with her critical personal analyses.
Practices and perspectives for an inclusive university
In the afternoon, those physically present engaged in workshops more deeply with student perspectives on inclusion, exclusions based on language, digital accessibility, and the Index of Inclusion in open workshops. The workshop results were presented in a Gallery Walk in the Audimax and it was pointed out that work will continue with these results and demands beyond the day.
A broadly based group with stakeholders from all member groups of the university, including Cindy Lautenbach, Representative for Students with Disabilities, Chronic Illnesses and Mental Impairments; Azize Kasberg and Christoph Weipert from the Accessibility Commission; Jacqueline Obama Krause and Peps Gutsche from the Intersectional Practice and Transformation Unit; Urte Böhm, Elena Brandalise, Daniel Klenke, Aya Schamoni and Aygün Habibova from the CompetenceNetwork Quality Development in Studies and Teaching; Marie Kuna, Chrystel Brisson, Anja Neuner, Fabian Sell and Leon Barth from the Peer Project for the Promotion of Participation and Involvement in Higher Education, Political Engagement and Self-Organization at the Entrance to Studies, Prof. Dr Heike Raab and Prof. Dr Corinna Schmude prepared the university day. As the moderator Prof. Dr. Corinna Schmude aptly remarked, the preparation group of the University Day has become a follow-up team.
This group has made it its task to bundle the central points and demands from the University Day in a structured manner and to discuss the topic further with the university management as well as in relevant committees such as the Academic Senate, and publicly with all university members in order to plan common steps on the way to an inclusive university. The results of the university day will be visualized as a "House of Inclusion" and displayed in the foyer for comments at the end of the winter semester. So far, language and communication, digital accessibility, and inclusion of student perspectives have been identified as key areas of action. Working on these fields of action is the task of ALL university members.