Student association SOCO promotes equality at the University

This year, the Maikki Friberg Equality Award was exceptionally granted to two recipients: the Students of Colour student association and University Lecturer Liisa Nieminen from the Faculty of Law. Students of Colour ry (SOCO) is an association for students belonging to ethnic and visible minorities.

SOCO members have contributed to the discussions on equality and diversity conducted at our University, and have also highlighted the importance of giving voice to students from ethnic and visible minorities, as well as active intervention against racism and discrimination.

Janina Ojala and Jenny Kasongo, active members of the association, were surprised but pleased by the recognition.

“It was nice to see that more than one person or party had proposed us as the award recipient. With the award sum, we can conduct a survey on racism experienced by students. In addition to collecting such experiences, we wish to investigate the responses provoked by discrimination,” Kasongo says.

Supporting equality and diversity in accordance with the University’s strategic choices

The justification for granting the award notes that the association’s work is linked to many of the choices included in the University’s strategic plan: open discussion on racism as well as support for visible and ethnic minorities make the University a better place to work and study for all members of the community. SOCO serves as an anonymous feedback channel for its members, promoting openness by enabling them to safely raise issues. In addition, SOCO’s activities are centred on inclusivity: its goal is to increase equality, solidarity, pluralism and the respect of others at our University.

The association's activities are strongly guided by the values it has set for itself.

“Our activities are defined by antiracism, inclusivity, political independence and intersectional feminism. To us, antiracism means active efforts against racism,” Ojala describes the values of the association.

In accordance with intersectional feminism, the association strives to take into consideration the diversity of university students representing minority groups and its effects on experiences related to harassment and discrimination.

Demand for peer support propelled the association’s founding

The decision to establish SOCO stemmed from discussions had within the University community: the founding members had come to the realisation that students from ethnic or visible minorities were not seen much at the University, even though the need for a space of their own was there.

“From the start, the association has aimed to provide peer support and a safe environment for dialogue for its members. We also serve as lobbyists for our members and support them in addressing cases of discrimination,” says Ojala.

“So far, we’ve organised popular peer support evening sessions for the membership as well as larger events, such as panel discussions on equality in education and the inclusivity of the Pride movement, the latter being targeted at wider audiences. Anyone can join SOCO’s activities. You don’t have to belong to a minority and it’s free,” Kasongo points out.

Aiming to expand operations

Ojala and Kasongo state that, in the longer term, the association is aiming to expand its operations to other student locations in Finland. At the same time, active operations will continue in Helsinki.

“In the future, we aim to concentrate on making a space for us by organising more events for our members. The peer support evenings are still popular among them,” Ojala says.

Furthermore, SOCO has met with University leadership and presented its proposals on how to advance the University’s antiracism efforts and equality.

“With Vice-Rector Tom Böhling, we’ve talked about, for example, how to tackle racism more actively in the equality and diversity plan. We have also promoted anonymous reporting channels, which would lower the threshold for addressing problems witnessed at the University,” Kasongo says.

Anyone can intervene in inappropriate behaviour

Ojala and Kasongo emphasise that the diversity of students should be taken into account at the University. They believe that teaching situations, among others, are easily characterised by white normativity.

“Thinking that all students are white is an assumption easily made. Among other things, this overlooks the fact that learning material focused on racist violence may upset non-white students in particular,” Kasongo notes.

“Assuming that it’s about people who are somewhere else is not a good premise – we are attending the lecture too,” Ojala sums up.

Maikki Friberg Equality Award

The Maikki Friberg award is granted annually to parties distinguished in the promotion of equality and diversity at the University of Helsinki. The prize sum is €6,000. All members of the University community can propose award recipients, including themselves. On the basis of the proposals, the University’s equality and diversity committee prepares a proposal on the recipient for the rector to decide. The award, which has been granted from 1996, draws its name from Maikki Friberg, a Finnish author, teacher and feminist.

Read more



How can we work toward a more inclusive University community?

Kasongo and Ojala’s tips at the afternoon seminar on job satisfaction held on 29 September 2020:

  • Don’t assume.
  • Question your stereotypes and norms.
  • Familiarise yourself with antiracist practices.
  • Contribute to the establishment of a safer space, for example, by employing content warnings.
  • Draw up clearer guidelines for addressing harassment for both staff and students.
  • Establish less complicated means for influencing University structures.
  • Critically review traditions and practices from the perspective of inclusion, including songs sung at student parties.