First-generation in higher education
We organize our membership to volunteer as mentors and lecturers in special workshops designed for first-generation early-career researchers to advance both their professionalization and their informal and critical knowledge of academic life. The team advances awareness to "first-generation" as an intersectional policy tool in an effort to tackle institutional blindness to the issue, and address the enormous challenges of diversity work in the context of Israeli academia.
Theories of equality, multiculturalism, and rights are produced and studied in academia but reality on the ground, and research into inequality in education show that Israeli academia reflects the manifold social injustices and unequal relations of power that exist in society at large. Academic institutions generally exclude non-hegemonic populations, and fail to integrate communities that have been historically marginalized on the basis of class, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, disability, and any other intersections of marginalization. Although the number of women who attain higher education continue to increase, they are still a minority in positions of power in academia. Phenomenon such as academic panels with only male speakers are still commonplace; misogyny is rampant in academic social networks and nominations' committees do not have neither the terminology nor any official procedures to consider and value diversity in decisions on hiring. The Palestinian minority suffers from severe inequality in access to higher education, a problem acknowledged by the state. State programs, however, tend to channel Palestinians into technocratic education for social mobility, while historically, the state has always attempted to prevent the emergence of any Palestinian intellectual intelligentsia, not excluding close supervision of the secret services, issuing threats and exerting severe pressures on anyone not treading the path laid for them by the state. While Palestinian marginalization in higher education is at least acknowledged by these special programs, discrimination against Mizrahim, Jews of Ethiopian descent, people with disability and sexual minorities remains by and large denied and unaddressed.
Academia for Equality attempts to deal with these multiple forms and challenges of inequality, exclusion and discrimination in higher education through raising awareness, setting the agenda, and supporting and participating in a special workshop hosted at the Minerva Center at Tel Aviv University. The workshop is designed to provide a space of learning and support for first-generation graduate students in Israeli academia. First-generation students tend to come later in life to higher education, face more obstacles and social and economic pressures that often result in them dropping from studies. First-generation students feel less “at home” in academic institutions where hegemonic groups in Israeli society are the overwhelming majority. At the workshop, lead by our member Efrat Ben Shoshan Gazit, the aim is not just the upward mobility of first-generation students, that tend to be a heterogeneous group coming from all sections of marginalized communities in Israel. We are not merely concerned with their professionalization and transferring basic academic skills and knowledge, but we also use the workshop as an opportunity to raise awareness and critical thinking, to reflect together on academia, academic life, and their place in it, to study academia as a system perpetuating marginalization and inequality and not simply an instrument for participants’ own self-advancement.
Each year, we support the workshop as coordinators, lecturers and mentors. We pushed for and aided efforts to open similar workshops in other campuses, and we are delighted that our example begins to bear fruits: workshops spring in Ben-Gurion university, Hebrew University, and Tel Hai college, where Academia for Equality membership has a strong presence. In addition to that we are transferring the vast knowledge on first-generation generated in the world in order to adapt it to the Israeli context. Our goal is to win institutional commitment expressed through well-funded diversity programs, currently non-existent, to address structural discrimination in academia, and promote the inclusion and advancement of non-hegemonic populations in Israeli academia.