Ida Salin: It takes courage to speak up

As an EDI Officer, Ida Salin in responsible equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) at Aalto. In an interview for the 'Walk in my shoes' series, she explains how half of her thinking capacity disappears if she doesn't get to meet people.
Ida Salin, photo by Linda Lehtovirta.
Photos: Linda Lehtovirta

Why are equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) important to you?

When Aalto was founded, the idea was to bring arts and design, business and economics, and science and technology sectors together, and to make scientific breakthroughs and develop innovations that would benefit from diversity. At Aalto, I have long been involved in supporting team development processes, and I am particularly inspired by how people can achieve more together.

Perhaps because of the background of my own parents, I grew up with a sense of social justice and equality from an early age. My mother was a child and adolescent psychologist and sometimes worked in a child caring institution. My classmates, on the other hand, sometimes strongly reacted if someone stood out because of their background or appearance.

I started my university studies with a major in special education, and after high school I worked for a year in a special class. I was reminded of how, for example, a reading disability can affect the ability to cope with verbal math problems and how important it is to get the right kind of support early on in order to maintain a positive learning experience and one’s identity as a learner.

Diversity is all the difference we have in ourselves, from our different ways of thinking and perspectives. Thinking is influenced by all the experiences and backgrounds that have brought us to this point.

What is it like to walk in Ida Salin's shoes?

I've been in the role of EDI Officer for a little over 1.5 years. It's been great to expand my own perspective from personnel to teaching and studies.

The EDI topics involve a social debate that can stir up strong emotions, including polarisation. When I started the assignment, I was nervous about whether I could talk about the right issues in the right way. Now that I have met a lot of people and learned new things, I realise that it is essential to be interested in others and have a willingness to put oneself in the other one's shoes. Self-compassion and empathy grow with failures, knowledge and understanding. Learning is a lifelong process.

Good encounters and inspiring ideas are really rewarding. On the other hand, sometimes it’s hard to receive a lot of feedback about grievances at the same time, and I might end up having negative thoughts myself. I might also be frustrated by the slow progress of things. 

Ida Salin in Dipoli, photo by Linda Lehtovirta.

In its simplest form, EDI is about being curious, listening and challenging our assumptions.

Ida Salin

What do you do in your free time and how is that related to your work?

My wellbeing ritual that I try to stick with, is to walk to work along the Laajalahti coastline and birch alleys, despite the weather.

My 2.5-year-old child easily gets my mind off work. The enthusiasm, desire to understand the world and ask questions is incredible. But when the urge and the will is strong, my own emotional skills are sometimes tested. Responding to situations like that does involve a lot of the same things as building a well-functioning work community. Both require listening to and verbalising the emotions of oneself and others and acknowledging and apologising for the mistakes. Perhaps concretely understanding my limits at home has also helped me to acknowledge the limitations of my own understanding and skills at work.

What inspires you in your encounters with people?

Random encounters are important to me. For me, it's also important to ideate, design and work together. My superpower is seeing connections between things. When Covid spring came in 2020 and working on campus had to stop, I felt like I was losing half of my brain and thinking capacity, and work performance.

Ida Salin, photo by Linda Lehtovirta

Can you share a story about your work?

I’m trying to make EDI part of our culture and structures. Last year, we worked with learning services and academics from the School of Business to develop an inclusion question to add to the students' course feedback. Together we considered different options and piloted a couple of different question layouts. The purpose of the qualitative question was to increase the understanding of inclusion and the development of an inclusive culture.

During last autumn, we have received a total of 7,500 responses from students on which elements of the courses have best supported inclusiveness, accessibility, and a non-discriminatory atmosphere.

In the students' responses we can see that inclusive teaching practices equals to good pedagogical practices. In other words, the teachers already go a long way when they pay attention to good pedagogical practices.

What would you like to see happen at Aalto when someone notices an inclusion barrier, for instance?

I would like us to be bold enough to intervene. I would like to see that grievances are reported and that we also give constructive feedback. We can also practice receiving feedback, to see it as a development opportunity.

The earlier things are raised, the quicker they can be dealt with. It is important to find out how things look from different people's perspectives, what is fact and what is interpretation. It is easy for things to become overwhelming and cumulate, even though the issue itself may have been a misunderstanding or a conflict between intention and the effect of what is being done. It takes courage to speak up. 

Ida Salin, photo by Linda Lehtovirta

Diversity is all the difference we have in ourselves, from our different ways of thinking and perspectives.

Ida Salin

What would you most like to change in Aalto, and why?

When starting something new, it would be important to increase collaboration. We could think about whether someone is already doing this and with whom this project could be done. Not many developments projects should be done alone. Instead, we can try to get people involved by to finding out what other people are doing and what they are interested in. 

And what would you like to strengthen at Aalto?

Doing science is very much about being curious and discovering and understanding new things. I wish we would also be interested in people and in building our community. In its simplest form, EDI is about being curious, listening and challenging our assumptions.

It would be important for all of us to meet and listen to each other and try to build a shared understanding and trust through conversations.By meeting people where they are, we can create a good environment for all of us to achieve more.

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Walk in my shoes

Inspired by the saying that you should walk a mile in someone’s shoes to understand them, the ‘Walk in my shoes’ series aims to share some of the experiences, thoughts, perspectives and challenges faced by another Aaltonian.

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