October 6, 2021 - 11:00am

None of my peers at the University of St Andrews were surprised to see the re-emergence of a compulsory “Diversity Training” module this year. 

Last year, we had to complete mandatory “Consent Training” and “Training in Environmental Sustainability Action” modules to matriculate as students. We were also tasked with a “Student Diversity Online Training” module — though it was taken down following complaints from some students that it was, among other things, “bad”, “half assed” and “slightly not okay”.

Although the failure of this first attempt at a diversity module proved that ideas about what equality and diversity are not universal, there remained a strong desire among the student body for a replacement. This is likely because we have the largest proportion of American students of any British university. Through them, and intensified by social media, American-style campus movements such as Black Lives Matter appear in the form of an enthusiastic and energetic activism, much of which occurs online.  

The summer of 2020 also saw the creation of of “St Andrews Survivors“, an Instagram page that revealed hundreds of harrowing stories of sexual harassment and abuse. In response, the University attempted to address the issue of sexual harassment on campus, of which the introduction of a compulsory module on consent played a small part.

Ultimately though, these compulsory modules do not amount to anything except a token effort to address a problem whose solution is far more complicated than an eighteen-question quiz. 

This is especially the case for the “Diversity Training” module, which was patronisingly easy to complete. The yes/no format could be finished within five minutes, without the need for the reams of attached information. This was also true of the “Consent Training” module.

What this all amounted to, then, was an entirely pointless exercise. It isn’t right that at The Times’s top-ranked UK university pupils should be expected to have to agree with the statement ‘‘Acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias” in order to become a student. Such issues are never binary and the time would be better spent discussing the issue, rather than taking a test on it.

When I asked the University of St Andrews if students could opt out of the module, a spokesperson responded:

The University is not imposing mandatory consent training tests for students, the consent training module has been included in matriculation because students wanted it there. Students have campaigned hard for the University to make these trainings, on consent, sustainability, and diversity, available to all students as part of matriculation, and the University has listened to the student demand. These modules promote awareness and encourage discussion on key issues which are incredibly important to students.
- University of St Andrews

But this response did not actually answer my question: could students opt out if they wanted? To which the spokesperson later responded:

The modules are a mandatory part of matriculation which need to be completed in order to matriculate. What I meant was that the University is not imposing them, it is the student body who have asked the University for this.
- University of St Andrews

This seems like a roundabout way of saying that the module is, in fact, mandatory. I don’t want to suggest that the students who pushed for such modules are bad-intentioned, but they are misguided in their efforts. I can’t admit to knowing the solutions to questions of sexual abuse or whether St Andrews should or shouldn’t be more diverse, but it certainly isn’t in a lazily prescriptive module which represents its tenets as gospel.

George Smith is an anonymous first year student at the University of St Andrews.