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University under construction

What I most wish is that next to the photograph that accompanies this text could be written: Here will be born the university of tomorrow. The one where Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will be fully respected.

We are witnessing an increasing number of neurodivergent people in Higher Education Institutions. But it is also true that they continue to experience an equally growing number of difficulties. But we should not think that these difficulties are only related to the adaptation needs that may derive from some of the characteristics of neurodivergent people. We are also talking a lot about the prejudices and preconceptions regarding people belonging to this group. And that are held by their neurotypical peers but also by some of the teachers and university officials.

By neurodivergent we mean people with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Specific Learning Disorder, among others.

More and more neurodivergent students and others who understand this importance are advocating for the creation of a University that integrates a paradigm of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Like all those who have and continue to demand the implementation of a Universal Design of Learning. It is no longer enough to say that we are pro-diversity and that we want equity among university students or that we defend their inclusion. It is vital that we can transform these ideas and ideals into observable practices that translate into real change for people and that translate into the possibility of everyone being able to carry out their life projects.

It is not enough to make available a support office for the student and to allocate a set of technicians, normally in the areas of psychology and social service. It is fundamental to train these technicians with a different way of being, being and doing, which is desired for all the students. And to be able to think that many students themselves have various difficulties in going to these same places and presenting their questions. And it is not because they do not have them and need to resolve them. It's because they don't feel that these same spaces can be adapted and built with them in mind. And in order for this to happen, be it in the student support offices, but also in any space of the university itself, it is fundamental to involve neurodivergent people to think together in the construction of these spaces.

Because if we think that universities are prior to neurodivergent people, we will probably be wrong. And it's most likely that they both emerged at precisely the same time.

Neurodivergent people urgently need all those at the university to be able to think that these are not just people who need help and understanding. Neurodivergent people are people. And they are people who have applied to university and who want to pursue their dreams and projects in life. And no, they do not need colleagues, teachers and other more or less directly responsible people to judge them, to oppose them because they feel they are different, to evaluate them differently and to think that they are people who need help and understanding.

The daily life of a neurodivergent university student cannot be marked by increased levels of anxiety about not knowing what the next day of class or the one that has just started will be like. Of how many extra challenges he or she will have to overcome in order to stay in class without being able to have certain adaptations. And that when you think about these adaptations you have to subject the neurodivergent student to scrutiny as if he/she were requesting something that belongs to some whim of his/her. And that if this same adaptation is implemented, we may cause some kind of stir among neurotypical students and, as such, we must act carefully.

Very often a neurodivergent university student feels that what will happen at university is something similar to what happened in compulsory education. A set of bureaucracies to certify and justify the adaptation needs that derive from their characteristics. This leads this same student to feel that what is happening is his or her responsibility. Even though many of them go on repeating that the neurodivergent person is not to blame. But still he needs to justify the pertinence of the necessary adaptations. And even so, to be subjected to the scrutiny of some university teachers who say they will not implement these measures.

The university of tomorrow will be built by all and for all. And there is nothing romantic or idyllic in this thinking. If universities are participated from the conceptualisation stage by neurodivergent people and if these people are also in decision-making positions, certainly the plans for these Higher Education Institutions will be designed from the ground up by all and for all.

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