Student social group offers diversity, sense of 'belonging'
Recognizing the importance of social life at university, a new student association has grown to become KTH’s largest by creating a social scene intended to make students from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds feel they belong.
Since the lifting of pandemic restrictions, the newly-formed student association Bright at KTH has become a magnet for students who reflect Sweden’s increasingly multi-cultural profile, reporting an active membership of 950 students from all levels of study. THS, the student union at KTH, reports that the association has the highest membership within THS.
The group’s “norm-breaking” introduction of a platform for underrepresented students was recognized at the December 2022 graduation with the awarding of the President of KTH's Equality and Diversity Prize to Bright at KTH’s founding president, Fuad Alam, an industrial engineering and management student who says he accepted the award on behalf of the group's membership, board members and co-founders Anir Darrazi, Leif Nasser, Nabil Hossain and William Ljungström Armah.
Personal and professional networks
Bright at KTH organizes not only social events, but provides a platform for students to interact with the industrial sector and network with professionals in their chosen fields of study.
For many first- and second- generation Swedes, such experiences and opportunities are notably different from those which their parents or grandparents encountered while starting new lives in the Nordics. But while KTH is attracting more students from Sweden’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods, the social challenges still present a significant challenge.
“Every student has the right to perform their best and graduate, and I found that this was more difficult for me due to lack of role models and the sense of belonging,” says Alam, whose parents immigrated to Sweden from Bangladesh.
“Many bear different challenges: everything from the pressure of our parents’ sacrifices for us to be able to educate ourselves at the highest level, to just looking different and having different interests” he says. “Which makes the already challenging studies even tougher. That is why communities are so important, so that we may share the challenges and thrive together.”
He has noticed that students who don’t feel like they fit in at KTH social gatherings tend to lean instead on connections outside of school. And while neighborhood friendships can sustain an individual, they don’t typically pay dividends when it comes to academic work.
“They are usually the ones who, in my experience, had troubles finding partners to group up with in their classes or have difficulties getting internships,” he says. “They have the opportunity to socialize (at other THS events) such as at pubs or in chapters, but they didn’t really feel like it was for them. They were welcomed but they didn’t feel welcome.”
Giving social life a second chance
But with Bright at KTH, many are giving social life here another chance. Fuad says he meets newcomers at events who say they are attending a KTH social gathering for the first time, though they’ve been enrolled for as many five years.
Not feeling welcome can also interfere with graduates’ professional progress, so Bright at KTH also sponsors industrial networking events with guest speakers.
Not only do these social and industry events empower underrepresented students, they’ve also become popular with KTH students from across the spectrum of ethnic backgrounds, nationally and internationally.
“We’re just taking KTH’s current social life, which already is providing so many opportunities and making it attractive and accessible for a larger group of people,” he says.