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Stubbornness and humility yielded success

Published Mar 09, 2021

Working with students on gender equality, diversity, and equal treatment issues (JML) issues is not always easy. Viggo Kann, Professor and Course Coordinator at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has experienced this firsthand. Through sustained development work with the JML module of one of the school’s education programmes, he transformed adversity into success.

Portrait photo: A middle-aged man. Behind him on the wall hang three violins
Viggo Kann is also a member of KTH's academic orchestra and has played at many previous award ceremonies. Photo: private.

In 2020, Viggo Kann  received the President’s Gender Equality and Diversity Prize for his work.

Viggo Kann on receiving the award:

“It shows that even ordinary teachers can make a difference. You don’t have to be an expert in the JML field to do something meaningful for the students.”

Six years ago, Viggo Kann introduced a JML seminar within the programme integrating course of the Master of Science programme in Computer Engineering. This decision was sparked by requests from students to include issues of equality and inclusion in their studies. They saw that there were problems in the programme; students expressed themselves disparagingly, including in online forums.

“To improve the working environment, it became important to include the module in the course,” says Viggo Kann.

Initially met with criticism

When Viggo Kann gave the JML seminar for the second time in 2018. Some students met it with strong reactions. They considered the module to be a manifestation of political correctness and felt that it did not belong in a technical education programme. The dissatisfaction spread through social media and garnered attention outside KTH in various ways.

“The uproar that occurred at the time shows that it’s valuable to work with JML issues, but that it’s important to consider how we formulate the reflection questions and design the content.”

It must be inclusive both for those who might be provoked and those who belong to a minority group, says Viggo Kann. He also stresses that it needs to tie in with the students’ everyday academic life and future professional life.

Developed the JML seminar

More recently, Viggo Kann has immersed himself in the JML field by taking the higher education teaching and learning course “Gender Research and Gender Equality in Technical Education” (LH 225V) . Within the framework of the course, he developed and refined the seminar structure. He also received valuable feedback from other colleagues who took the course.

He then asked a student panel to provide its opinion on the seminar content, allowing him to hone it further.

The previous JML seminar experience is that these issues were not met with the same resistance as before, says Viggo Kann. The students both wrote excellent reflections and had good discussions during the seminar itself.

What do the students get from the course’s JML module?

“I hope they will find out that JML issues are important, both to promoting a good study climate at KTH and also later in working life. Many of them will hold leadership positions in the future. That’s why it’s so important to avoid careless discrimination and to understand how to create a well-functioning working group.”

Words: Marianne Norén

The justification for the prize

Strong reactions in response to changes concerning gender equality, diversity, and equal opportunities are not uncommon. With curiosity and patience, Professor Viggo Kann has treated such reactions as an opportunity to develop skills. He has worked to enhance the quality in integrated equality, diversity, and equal treatment perspective. As the course coordinator for the program-cohesive course on Computer Engineering, he has integrated equality, diversity, and equal treatment modules that have allowed students to reflect on society's inequality. He has the perseverance and tenacity required to act as an agent for change.

About the President's Gender Equality and Diversity Prize for employees

The President's Gender Equality and Diversity Prize for employees has been awarded annually since 1999. The prize of SEK 10,000 is awarded to an employee at KTH Royal Institute of Technology who, during the last financial year, has helped to advance work environment/education/research from a gender equality and/or diversity perspective to develop KTH as an organisation.

Belongs to: Current
Last changed: Mar 09, 2021