Why choose diary method?

There were multiple methodological reasons for including diaries in this mixed method study. One of the main reasons was that, irrespective of institutions being studied, many' students from the SC social group (former untouchables) were afraid to reveal their identity' and engage in group discussions, while women were hesitant to speak in such open forums. Their reluctance was expressed when students were requested to take part in focus group discussions. At times, students were even

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Figure 9.1 The diary and the instructions page (shown in Marathi).

Accessing silenced voices?

hesitant to be seen to be visibly associated with the research team, because it was widely known in the college that we were there to research HE experiences of students from the socially excluded groups.

These responses reflected a fear of discrimination and of being reprimanded by those in authority. The reluctance of students to be ‘visibly’ engaging in group discussions led to a modification in the research design after the pilot, to include diaries as a choice of research instrument in the mixed methods study. Diaries helped our study in overcoming difficulties related to reaching out to respondents to participate in the research. These difficulties related to recruitment of respondents have also been acknowledged by other diary research on diversity, discrimination and exclusion (Thornton et al., 2011; Hyers, 2018).

Importantly, our research was informed by a theoretical understanding that, depending on the social-group dynamics and the social structures existing in respective Indian states, there would be students from other socially disadvantaged groups, such as from the indigenous groups and de-notified groups (previously notified as criminal tribes and who experience stigma of criminality; see Japhet et al., 2015), in the student body who may feel hesitant to reveal their identities. Equipped with this conceptual understanding and sensitivity towards multiple disadvantages and varying social structures, the research teams located across six states had the flexibility to select students from diverse population groups as diarists.

The diarists also consisted of students who had participated in FGDs, but remained silent. They chose to opt instead to use diary as a medium to voice their thoughts, emotions, and campus experiences. The diary' method in a sense helped in giving participants a choice (Filep et al., 2017) and meeting the ethical considerations practiced while conducting FGDs of not pressurising participants to speak (Mason, 2002). The method provided an alternative to include participants in the study who were hesitant to interact in FGDs. For example, when students participated in the FGDs, some students interacted actively, while others did not. In that case, after group discussions, the research team individually reached out to silent students, and provided them with an alternative to complete diaries instead.

As diarists, these students reflected on their campus experiences in a detailed manner. Consistent with past research on discrimination and sexual harassment (Swim et al., 2003; Hyers, 2007), the diary' method in our study offered privacy to students and a ‘safe space’ to record their experiences of caste-based discrimination, instances of sexual harassment and hurtful derogatory' behaviours, along with other aspects of their campus life.

Another methodological reason for using the diary' method was that it offered flexibility to those students who were physically unavailable to participate in FGDs. Group discussions were mostly' held during college hours, especially' after their regular classes. There were many students from the disadvantaged social groups and women who were leaving their campuses as soon as their classes finished. Many of the students cited part-time work, household chores, and safety concerns as reasons for leaving college earlier than the rest. For example, due to unsafe campuses as well as uncertainties related to the mode of commuting, women were not staying back after mid-afternoon hours. These students opted to write diaries. In other words, the diary method gave control to students to express themselves according to their convenience and in settings where they were most comfortable. Many students completed their diaries in the comfort of their home.

Importantly the choice of this method was informed by the existing literature on the potential of the diary method to reveal detailed information on everyday experiences of prejudice on campuses (Swim et al., 2003; Hyers, 2007), offer flexibility to reflect according to their convenience related to time and space (Filep et al., 2017; Chapter 2, this volume), and its power to raise consciousness within the diarist of these events (Milligan, 2001). Finally, the methodology was being informed by our social justice research objectives. The research objectives of this study were primarily focused on gaining insights on ways in which students’ interactions with caste, class, ethnicity, and gender constructs shape their identities and influence HE experiences on college campuses. Through using the diary' method, the aim was to find ways to generate best contextual findings and expressions of emotions (which other research tools may not have been able to capture in the mixed method study) that could inform institutional practices on ways of advancing social inclusion on its campuses.

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