Reflections on Racism and the Race Equality Charter
I chair the University’s Race Equality Action Group that co-ordinates the University’s intention to submit for a Bronze award in the Race Equality Charter (REC). The Race Equality Charter is not a solution or remedy to issues of racism, and it most certainly isn’t a badge that makes us immune from racism at Loughborough. Instead the REC is a practical approach that requires an institution to acknowledge and confront racism in a structured way. To obtain Bronze, we must produce an honest and thorough analysis of our current position on race equality, develop medium term measurable and realistic goals to improve, and deploy an action plan to reach them. Importantly though, the REC requires us to position as actively anti-racist in what we do as an institution. You can read further about the REC and the work underway here.
To help us improve our understanding of race and racism, and engage with the REC, the Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, myself, Director of Finance and the three Pro Vice Chancellors have undertaken bespoke training. This included extensive reading material and was facilitated by AdvanceHE. The training covered, inter alia, racism, race equality, microaggressions, white fragility, white privilege and unconscious bias. We also spent time discussing, and being challenged on, the outcomes of the staff and student survey on race equality that many colleagues contributed to over the summer.
At times extremely challenging, this training has made it very clear to us, if we did need it confirmed, that we have a lot to learn, and a lot to achieve in order to accomplish our institutional goals around race equality. As leaders, we recognise we need to take clear ownership, whilst acknowledging we most certainly don’t have all the answers. On this point however I am hugely grateful to my colleagues and students from Black and Minority Ethnic* groups who are helping us navigate and understand the issues. We will share more on our reflections on this training in a video that will be available shortly.
Last month, Universities UK published the outcome of its working group on racial harassment in higher education. The report provides a clear framework through which to assess the scale and scope of existing activity, as well as identify areas where we do not currently have activity. There are 11 recommendations in the report and we have commenced an audit around where we currently stand in relation to them. I think we are in a reasonable place on a number of the recommendations, partly because of our preparations for REC (for example, Recommendation 8 asks us to have an online reporting tool for racist incidents. Ours was launched in September and can be found here). Some require more work (for example recommendation 5 asks us to develop training for staff and students on racism, racial harassment and microaggressions. Since this summer, new students complete such training as part of their induction. But more is needed and planned). Some recommendations map onto current gaps in our approach that will require significant shift, (for example recommendation 9 asks us to collect data on complaints (which we do to some degree) and discuss with partners, our Students’ Union and campus unions (which we don’t currently do)).
The racist murder of George Floyd in May brought additional focus to our work on race quality. I spoke to Black colleagues and students in the days following the murder, in part to offer my unconditional support, and heard first hand not just the enormous and totemic impact it had had, but how issues of racial injustice manifested in daily life. I want to reproduce here the words the Vice Chancellor used following the murder to acknowledge our own responsibilities and shortcomings –
I know with regret from listening to Black students and staff that racism does manifest here. We must not let it pass unchallenged. I take personal responsibility for leading work that positions the University as anti-racist.
To my white colleagues and students I say: this is an endeavour that we must all support. We must be pro-active in standing against racism and champion the values of equality, diversity and plurality.
To my Black colleagues and students I say: [our institution is] imperfect and must do better. Thank you for your guidance and advice. We welcome any help that you are able to offer to us. You all have my best wishes, particularly at this difficult time.
We understand that more work needs to be done. Some of the individual outcomes from REC are modest – I realise that – but collectively they are tangible and if achieved would constitute progress. Progress is not the same as perfection. In working hard for the former, we must never claim the latter.
* I’ve used this term because it is the one selected for use by the University’s BME staff group
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Reflections, comments, discussion and opinion on EDI topics from Loughborough University staff and students