Towards an Anti-Racist University – Event Summary

On the 2nd of July, Brighton UCU hosted an online forum, inviting staff and students to come together and discuss actions to build an anti-racist university. The original synopsis for the event is included at the base of this post. The concept was that we come with a willingness to listen, to learn, to share ideas, and a ‘refusal to carry on as normal’. Let us not allow the ‘new normal’ as it is colloquially known, continue to be steeped in the wretched injustices of the ‘old normal’; it is time to stop merely looking at data and time now to start acting on the exclusions and oppression condensed in that data: it is time it try harder. We wish to offer our sincerest thanks to all the guest speakers and to those who attended the forum, your feedback and participation was both valued and cherished.

This post serves the dual purpose of providing a record of the event and as a resource related to the themes of the forum. Brighton UCU will continue to actively collaborate on the further development of this work.

Headlines from the forum

  • Due to the level of interest in the forum and the results of a poll asking about follow-up events we have arranged a series of dates for further forums during 2020/21. These are monthly for most of the year and each forum will focus on one of the themes which we have collated further down the page. We will provide clear questions/topics and resources (where applicable) prior to the events to allow colleagues to think and prepare for discussion. The forum dates have been added to our live calendar, instructions for how to subscribe to the calendar in Outlook are included at the top of our events calendar page.
    • Dates are as follows and the time will stay as 1.30pm-3pm for each event:
      • Thu 17th Sept 2020
      • Thu 22nd Oct 2020
      • Thu 19th Nov 2020
      • Thu 28th Jan 2021
      • Thu 25th Feb 2021
      • Thu 18th March 2021
      • Thu 17th June 2021 (final recap event)
  • There was also feedback at the meeting that there should be a UCU Black Members Group in addition to the large group meetings. We took this to a Coordinating Committee meeting after the event and have agreed to investigate how an online meeting tool can be provided to enable these meetings to take place, such a tool needs to feel safe and to be available for members’ use. The Black Members Group will meet separately from the forums, but depending on interest and consensus, this group could set the agenda or areas of focus for discussions at the forums. If you have any feedback on this idea and/or preferred online meeting tools, please get in touch.
  • During the event we asked for suggested action items from forum participants; these items have been arranged as a list in an order based on the number of votes that items received. Some of the items have been merged and re-worded, but we hope that the essence is retained. Please do comment on this post or get in touch if you have any suggestions.

Outline of the forum

During the event we heard from several speakers. Brief summaries of each short speech are included below.

Speaker 1: Vy Rajapillai

Vy is part of a research group on ‘decolonising the curriculum’ and noted some principles which should organise this type of work:

  • the importance of students as partners – work with them on organising events and processes (example of the ‘decolonising reading group’ operating in Literature’).
  • Listen to students when they say their reading lists, for example, are still too Western or that there is a problem with tokenism.
  • The learning process of being with students is important.

Vy’s students 1 also spoke and highlighted their work as part of a research group ‘decolonising the curriculum’. One of the students spoke of the panel being organised, including checking for what/when/how to help publicise.

The students also stressed the following points:

  • the importance of thinking more carefully about which visual representations of non-white bodies were used in teaching and learning;
  • the need to think through with students with regard to the types of vocabulary appropriate for education;
  • the ways to establish the classroom as a safe space.

Later in the meeting Vedrana Velickovic, Vy’s main collaborator on the project and other students involved in ‘decolonising the curriculum’ spoke further about their work. We have included resources related to this project in the resources section below. It is important to note and this came up in further discussion, that the students involved in the research group are paid using the ‘curriculum advisor’ role.

Speakers 3 and 4: Anita Rupprecht and Gill Scott

Anita Ruprecht and Gill Scott explained their research into slave ownership and the deep roots of racism in Brighton as a city. Anita spoke about research which traced Britain’s hidden connections with Caribbean enslavement. At a local level, this work was done in collaboration with Bert Williams’ Brighton & Hove Black History Project. Anita noted that it was also important to see that Brighton was a radical anti-slavery town in the 18th Century. However, it also bears the history of being a town awash with money from enslavement in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and this means the erasure also of the anti-slavery work of some. By the 1820s, Brighton was the fastest-growing and most fashionable town in Britain – as such it was a magnet for slavery money. Gill Scott provided further depth on the use of the ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ Database project at UCL to track how many individuals/households in Brighton applied for compensation when slave-owning was abolished. A sizeable number of middle-class, and female, applicants were found as part of this search. Further information is included in the resources section below.

Speaker 5: Ken Olende

Ken Olende spoke about the importance of the recent work of #BlackLivesMatter in both exposing the continuation and lethality of institutionalised racism, and also in showing how it can be fought. For universities he stressed the need to consider structures and processes as well as appearances, and to consider promotions procedures for example.

Key points from the broader discussion

  • The awarding gap for degrees between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, and white students was noted. However, a point was raised that an ‘existence gap’ must also be noted.  The question was asked, why are so few colleagues people of colour, why are so few students of colour? How can this be addressed?
  • It was noted that there is a ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ journal which is available on the university website and also via the library catalogue. There have been two issues of the journal so to date. We discussed getting the word out about this work to ensure that the university community knows about this and contributes to the journal.
  • We need to note the existence of trauma. How traumatising it is to be a person of colour at this time and seeing the level of brutality, death and injustice being visited on black bodies. This is also potentially accompanied by intergenerational pain due to the legacies of slavery.
  • What is the difference between fully considered anti-racist strategy in a university context and a commitment to diversity? Has diversity become a buzz word rather than being representative of actual progress?
  • It is time to revisit the notion of institutional racism. It is time to recognise that universities are institutionally racist. Two areas stand out as being of immediate importance: employment, as we know that colleagues, especially female Black and POC, are going to be impacted by cuts; and curriculum, the decolonisation of the curriculum needs to be democratic and must not be a box ticking exercise.

List for action, based on feedback from the forum

This is a ‘living’ list and wording and the items in the list may be adjusted based on feedback.

    1. Decolonise the curriculum
      In the fullest sense this is not only a need, but an institutional imperative. Current work in this area is not given enough resourcing and institutional recognition. We demand a democratic review of the whole curriculum to enable this, led by Black staff and staff of colour, working with students, where possible; with time given for this in terms of workload allocation. This work must be funded for both staff and student participation, but must remain autonomous; it must not be a box ticking exercise.
    2. End Prevent for good
      We demand that the university withdraws cooperation from the government’s Prevent strategy, which is racist and Islamophobic.
    3. Re-think Human Resources and its procedures
      1. Review all procedures which allow for the expressions of racism or prejudice, e.g. anonymous student feedback via module evaluations.
      2. Publish the race pay gap and delineate the data according to ethnicity rather than using ‘BAME’ as a category. This reporting should also include other pertinent data: intersectional information such as gender and LGBTQ+, anonymised information related grievances, and also, reasons why Black and people of colour leave the university.
      3. Create anonymised processes for staff to report discrimination based on race and other protected characteristics. There is already a process in place for students to report. Provide the annual results of staff and students reporting to the university community.
      4. Review the current grievance processes. The current grievance processes place a burden on the victim, with an emphasis on institutional protection rather than proactive resolution. These processes need to be reviewed to ensure that better protections, support and investigation are in place for Black staff and staff of colour.
      5. Staff in Human Resources need to receive training to build their expertise in understanding race and racism.
      6. Review latent criteria in staff recruitment processes (e.g. job recruitment adverts) and interview processes.
    4. Empower and support Black staff and staff of colour
      1. Acknowledge the experiences of Black staff and staff of colour. Staff need to feel confident and need to be able to report any/all racist issues that they encounter. We challenge the university’s use of non-disclosure agreements.
      2. Recognise the emotional labour that Black staff and staff of colour bear in their support of students. This work disproportionately fall on these staff with no additional hours or support.
      3. Recognise the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Black staff and staff of colour and take action now. This must include prioritisation of risk assessments related to safe return to campus. Support around bullying issues since the move to online teaching. Active provision of counselling.
    5. Close the Race pay gap
      In addition to the need for accurate reporting of the Race pay gap (SEE 3b) action needs to be taken to address this pay gap. We want to see real change in terms of an increase in the number of promotions and positions for Black staff and staff of colour to Professorial/Readership/Deputy Head of School/Head of School/Associate Dean, across all the schools.
    6. Provide scholarships for Black students and students of colour
      This must include active recruitment of Black students and students of colour, particularly PhD students. Scholarship opportunities must also be made available for student refugees.
    7. Demand the university acknowledges and admits that it is a site of institutional racism that operates in a racist society
    8. Challenge the culture of whiteness and middle class assumptions
      1. The majority of the University’s senior managers are white. There are no Heads of School of colour and only a small number of professors who are people of colour. Senior management need to critically reflect on their role in continuing and exacerbating racist structures in the institution.
      2. We demand that the Equality & Diversity Committee takes race issues seriously and is led by Black member of staff or a member of staff who is a person of colour.
      3. Challenge the white middle class culture in our departments that make Black working class staff and students, and working class staff and students of colour feel excluded.
      4. Create Equality roles in Schools and make sure that this work is taken seriously and is properly resourced. Where possible this work should be led by Black staff and staff of colour.
    9. Address the different experiences of Black people and people of colour who are institutionally categorised under the ‘BAME’ banner
      For example, when the institution refers to the BAME awarding gap, acknowledge the differences between say Black (of African or of Caribbean descent) people and South Asian people. Different groups may have very different needs and this cannot be assumed.
    10. Challenge the use of the term ‘BAME’ as the term purposefully ignores issues related to the Black experience specifically. The experiences of those from different minority ethnic backgrounds need to be fully understood, this cannot be achieved through broad brush categorisation.

Resources

‘Decolonising the Curriculum’  project blog

Decolonising the Curriculum Facebook group

Please contact Vy Rajapillai and Vedrana if you would like to join the ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ Microsoft Team area (for University of Brighton staff and students).

UCL’s Short Takes podcast series was recommended in the forum chat

UAL’s Decolonising the Arts Curriculum Zines

Audio recording of a Black Lives Matter Zoom Rally organised by Brighton and Hove Stand Up to Racism in July 2020 – includes contributions from Bert Williams (Brighton and Hove Black History Group), Michael Abatan (Justice for Jay Abatan campaign) and Anita Rupprecht and Gill Scott (University of Brighton).

Brighton & Hove Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) group on Facebook (Brighton UCU are affiliated with SUTR).

‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ Database project at UCL

Brighton & Hove Black History Project. SEE also the Thomas Highflyer Project

Sinha, U., Atta, D. and Zamarripa Solis, A. (Eds.) (2019) Hidden Sussex: a new anthology for Sussex: Fiction, non-fiction and poetry from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic experience. Available at: https://t.co/BUSYFqBtJw

rboylorn (2013) ‘How to not die: some survival tips for black women who are asked to do too much’, Crunk Feminist Collective, 7 June. Available at: https://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2013/06/07/how-to-not-die-some-survival-tips-for-black-women-who-are-asked-to-do-too-much/ (Accessed: 16 July 2020).

Moncrieffe, M., Asare, Y., Dunford, R., Youssef, H., Burdsey, D., Mapondera, D., . . . Handley, F. (2019). Decolonising the curriculum::Teaching and learning about race equality. Issue 1. University of Brighton. Available at: http://tinyurl.com/ycvmc5l9

Lloyd, A., Hall, J., Salaman, N., Shahvisi, A., Catteree, R., Johnson, H., . . . Zenerian, E. (2019). Decolonising the curriculum:Teaching and learning about race equality Brighton: University of Brighton. Issue 2. Available at: http://tinyurl.com/y8s4g2uo

University of Sussex UCU’s work on anti-racism

University of Sussex anti-racist reading list

About the the prevent duty

Brighton Black Lives Matter

Please feel free to contribute more links to this resource by using the comment field provided below this post.

Event synopsis

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

~ Angela Davis.

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of those who were oppressing them.”

~ Assata Shakur

What would it be like to work in an anti-racist university? What would it be like to learn in an anti-racist university?

As Universities across the UK and America move to declare their commitment to equality and diversity amid the Black Lives Matter protests underway, could we use this moment to move past paper promises and the insignia of top-down charter marks?

Curriculum, research, staffing structures and cultures, learning structures and cultures: how do these reproduce a social order which marginalises people of colour, and can they be repurposed to aid an emancipatory education?

This open forum takes to its heart the possibility of an anti-racist education. We will discuss the ways in which such a possibility can be opened up only from staff and students working together. The forum will include short contributions from Vy Rajapillai, Anita Rupprecht, Gill Scott and Ken Olende but there will be plenty of time for everyone to help shape the way forward.

All are welcome to this open forum on building an anti-racist university. All you need are your ideas and refusal to carry on as normal.

 

  1. As this is a public blog student names are not included.
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