We’re determined to take rapid action against racism on our campuses and to ensure we’re supporting our staff and students.
Racism exists in our everyday lives, including in higher education. Together we must tackle it with zero tolerance.
During summer 2020 we took a new approach to tackling racism in all its forms across our University – and it started with listening to our own community.
First, students and staff were encouraged to complete a survey, asking about their experience of racism at the University of Essex, and what actions they thought needed to take place at the University to address racism. We also gave our community, including alumni, the opportunity to email their feedback directly to the University.
Next, we invited our whole community to a webinar focused on tackling racism to give staff and students the chance to discuss and raise issues directly with our leadership. Then we immediately set up our Tackling Racism Working Group to provide leadership on the University’s response.
"As a community, we are committed to making a real and immediate difference to the experiences of Black students and staff."
As a community, we are committed to making a real and immediate difference to the experiences of Black students and staff. It is important to remember that this work is not new. Members of our communities, particularly those of us from BAME backgrounds, have been tackling racism head-on for years. However, we believe that this most recent wave of activism and action brings with it the potential to finally confront issues, and take action as a university community and with our partners in the local community.
The hundreds of responses from our community have given us a greater understanding of the measures we need to put in place to ensure students and staff feel protected. And we must have trusted and transparent ways to report incidences of racism both on and off-campus. These, and many other themes emerged from listening to our staff, students and alumni, such as decolonising the curriculum, and the need for increased access for BAME students to postgraduate research opportunities. The Tackling Racism Working Group is now devising short, medium and long-term actions.
"We want to be held to account in making rapid progress to address racism where it exists on our campuses... We have to ensure the lived experience is a regular and consistent focus for each of us as individuals, and informs all our planning and decision-making processes."
"We have started on our journey to decolonise our curriculum, and we will continue to share updates through our student and staff news channels and blogs."
As our Essex Student Charter states: "At Essex, we are a community. A diverse, global and inclusive community; a community that supports and encourages and respects every one of its members... You will respect your fellow students equally, regardless of their background or characteristics."
We are committed to the five guiding principles of the Race Equality Charter. This sits alongside our other initiatives to promote the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion. This includes requiring all departments to apply for an Athena SWAN (gender equality) awards, our pledge to honour the Armed Forces Covenant, and our application for University of Sanctuary status.
We will address our institutional award gap between BAME and white students, and we will pay particular attention to actions that seek to close the award gap between Black and white students.
We have started on our journey to decolonise our curriculum, and we will continue to share updates through our student and staff news channels and blogs. Our departments are all taking action on this issue and our academics are also part of important discussions across disciplines. We are developing a suite of resources within our Staff Directory to support departments to decolonise their curricula, and these include the Achieving Potential Toolkit.
Following members of East 15's Black student and alumni community coming forward to powerfully express experiences of racism, East 15 has acknowledged it must tackle racism head on at a systemic level and in everyday activity. Following consultation with members of its Black student and alumni community, the School has devised its Anti-Racism Action Plan which is now being implemented.
Through discussions with staff and students, our School of Health and Social Care had learnt of individual personal experiences of racism and is taking action to end this now, and bring about positive and lasting change. Through a new Working Group that has staff and student representation, chaired by Dr Winifred Eboh; Professor Victoria Joffe and Dr Christopher Green, the School aims to open sensitive, transparent and honest dialogue and identify clear actions in three main areas of health and wellness, education and curriculum, and placement and racism.
These subgroups will report back in November 2020 with clear actions that the School needs to take and resources needed to realise these actions. The group states that: “This process has enabled us as a School to be open and transparent about the experiences of racism amongst our staff and students. We have been able to have 'uncomfortable conversations' which has united us to collectively work towards solutions.”
"We will ensure increased access for Black students to postgraduate research opportunities."
At Essex, we recognise that UKRI and other research funding bodies such as Wellcome are increasingly looking to universities to demonstrate their commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion through research and by encouraging inclusive and healthy research cultures.
In the article, Our work on race, the UKRI says: "Racism has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind in recent weeks (read UK Research and Innovation’s statement on Black Lives Matter) but research into race and ethnicity is something our community has been working on for decades.
The UKRI has also published this UKRI viewpoint article: We must reshape the system so it genuinely values and supports difference. In addition, the British Academy states in this article on equality, diversity and inclusion, that: "The British Academy's vision is for a humanities and social sciences community that is genuinely diverse. The Academy will focus on bringing about real change in equality, diversity and inclusion at the institution and in the wider sector."
Our research focused on racism includes ethnicity and gender, differences in subjective wellbeing and health inequalities, the colonialism of human rights, and the Grenfell Tower disaster.
"We must reshape the system so it genuinely values and supports difference."
We are looking at how our talks and events programme can be reflective of the concerns of our whole community throughout the year.
Black History Month is in October 2020. We have a programme of events to celebrate throughout the month, including a webinar on the impact of Black Lives Matter and a discussion on Black literature.
Essex Cultural Diversity Project is also supporting Black History Month this year, and has compiled details on a number of events taking place across Essex, organised by friends and collaborators of the project. Mercury Theatre in Colchester is also offering a masterclass and discussion event.
We’re also sharing the stories of Black alumni who inspire us with their passion, dedication and innovation on our University of Essex Alumni twitter feed.
In July 2020 an international expert on racial justice delivered this year’s Human Rights Centre Lecture. E. Tendayi Achiume, who has served since 2017 as the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and who is the fifth person to hold this role and the first woman, delivered this Fourth Annual Lecture of the Human Rights Centre. The title was “Racial Borders: The Urgency of a Racial Justice Critique of International Borders and Migration."
"At Essex, we are a community. A diverse, global and inclusive community; a community that supports and encourages and respects every one of its members..."
An important part of the action being taken to tackle racism on our campuses is to encourage the sharing across our community of our own resources and support services, but also articles, and examples of best practice from other institutions and organisations.
Our tackling racism information in our Staff Directory and our Student Directory is dedicated to sharing information on help and support, forums for our community, training and development, and other useful resources both in the UK and internationally. It also includes useful links to Advance HE resources.
We have also updated our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student information within the Student Directory, which now has more information and guidance, such as contacting support services, communications, decolonising the curriculum student blogs, and useful links to careers support.
If you would like to share a blog, or contribute with an idea in any other way, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please visit our staff and student directories for more help and support, details of forums for our community, training and development, and other useful resources.