Give staff space to flag con­cerns about in­equal­ity

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LET­TERS -

Kal­want Bhopal’s call for uni­ver­si­ties’ fund­ing to be linked to their ef­forts to ad­dress racial in­equal­ity (“Tie fund­ing to tack­ling racial in­equal­ity, says pro­fes­sor”, News, 29 March) needs early and over­whelm­ing sup­port, es­pe­cially in a cli­mate where the is­sue has slipped down in­sti­tu­tions’ agen­das. Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, it might not be enough to rely on stan­dard sup­ply-led in­sti­tu­tional mech­a­nisms alone. Black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic grievances and con­cerns (eg, in­ad­e­quate rep­re­sen­ta­tion in re­spon­si­ble and lead­er­ship po­si­tions; lack of per­ma­nency; the felt ex­pe­ri­ence of in­di­rect racism; the ab­sence of counter-nar­ra­tives in the cur­ricu­lum and re­search prac­tice; stu­dent at­tain­ment) tend to be han­dled, at best, with kid gloves, which sel­dom leads to any con­sid­ered in­sti­tu­tional mon­i­tor­ing, eval­u­a­tion and re­dress.

I won­der whether BME aca­demics would pre­fer quo­tas to clear and im­par­tial jus­tice for the many in­stances of hid­den or even re­ported in­ci­dents of es­pe­cially the sub­tler forms of in­di­rect racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. The pre­vail­ing cur­rency to ig­nore such prac­tice or, worse, to sim­ply deny it be­cause ab­so­lute proof might be dif­fi­cult to ob­tain, shuts out sup­port­ive dis­cus­sion. Ap­point­ment of BME staff gen­er­ally at ju­nior lev­els is of­ten seen as a proxy for be­ing “black friendly”. Clearly, more in­sti­tu­tions should have the courage to com­bat racism by at least mak­ing a bee­line for the char­ter mark. But space must be cre­ated by BME staff them­selves to mon­i­tor and present cases of di­rect and in­di­rect forms of in­equal­ity to­gether with proac­tive, dis­tinc­tive con­tri­bu­tions em­a­nat­ing from their back­grounds and re­al­i­ties, and in­sti­tu­tions should be pre­pared to en­gage in the counter-nar­ra­tive that might emerge with ac­tions that help to achieve just out­comes.

If equal­ity in prac­tice means un­equal or dis­crim­i­na­tory racial rep­re­sen­ta­tion (of peo­ple, ideas, nar­ra­tives, cri­tique and place), then there is a jus­ti­fi­able need to fight for it at all lev­els.

Jay Mitra

Pro­fes­sor of busi­ness en­ter­prise and in­no­va­tion

Univer­sity of Es­sex

More in­sti­tu­tions should have the courage to com­bat racism by at least mak­ing a bee­line for the char­ter mark

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