Work­ing to­wards greater di­ver­sity

The Borneo Post - Good English - - News - By Pro­fes­sor Stephen J Toope,

Vice-Chan­cel­lor of Cam­bridge Univer­sity

A FEW months back I met with a group of stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tives. One of them – a black, Amer­i­can post­grad­u­ate woman – said: “I have never felt so un­com­fort­able about be­ing a black woman as I have here in Cam­bridge – and I grew up in the Amer­i­can south!” This was up­set­ting and, to me, deeply sad.

Over the past year I have spo­ken to, and heard from, nu­mer­ous stu­dents and staff who have ex­pressed sim­i­lar con­cerns about racial in­equal­ity at Cam­bridge.

These are not only about the con­spic­u­ous im­bal­ance be­tween white and non-white stu­dents, for in­stance; or the con­spic­u­ous scarcity of BAME staff in se­nior aca­demic or aca­demic-re­lated posts.

They are about be­ing pa­tro­n­ised, pro­filed or pointed at. Or about ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a stream of ill­judged re­marks or ac­tions that chip away at some­one’s sense of self.

I said in my re­cent ad­dress to the Univer­sity that we can­not be truly great as a univer­sity if we are not open to the so­cial and cul­tural di­ver­sity of the world around us.

To be fully in­clu­sive of the most di­verse tal­ent means recog­nis­ing and speak­ing out against dis­crim­i­na­tion in any form. It means em­brac­ing ex­cep­tional tal­ent; the rich mix of voices and ex­pe­ri­ences; and the unique chances to broaden our out­look that univer­sity life can of­fer.

Any words or ac­tions that sug­gest tal­ent is de­ter­mined by colour, or by gen­der, or by sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion are wrong, and have no place at Cam­bridge.

We let ev­ery­one down – white, black, brown – when we don’t ed­u­cate our­selves and oth­ers about the strength of di­ver­sity. It is not ac­cept­able for any one group to as­sume that it can be in­dif­fer­ent to race is­sues.

Our own bi­ases can be held so deeply that we re­main un­aware of them. Chal­leng­ing them will be un­com­fort­able.

But, to quote author Reni Eddo-Lodge, “You can’t skip to the res­o­lu­tion with­out hav­ing the dif­fi­cult, messy con­ver­sa­tion first. We’re still in the hard bit.”

To be a leader in de­fend­ing equal­ity and fos­ter­ing in­clu­sion, we must have an en­vi­ron­ment where we can openly dis­cuss race-re­lated is­sues, and feel em­pow­ered to ro­bustly chal­lenge racism.

There is no quick fix, but work is un­der­way to ad­dress these com­plex is­sues.

Over the sum­mer, we an­nounced the launch of the Stor­mzy Schol­ar­ships to of­fer full fi­nan­cial sup­port to some black stu­dents ad­mit­ted to study at Cam­bridge. Ded­i­cated fund­ing has been al­lo­cated to cre­ate a new po­si­tion in the Equal­ity and Di­ver­sity team to help em­bed race equal­ity in the Univer­sity’s work. A Di­ver­sity Fund to sup­port ini­tia­tives and projects that pro­mote di­ver­sity has been launched. Ded­i­cated “Dis­crim­i­na­tion and Ha­rass­ment Con­tacts” have been named in var­i­ous Col­leges, and have re­ceived ap­pro­pri­ate train­ing, with more to come. The word­ing around our anony­mous re­port­ing tool has been up­dated to make clear that staff and stu­dents can use it to re­port racial ha­rass­ment. A BAME Staff Net­work has just been set up, and I trust it will help cre­ate a space for col­leagues to ad­dress, for­mally and in­for­mally, is­sues of race and eth­nic­ity as they im­pinge on their work­ing lives.

We are de­vel­op­ing ways to en­sure our cur­ricu­lum re­flects the rich va­ri­ety and di­ver­sity of view-points and tra­di­tions and schools of thought, and of in­creas­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of BAME staff in po­si­tions of lead­er­ship across the univer­sity. A new Race Equal­ity web­site will bring all our re­sources to­gether in one place.

Push­ing back against in­equal­ity should not only be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of those who are most af­fected by it. It is a re­spon­si­bil­ity for all of us. Equal­ity and di­ver­sity must be­come deeply and ir­re­versibly em­bed­ded in the Univer­sity’s core work – whether it is ed­u­ca­tion, re­search or ad­min­is­tra­tion.

One of the is­sues fre­quently brought up in dis­cus­sions about race is the ques­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion – or, more pre­cisely, the lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion – of peo­ple of colour in the sto­ries told about Cam­bridge.

From the his­to­ries writ­ten about the Univer­sity, to the im­ages that hang on our walls, there are not enough re­lat­able faces and voices to in­stil in po­ten­tial BAME staff and stu­dents the con­fi­dence that Cam­bridge can be a place “for peo­ple who look like me”.

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