Tackling racial inequality at the University

Dear students

Towards the end of last academic year, the appalling killing of George Floyd led to protests across the globe. These protests demanded that we, as a society and as a university, do more to dismantle structural racism. When the Vice Chancellor and I met with you to hear more about your experiences and priorities for change, you told us that you want to see action which challenges the systems, practices, cultures and attitudes which perpetuate inequality.

You told us that you wanted to see defined actions, with timescales clear lines of accountability. We have created a single action plan tackling racial inequality – including work already in progress and new projects. This plan will be updated regularly, with progress communicated through University and SU channels. Please follow our progress and keep us accountable. 

You told us that the awarding gap for Black students need to be addressed, with honest reflection on the part played by University systems and culture in perpetuating inequality. You were right. We have committed to halving the awarding gap by 2024-25, through changes to our curriculum, culture and practices. 

We were concerned to hear that harassment and hate crime often go unreported, because of a lack of trust and transparency in our reporting routes. A review of our report and support processes is underway, and we are looking to install a new system that has received positive feedback at other universities. We have also drafted a new training package to make sure everyone within the UoN community has access to a clear understanding of the nature and impact of hate incidents, harassment and microaggressions. Bystander intervention will form part of this.

You told us that our curriculum needs to be diversified and decolonised, and that this will be to everybody’s benefit. Some courses are well underway with this, whereas others are just starting out. I want to make sure that decolonisation is a core part of our academic quality standards. Targets have been set to ensure that, whatever your field of study, you will encounter diverse voices, historical perspectives and representation. 

You told us that you wanted to see resources directly channelled towards Black student and staff progression, such as training opportunities and scholarships. Positive action accelerates change, and I will commission a report to help us understand which initiatives have the greatest impact. 

You were clear that the lack of Black representation within the staff body has a big impact on Black students’ sense of value, belonging and identity within their discipline. We have been too slow to address this, and this will change. We want to see no less than 20:80 BAME:white staff representation within all teams and at all levels by 2025. All Schools and Departments across the University are setting annual targets to help achieve this goal. 

You told us that the way in which we communicate and ask for feedback doesn’t always reach or resonate with students. Our colleagues in the Students’ Union are helping us to improve this. I am working with them to participate in termly Black Voice student forums so that we can keep this valuable direct line of communication open. 

You told us that events relating to Black history often speak more about slavery than success. We will do more to recognise and celebrate Black contributions to local and global development, both in our curriculum and our diversity events. This year, our Black History Month theme is Black Joy. Celebration and success will be the guiding principles for all our diversity events, alongside histories of oppression and liberation. We will also be giving an update on our work to address the University’s historical links to slavery, as you have told us that this transparency and accountability is important. 

You reminded us that all of our campuses need to be included in our work towards race equality, with visible championing of anti-racism across the institution. We are identifying local champions to be advocates in those areas. You also told us that, beyond the learning and teaching environment, you expected our professional services to review their practices from an anti-racist perspective. We have committed to working with relevant services to support them in this process.

Thank you for the energy, openness and patience you’ve shown in all of the letters, emails and meetings we’ve had relating to race inequality at the University. The experiences and thoughts that our Black staff and students have shared has been of particular value in these discussions. We recognise that participating in this type of discussion can be difficult and draining, and want to thank you specifically for this commitment to your University community. 

As a result of this, since May 2020 the nature of our conversations with staff and students has changed. They are more open, trusting, and urgent. We hope that, in time, you will also see that they are more impactful, as our plans come to fruition and the University develops as an anti-racist space.

Thank you again for making sure your voices – and those of your community - were heard. As the person with leadership responsibility for equality, diversity and inclusion, I am determined to move us forwards quickly and meaningfully, and I cannot do that without your honest input. I look forward to continuing to work together and to challenge each other to do more and do better for race equality in our university. 

Sarah Sharples
Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and People

28 September 2020

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Trent Building
University Park Campus