25th May 2021 marks the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. This murder, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, brought the issue of racism to the public focus in a way that many of us had never seen or felt before.
At the University of Nottingham, the weeks and months following involved many difficult and thought-provoking conversations. Those of us who had not personally experienced racism realised how much we still had to learn and how much change was needed to address the systemic racism that we see within society, within Higher Education, and within our own institution.
Whilst these conversations were difficult, they were important and led to actions. These were firstly reflected in a ‘you said, we will’ summary of activity, and have further been refined in our submission to the Race Equality Charter, which we completed in February 2021.
Our Race Equality Charter submission represented an important milestone in our commitment to become an anti-racist university. We collated our planned actions under five headings, aligned with the 2019 UUK report ‘Closing the Gap’ of: strong leadership; conversations about race and culture; racially diverse, inclusive environments; evidence and analysis; and ‘what works’. Key, ambitious actions which are in this plan include: establishment of 3 new roles – one dedicated HR lead for BME recruitment and inclusion; and 2 part time secondment roles to support the development of a new onboarding module for all students, and to coordinate work across the university to close the degree awarding gap; delivery and evaluation of our new ‘report and support’ tool to improve our reporting and response to harassment; scaling up of our BAME reverse mentoring programme; introduction of new activities to align with our civic agenda and work with BAME communities in the city (the PACT (Partnership, Access, Cultures and Trust) Programme); and setting of targets for representation from different ethnic groups for staff and students for the university and local teams.
Delivery of these actions is already underway. This week sees the launch of our new ‘Report and Support’ system, which addresses the concerns raised by the university student and staff community about trust and transparency in our current reporting system. We are currently advertising the part time academic secondment roles, and encourage colleagues to apply. Details of further actions, including Students’ Union led initiatives to improve communication and collaboration can be found in the latest update to the ‘You said, We Will’ document. From now on, we will be publishing progress against our Race Equality Charter Action Plan on a six monthly basis, and will publish the first version of the plan, alongside the submission, once we have the outcome of our submission from Advance HE.
However, whilst the development of the Race Equality Charter, and ongoing actions, have it is clear that the issues which were so poignantly highlighted by the protests last year still remain. As well as the ongoing instances of racism towards the black community, recent work has highlight the experiences of hate crimes targeting people of East Asian and Southeast Asian backgrounds within Nottingham.
I am humbled by the bravery and personal commitment shown by many of our staff and students from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds who have worked tirelessly over the past year to continue to highlight the difficult and distressing experiences that they encounter on a regular basis, and who have worked so collaboratively with me and the university more generally. It can feel scary and daunting to engage in conversations about racism, but it is important that we all take part and share the burden of addressing the challenge. It is only through working together that we will deliver on our commitment to become a truly anti-racist university.
Professor Sarah Sharples
Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and People.
24 May 2021