'Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures': Three Months On

The release of the ‘Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures’ report has sparked a period of necessary reflection in many areas of the University.

The report, which made for a difficult and confronting read and outlined challenging experiences of racism and racial injustice on our campus, gave an unequivocal message: the University of Glasgow must act and act decisively to deliver real and meaningful change.

In the three months since the release of the report, work has begun on delivering the commitments made in our extensive Action Plan, and race equality work has been put to the forefront of discussions; both at Senior Management level and within College/School/Research Institute.

Having sparked conversations with colleagues from a variety of roles, it has highlighted a common theme amongst our community: there is a real will to tackle the problems highlighted in the report, but often there is also a fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and causing harm.

To address this discomfort and lack of confidence in this area, the University has recently procured anti-racist and cultural awareness training for all staff. The course is available now via Moodle: https://moodle.gla.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=25609

I would encourage all staff to take half an hour to go through this important training. Every member of our University plays a crucial role in our anti-racist journey, and this training provides the first step we can all take to begin this necessary work together.

In addition to this online training, we are currently in the process of procuring further anti-racist training for our Senior Management Group and Senior Leadership Forum. This training should provide an opportunity for senior leaders to learn how to feel comfortable talking about and dealing with issues of racism, recognising the critical role that senior leaders and managers play in tackling racism in the workplace.

I have also had the opportunity to attend meetings with all four College Management Groups to present the report and its findings alongside the Head of EDU and co-author Mhairi Taylor. The outcome of these presentations has been positive, with a high level of engagement across all four colleges and an encouraging level of interest and will to act to bring about positive changes.

A common concern amongst CMG members was that the prospect of beginning the extensive work within the Action Plan was quite daunting, particularly in areas where this kind of work may currently be unknown territory. For this reason, we have produced a guide help staff within our schools and colleges to begin introducing five actions that can be implemented in the short-term to support the report. These five actions include:

  1. Encouraging colleagues to complete their diversity data
  2. Discussing the report with School Management Groups
  3. Raising awareness of support resources and online harassment reporting tools
  4. Supporting and encouraging colleagues to complete the online training
  5. Beginning a data analysis of students by ethnicity using the new Qliksense tool

Having released the report during a period of lockdown, I have also been conscious that circumstances have not allowed staff and students the opportunity to get together to discuss the themes and content of the report as a community.

Although it may be some time before we can do so physically, I was pleased to attend the first in a series of events open to staff and students to provide an opportunity to learn more about the themes of the report and allow for discussion and input from all of our community at the online symposium ‘Decolonising the Curriculum at the University of Glasgow’ on 26 May 2021.

This event focused on the topic of one of the four underpinning principles embedded in the Action Plan: "Our curriculum and learning community will thrive when it is reflective of global perspectives and race equality is embedded”. We were delighted to welcome Professor Nazira Karodia to deliver her plenary talk 'Revisiting Decolonised Learning: Knowledge, Reparation and a Sustainable Future' to our 148 attendees, as well as hearing from UofG colleagues and students from all four colleges in lightening talks based on their own Decolonising experiences within their own fields.

I particularly welcomed the opportunity to hear the discussions around Decolonising the Curriculum and what it means for both staff and students during the panel and round table sessions. What particularly struck me during the event was the value in having spaces where staff and students can have productive conversations together and work in partnership to make progress in reflecting global perspectives within our curriculums.

On a personal level as Race Equality Champion, whilst being encouraged by the reaction and commitment to the Action Plan shown since its release, I am also aware that for some the content of the report may have been particularly difficult to read. Over the last three months, I have been liaising directly with students and staff who have contacted me with concerns or questions regarding the report. I would like to take this opportunity to assure anyone that would like to speak to me directly regarding the themes of the report that my inbox will still be open for all concerns and enquiries – please contact me via racechampion@glasgow.ac.uk.

Finally, I would like to encourage any member of our community that has been affected by racial harassment to seek support from the University; there are many avenues and resources available to you. We have a dedicated page of both internal and external support resources specifically on the topic of racial harassment, which can be found here: https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/humanresources/equalitydiversity/understandingracism/support/

Bonnie Dean

Race Equality Champion & Vice Principal of Corporate Engagement & Innovation

First published: 31 May 2021