Working against racism – Committing to change at Warwick
The following is a joint blog written by Stuart Croft and Larissa Kennedy, SU Education Officer
In the work on Warwick’s new strategy, we have committed ourselves to being an exceptional university. Of course, that means exceptional in our research and in our education, as that is the core of any Higher Education institution. But that alone is not enough. We must be exceptional in a number of areas - and one of the most important has to be how we work and live together.
Over the past few years, universities in the United Kingdom have seen a number of racist incidents. Unfortunately, Warwick has not been an exception. However, while we must show zero tolerance to racism, we must also understand more subtle measures of exclusion - often unconscious in nature - and talk openly about how to address them so that we become an institution where intercultural experiences are discussed, talked about, shared, and celebrated.
The starting point though, has to be confronting racism. We initially addressed this in the light of a very distressing incident a while back, and now want to share our work in this area so far.
We have begun a debate at Warwick to try to understand much, much more about the barriers that prevent inclusivity, and what steps each and every one of us can take to address these. Last year, we brought together a group of staff and students to explore what instances of racism BAME members of our community were experiencing. This exploration shows us that it is not solely overt racist slurs that are the issue – though, clearly, such comments must be called out and dealt with effectively.
However, we also see systemic, institutionalised and covert issues – from an example of the study options open to students (which can often be based on a historic, white narrative) and the challenges some staff and students face in challenging the established curriculum, to basic manners of learning individuals’ names and preferred forms of address. The effect can be to leave individuals feeling isolated, not supported, disillusioned and without a clear pathway to get a resolution. To compound this, we have staff who do not feel confident in identifying where colleagues and students need help, as well as individuals feeling worn down by a pattern of actions, comments and language that are invisible to others.
We are now seeing excellent examples of positive initiatives across the University – for example, intercultural training for students developed by the Centre for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and International Student Office is now being rolled out to train staff, while the ‘Colonial hangover’ widening participation programme run through the department of Politics and International Studies (PAIS) is working with a number of schools to decolonise the curricula. These initiatives should be celebrated and embraced for their thoughtfulness and empathy.
We proactively support student communities in getting their voice heard on such matters. The recent Warwick Speak Out campaign - a joint venture between the SU and Warwick Anti-Racism Society - created an online reporting tool for racist incidents, so that we now have a better understanding of the issues facing our students. The Hidden Histories Alternative Lecture Series also gives a platform to academic narratives and discourses which are often neglected or even deliberately erased from mainstream curricula. For those interested in being involved with this type of work, elections for the SU’s Liberation & Diversity Exec are coming up in October.
Though there is still much to be done, these examples show the value of the debate: using open and honest dialogue across the University to share experiences, discuss issues and find better ways of engaging with each other – all the while providing the world-class educational experience we aspire to. To that end, we want to share with you a poem from Faith Denya, a student involved in the Colonial Hangover project:
Teach me your heroes
Your heroes, that ordered the enslavement of my heroes,
Your heroes that massacred the mothers and fathers of my heroes,
Your heroes that fought and tortured and created a system to dehumanize, ostracize and spread lies.
You want to teach me your history?
The one that wiped out my history? Brainwashed and made me forget my ancestry - all in the name of colony.
The history that asks no questions and never mentions the pain, blood and tears of those you captured to create your history.
Instead of slaves in chains, we became slaves to ignorance and I refuse to let that be my history.
Stuart and Larissa Kennedy