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Race Equality Charter: Imperial College launches initial report

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A report sharing findings and recommendations from staff and students has been published as part of @ImperialCollege’s Race Equality Charter application.

I wouldn’t be interested if this was a tick-box exerciseAnique Varleighco-Chair of the REC SAT

Imperial became a member of Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter (REC) in 2018 to improve the representation, progression and success of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff and students. The REC provides higher education institutions with a framework to identify the cultural and institutional barriers that stand in the way of these staff and students.

Imperial has now published the ‘Exploring race, racism and race equity at Imperial College London’ report, which draws on findings from interviews and focus groups held with 45 staff and students in 2019.

We highlight some of the report’s recommendations and hear from members of the REC SAT on what Imperial’s application to the Race Equality Charter means to them.

Anique Varleigh

Anique Varleigh co-Chairs the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team

Exploring different experiences

In 2019, staff and students were surveyed to explore their experiences of race, racism and race equity at the College. An external consultant was commissioned to explore these findings through a series of interviews and focus groups with staff and students. Discussions covered a broad range of topics including sense of belonging, senior management commitment and everyday racism.

The report shares suggestions from staff and students which include:

  • Implement one-day face-to-face race equality training covering language, terminology, microaggressions, white privilege and allyship.
  • Create a bank of case studies of Imperial staff and students which could be used in training and to highlight the lived experience of minoritised staff and students.
  • Ensure line managers are well-trained and aware of race equity – this is crucial as they are the gatekeepers to training and development.
  • Make recruitment panels ethnically diverse, without overreliance on the same people all the time.
  • Conduct an imagery audit of the College, including physical imagery on campuses, the College’s website, publications and the prospectus.

The College’s Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team (REC SAT) – made up of staff and students from across the College – will now examine the recommendations as they work on the College’s application for the REC award.

Anique: “I wouldn’t be interested if this was a tick-box exercise”

Anique Varleigh, Head of Examinations and Assessment at Imperial College Business School, co-Chairs the REC SAT alongside Professor Stephen Curry (Assistant Provost of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion).

She said: “As co-Chair of the REC SAT, I want to make sure everyone has a chance to share their views in every meeting and to feel that they are creating real change at the College.”

“The aim of each meeting is to focus on meaningful objectives and actions. I wouldn’t be interested if this was a tick-box exercise,” she adds. “We know that the College has a lot of progress to make.”

Hugh: “Hearing different perspectives has been truly revelatory”

Professor Hugh Brady, Professor of Immunology in the Department of Life Sciences, feels that data collection and evidence is essential to creating change.

“We know there are not enough Black students applying to study at Imperial and this is something that we are trying to address,” Professor Brady explains. “Encouraging more Black students to apply will take time – it’s an issue that can’t be fixed overnight.”

Professor Brady, who is originally from Northern Ireland, says he knows what inequality and division can feel like. “Race is a very emotive subject and can lead to some very difficult conversations, and as a white person I have also had to listen to things being discussed in our REC SAT meetings that are hard to hear. But hearing different perspectives has been truly revelatory.”

Shervin: “There is a lot to unpack from these findings”

Shervin SabeghiShervin Sabeghi, Imperial College Union’s Deputy President (Welfare), says: “My role on the REC SAT is to be the student voice and ensure that student matters get recognised.”

Shervin adds: “There is a lot to unpack from these findings and it’s a very long process. I think it’s really heartening to see that there is a group of people at Imperial who are keen to make a difference and who take time outside of their day job to help craft the REC application.

“While it will be good to have the REC award to display, its main value is in the action plan that goes alongside it to address inequality at Imperial.”

Judith: “We need to help inspire future generations”

Judith CherniJudith Cherni, Research Fellow in the Centre for Environmental Policy, feels that the REC gives the self-assessment team a chance to speak about real issues.

“The people who have a story to tell should help to make the relevant arguments. I remember once visiting Edinburgh for a conference as a key note speaker and a young Latin American student met me and said: ‘wow, how inspiring to know that people like you can make it to the top!’ People who look or sound like me being in senior positions should be normal. The reality is that we had not been promoted to the top as our colleagues had been. We need to help inspire future generations and I hope the work we do as part of the self-assessment team will help.”

Looking ahead

Additional focus groups were held in July to address the need for more representation from students – particularly Black students – and a second report sharing the findings will be published in autumn.

The two reports will feed into Imperial’s REC submission and action plan, due to be submitted early next year.

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