It is important for us to be accountable for our actions, and to share the reasons that lay behind making decisions. In this spirit, we are sharing the paper that went to the Humanities Planning and Resources Committee in July 2020, as it represents the Divisional thinking behind, and support for, this work.
Humanities Equality and Diversity Forum: Race Action Plan 2020-21
In line with our systemic strategic approach to Equality and Diversity, we plan to establish an explicitly intersectional E&D Forum, with broad representation, which will target particular work streams for each academic year. This will facilitate the setting of achievable practical targets whilst cumulatively working to embed cultural change and develop and share good practice.
The emphasis is on what can distinctively and constructively be done best at divisional level, whilst dovetailing with individual faculties' strategies. Such an interdisciplinary/cross-cultural approach, reinforcing a stronger Humanities identity, has been welcomed by staff and students. As the largest Humanities Division in the country, we have an important advocacy role within and beyond the University in cultural debate and public policy. It is crucial that we benefit from hearing the widest possible range of critical voices as we develop our ideas and values.
For 2020-21 the work will be focused on a Race Action Plan. The urgency of the need for progress to be made in this area is obvious, and there is real scope to harness collective energy. The ground has been laid through a broad-ranging series of conversations and brainstorming meetings over the summer, with faculties (staff and students), library staff, University networks, the CTL, and Oxford SU.
Decolonising the curriculum
The following tangible aids to reflection on a more systemic de-colonisation of the curriculum will be in place by the beginning of MT, with the intention of supporting what faculties are already doing, as well as fruitfully sharing ideas across the division:
- Communication of existing lecture provision which raises broad methodological questions – e.g. introducing critical thinking about race - which would be pertinent to all Humanities subjects.
- A parallel mapping process to provide information about relevant research strands and networks within or across faculties.
- Highlighting of Bodleian staff work on LibGuides and advice on use of SOLO, in order to enhance effective browsing research by students.
- The establishment of a digital platform on Microsoft Teams as a collaborative resource for Humanities students and tutors to post requests for advice on reading/viewing/listening for particular topics, and to share ideas. This is multi-stranded, and non-prescriptive. It has potential to provide support for a broader project (and/or series of faculty-specific projects) of collaborative co-creation between students and tutors of easily updatable reading-lists, which could have practical, pedagogical and confidence-boosting benefits.
- A welcome email from the Head of Division will go out to all new students (u/g and p/g) [see below] at the very beginning of MT, introducing the Division, and its role and core principles, signalling its interdisciplinary and cross-cultural engagement, its interplay of different cultures and languages, and referring to the expectation that people will regard it as a foundational part of university life to take up opportunities for acquiring confidence in critical methodologies – and for learning other languages (literally and metaphorically). This message is intended to validate students coming from all backgrounds and perspectives, and represents the start of an anticipated work stream through the year on a statement of values and principles and appropriate means of QA.
- The E&D Academic Lead and Officer have initiated collaborative work with the new SU team, for whom curriculum diversification and decolonization are a key strategic priority for 2020-21.
- There have also been preliminary discussions – so far with MPLS and the Gender Equality and Athena SWAN Policy Advisor at the EDU - about the scope for producing podcasts on disciplinary histories, in order to contextualize and thus encourage critical thinking about normative assumptions.
Tackling race bias at work
The Head of Division has encouraged a commitment from all staff (academic and professional support) to take the online Tackling Race Bias at Work training, underlining how important this is as the start of a process of self-reflection across the Division.
Further key work streams for 2020/21
BME graduate scholarships and post-doctoral/ECR posts
Intensified work on BME graduate scholarships, both as an immediate action and as a core part of longer-term fund-raising; points of emphasis being partnerships with colleges, and the underlining of the importance of establishing a significant BME pipeline. Oxford’s role in training doctoral students and offering early career research posts means that there is scope to develop strategic initiatives to frame and fund not just scholarships but also post-doctoral awards.
Note: The current terms of reference of the scholarships raise broader questions about BME/BAME as a category and about the intersection with socio-economic background. This is an ongoing discussion.
This work will dovetail with and gain momentum from the Black Academic Futures scheme, announced by the University on 30 September. At the same time, the success of the Humanities PGT pilot scheme was important in making the case for the broader project.
- Further work will be done on AP/SP recruitment procedures and protocols to encourage BME applicants.
- There is also a need to prioritise the designation of posts in black (and other non-white/Global North) histories, literatures, music, art, linguistics, philosophies, religion, which will underscore a commitment to such intellectual diversity as being core to the values of the University as a whole. (Attention to language will be crucial here, too, in terms of the resonances attaching to imperial terminology, for example.) It is important that such posts are not justified in terms of their appeal to a particular cultural group, but as part of the breadth of approach appropriate to a global University. Such a commitment needs to be seen as conceptually distinct from the project to increase numbers of black and BME post-holders, whilst in fact it would be likely to make a positive impact.
Lectures/structured conversations/institutional exchanges
Facilitation and communication of intellectual cross-connections. There would be particular benefits in students moderating or co-moderating discussions, and in the building in of elements of exchange – cross-generationally, cross-culturally and inter-institutionally. There is of course scope to set up stimulating international conversations online. A series of high-profile online conversations in HT, organized under the aegis of Women in Humanities, TORCH and the Humanities Cultural Programme, as part of the centenary of the award of degrees to women in 1920, will raise critical intersectional questions under the heading Gendered Powers.
QA/statement of principles/benchmarking
Work on a QA process for E&D, and on the development of a divisional statement of principles. Such a statement will discuss conditions of trust and respect, without which nobody is confident to speak or to learn. This work will be conducted in close collaboration with faculties (and colleges).
Intersecting with this work the goal is to develop an ongoing outwardly-focused benchmarking exercise to draw on best practice in other universities and public bodies.
This area of work seems to us to be intimately related to student (and staff) welfare, and to constitute a productive way for divisional work to complement other forms of support.
Language, Terminology and Data
We have repeatedly discussed the crucial importance of language in any area of debate, but especially in the context of diversity. We need to recognise its power, and how effectively those who resist systemic change deploy it as a vehicle of resistance under the cover of sounding progressive – using apparently straightforwardly positive terms like ‘inclusion’, ‘merit’, even ‘equality’. The University uses the terminology of ‘world-leading’, which – as we know from government politics – can be a real hostage to fortune. The very structure of the debate about racism in binary terms – good vs. bad – occludes the systemic problems, and thus plays into the hands of those pushing back against change. The politics and functionality of BME/BAME/POC/black are a clear area of sensitivity. We propose a debate early in the new academic year to air these issues – which are intellectually central to all our fields. Contributions from colleagues who work on translation or linguistics will be particularly valuable.
There are analogous concerns about the way in which we collect and use data, and here it seems particularly important to separate out discrete issues:
(i) the need to have access divisionally and at faculty level to data which has been gathered, even if some of the figures cannot be used publicly for data protection reasons.
(ii) the concerns about the reductive nature of the categories used, and the potential of questions to offend and/or to elicit non-response (cf. the offensiveness of binary gender questions) should be taken seriously - and acknowledgement of this recognition should continue to be pressed on the University and indeed beyond. It is not per se a Humanities question, although we should be vocal in articulating the nature of the problem.
(iii) at the same time, there is a bureaucratic as well as political demand for data which map onto government/HEFCE categorisation.
(iv) the small numbers argue for divisional-level (rather than faculty-level) public discussion of any investigation involving statistics.