Over a tumultuous past year, antiracist activism ushered in both novel and renewed conversations around standards, values, and possible avenues for change within our academic and global worlds. As the FERSA Blog editorial team, we were keen for the blog to be a space to explore these subjects. Upon reaching out to a few students who had been active in such discussions, we found that some reported feeling twice-burdened: by the plight of personal experience and by a responsibility to explain or to act. We therefore decided to seek out opportunities to engage broader perspectives from our Faculty community on diversity, inclusion, and antiracism.

In February 2021, we invited attendees of a workshop titled “Conversations on Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism” to reflect on three questions* with the goal of collating anonymous responses into a blog post. The workshop was open to any interested staff and students at the Faculty of Education, and thus presented an opportunity to explore a broad array of perspectives. Of over 40 workshop participants, 14 people shared their thoughts. 

We were moved by the sincerity, concern, and struggles that respondents shared, given that engaging with and discussing such personal topics is, for many of us, still a work in progress. We carefully considered how to fairly and honestly represent these views, selecting quotes that could highlight the breadth of perspectives present in our community as well as the feelings that these topics bring forth. These responses are from a small subset of people and represent a range of viewpoints. We hope these reflections can be a part of ongoing conversations as we move forward.

Motivation to attend

A word cloud reflecting participants’ reasons for attending the workshop. “Develop understanding”, “Learn”, “Dissatisfaction with Faculty response”, “Focus on Faculty”, and “Have conversations” feature prominently.
A word cloud reflecting participants’ reasons for attending the workshop

Key reflections

Attendees reflected on the workshop’s themes, recognising the importance of changes that have been made following recent interventions and campaigns:

I appreciated the honesty of those who said that they had previously believed anti-racism / decolonisation wasn’t relevant to their work because they “didn’t research race”, and how their mind had been changed thanks to student-led interventions.” – Student

“In the last few months, I became much more aware of issues of diversity, racism and inclusion – at the level of the Faculty, University, other institutions, and also in my own research. I was keen to learn more about the topic: getting more familiar with the nuances in the terminology, hearing people’s views and experiences, and finding out about strategies I could use in my own work/life to reduce these inequalities.” – Student

Some attendees reported being introduced to new ways of thinking and considering their own roles in this movement:

[T]his is only the start of my journey. I was educated to believe that racial injustices were stories of the past and I was not exposed to (or, should I say, did not see) much evidence to think otherwise. It’s just been in the past few months that I became aware of contemporary stories of racism, and realised how naive and oblivious I had been to these issues. It is still difficult for me to partake in these dialogues because they are grounded in uncomfortable feelings of guilt about my previous assumptions, and I still fear that I ‘don’t get it’. Therefore, expressing any thoughts on the topic feels like a very risky thing to do – not that I don’t want to, but more that I don’t know how to do it ‘right’. This session made me realise that it’s fine to feel this way, and that the simple act to attend this session was a small but important step in the right direction.” – Student

“I need to consider how I can use my white privilege to help people who are under-represented to feel like they can be their best possible selves.” – Student

There were expressions of concern that there has not been enough progress in addressing racism and supporting diversity and inclusion:

“The ignorance of some senior staff members who were not versed in even the basics of antiracism. I get that these forums should be a space to ask ‘silly questions’ – although I think if white comfort is being centred in this way it should be clear from the event advertising so BIPOC participants can decide whether they want to be exposed to the ignorance of their colleagues – but these are professional researchers and this is their job! Their ignorance is really concerning.” – Student

“I would like to know how we, as students, can bring the importance of anti-racism training closer to certain Faculty members who seem to so far have been blind to the issue.” – Student

“[I am dissatisfied] with the almost non-existent response of the Faculty of Education […] to the FERSA open letter on racism, the still unavailable anti-racism training for staff (very much needed in cases), and the general response of the Faculty and particularly certain senior faculty members to issues of anti-racism” – Student

“What will it take to see genuine change in the Faculty?” – Staff member

“[B]y demanding anti-racism (and anti-bias) [training] for staff (and students), we do not demand too much. We still need to do much more to be fully inclusive.” – Student

Wooden cabin with sunflower graffiti and painted words "Always room to grow"
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Hope and moving forwards

Many voiced that there is still work to be done in addressing systemic racism and discrimination, both internally and externally:

“[How can we] make sure that these sort of conversations remain ongoing so that changes can actually happen in the long term[?]” – Student

“Faculty needs to invest in this, need ongoing work with students and staff, need for better communication, more support needed for black students, need to lobby for reform to admissions and hiring processes, transparency in reporting processes of racism and response to these is urgently needed.”  – Staff member

“[D]ifferent strategies for improving the culture in the Faculty (but also psychology research more generally) includes many different initiatives and approaches. [I]t is not just one answer or one set of resources or events, but rather having a variety of things [that] promote a change in culture.” – Staff member

“I am also interested to see how we can all start to make an effort and move in the right direction to change institutional, structural and other forms of racism and discrimination that we have. I would like this change to start by me, and I hope that if this change can start by many, that it will become apparent.” – Staff member

Many thanks to the staff and students who took the time to share their reflections and opinions with us for this piece, and to the PELS (Psychology, Education, and Learning Studies) team for allowing us to distribute our questionnaire following their workshop. We actively support ongoing and future endeavours that will enhance diversity, inclusion, and antiracism within our community, and hope that the FERSA Blog can continue to be an open space for people to voice their thoughts and experiences. If you would like to share your perspectives or reflections on the issues raised in this piece, please reach out to the FERSA Blog editors at fersablog@gmail.com.

*Participants were asked the following questions:

  1. What was your reason(s) for attending this session?
  2. Were there key themes or ideas that you will take away from this session? Are there any that are salient to you, personally?
  3. At the close of this session, are you left with any thoughts or questions that have remained unaddressed? Anything you are still wondering or wanting to know more about?
Posted by:fersacambridge

https://twitter.com/fersacambridge

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