It might seem a bit like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic to speak about the kinds of campaigns I’m supporting this year given the wider, perhaps cataclysmic challenges facing UK higher education from the fallout to Brexit and the likely passing of the HE Bill.
Despite that, it’s important not to lose sight of the need to reform our institutions and the sector at large. The big campaign I’m championing this year is the widespread adoption of the Race Equality Charter.
The case for enhancing race equality in UK higher education is fairly airtight. Among others, I’d highlight Professor Kalwant Bhopal’s work on BAME academic flight and Dr Nicola Rollock’s research into microagression in academia.
Spot the exception
Given the progress made by Athena Swan for gender equality in HE, it’s concerning that that just 27 institutions have signed up to the Race Equality Charter (set up by the Equalities Challenges Unit). Nine have already become awardees (members must apply within 3 years of signing up).
Embarrassingly, my institution, the University of Southampton, is not one of those (and that despite the fact that our Vice Chancellor is our Diversity & Equality Champion…)
Reform, or pay
I’ve said before that unless REC adoption is tied to funding -as Athena Swan is – it won’t work as well as it needs to. Without the stick of funding restrictions, HEIs will not have sufficient incentives to join or conduct the internal reforms necessary to pass audits.
My worry is that applying for the Race Equality Charter will progress slower than other equality campaigns because BAME academics are notoriously reluctant to identify themselves as such, for fear of becoming labelled as troublemakers playing the race card in a bastion of liberal tolerance. Unspoken – but unmistakable – is the incredulity that anyone could ever accuse universities of any kind of institutionalised prejudice, let alone racism.
Silence = betrayal
By failing to speak for ourselves we risk allowing the campaign for racial equality to disappear. At the same time as the LGBTQ community is showing admirable solidarity and organising effectively, BAME academic staff seem afraid to raise themselves above the parapet.
Martin Luther King Jr told us that silence ultimately becomes betrayal. We are betraying ourselves and future generations of BAME academics by failing to speak up, but we now have a campaign to mobilise behind, and standards to demand.