Equalities Officer Update

0th Week -- Hilary 2021

Over the past year, under impossible circumstances, all members of the College – from Provost to brand-new first-year to alumni from years ago – have made sure that Worcester continues to be a place where everyone can thrive. Despite the challenges of 2020, we all have made real, material advances toward making this place a more equitable, more inclusive place for all of us. We all understand that there is a long, difficult way to go. But it’s worth recognizing what we’ve done, even under the most baffling of circumstances, and I hope we can take these achievements as a sign of what’s possible for the future.

Below is a brief summary of what we all have done this past year, as well as a description of what remains for us to do. All of this progress has been thanks to the work of colleagues across all constituencies of the College, working behind the scenes (and, more often than not, alone at home). 

In June 2020, Governing Body established the position of Equalities Officer and appointed me to that post. I did a series of interviews of people from every constituency of the College – staff, academics, undergraduates, graduates, and alumni. The clearest signal I heard was that there was a good amount of excellent work being done at the College, but we needed to connect those efforts to build critical mass. Most importantly, without a coherent focus and mission in this area, important concerns and problems were often lost, leading to lack of trust that the College took these concerns seriously. We needed to address this incoherence at once. We convened an Action Group with representatives from all constituencies, and since June we have seen the following changes.

 

Equity and Governance

Over Michaelmas Term, we developed a proposal for new policies and procedures for academic hiring to increase diversity on Governing Body, with a focus on Black academics in particular; these policies will go up for approval in Hilary Term. We have improved our implementation of all policies and procedures relating to harassment and discipline in our Handbooks, and we are revising them for all Handbooks for 2021/22. And we have placed ‘Equity and Inclusivity’ as a standing item on all College agendas.

 

Equity and College Life

We hired a superb Learning Development Officer to increase our ability to teach and learn from students from all backgrounds. The Learning Development Officer also administers the new Equal Access to Learning Fund, which ensures that every student has what they need to succeed. We increased the student support budget more generally, thanks to the singular focus of the Development Office’s Giving Day 2020 on student support. Governing Body formally committed to join the Black Academic Futures scholarship programme for graduate students. We have significantly rewritten the welfare page on the College website, articulating our mission more clearly, and we have a new Equalities drop-down to foreground this work. We have set up termly meetings between the JCR and Equalities Officer to continuously review the culture, materials, and activities of undergraduate life in light of our equalities objectives. And in Freshers’ Week, the JCR led an anti-racism training for all members. 

In addition, the Community, Equity, and Decolonisation Fund made its newest call for proposals, funding projects for the winter and spring. (Keep an eye out for an announcement of the recipients, as well as a new call for proposals later this month.) The Fund allowed Worcester to work with LMH on Black Histories and Futures; its first event, an evening of readings by Bajan poets in December, was a huge success. 

 

Equity and Academic Life

At the start of Michaelmas, the entire Worcester faculty held a professional development session in which we engaged in workshops on how to practice inclusive admissions, as well as anti-racist and inclusive teaching. The Library launched its superb exhibit on Decolonising the Library Shelves, which had members from all over College advocating anti-racist books in their fields; the Library purchased all of them. (See https://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/students/college-library/decolonising-library-....) In addition, the Library, the JCR, and the MCR pitched in for a College subscription to the Onyx journal, which you should be able to find in the Library and Common Rooms.

 

What’s Ahead

The Action Group will reconvene for Hilary Term, and we plan to conduct a new series of interviews to understand what the College needs now. We know we need bystander training to empower ourselves to ensure safety and justice in our everyday lives. We hope to conduct a welfare survey by the end of the academic year. We plan to conduct a formal review of all induction materials and programmes for MT21. And we hope, once the pandemic is over, to launch a speaker series at the College. In addition, whatever we learn from you and from our interviews will be added to our list.

 

As always, if you have concerns or questions related to equity and inclusivity, you can reach me at equalities.officer@worc.ox.ac.uk

Yours,

Michael Mayo