In October 2020, The Open University’s BME network put on over 30 events for Black History month, facilitated by colleagues from all four faculties and other units across the university. One of the events was a full-day online conference, which was focused on Reflecting on Race.
The event was opened by Dr Liz Marr, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Students with a short video focusing on the challenges we face in relation to race and ethnicity at The Open University. Liz calls for us to ‘listen, to reflect and keep the conversation going until it results in actions and change.’
Celebrating Black History Month at the OU
The next session by Sas Amoah (Co-Chair of the OU’s BME network) and Joan Simons (Associate Dean, Teaching Excellence and OU Equality Diversity and Inclusion academic lead) focused on the origins of Black History Month and presented notable black academics who are recognised and admired by the four faculties for their outstanding contributions across a range of disciplines.
Queens’ Counsel Leonard Woodley, whose lasting legacy is a scholarship in his name at Inner Temple given to Black or Asian pupils to promote greater diversity at the bar, was put forward by the Faculty of Business and Law.
The late Andrea Levy, an acclaimed author who explored topics related to British Jamaicans, and how they negotiate racial, cultural and national identities, was put forward by the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies.
Evelyn Boyd Granville, the second African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from an American University, was put forward by the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.
Mariame Kaba, a US-based organiser, educator and curator, was put forward by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences for her work on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex and transformative justice and supporting youth leadership development.
Race Equality Charter: Lessons Learned
The next session involved a presentation by Professor Marcia Wilson from the University of East London on her experience of leading a successful submission for the Race Equality Charter.
Marcia gave a very engaging presentation that outlined the two-and-a-half-year journey to a successful submission, which involved the inclusion of voices from every aspect of the University of East London. Nineteen events were held, one of which was a conference of 700 staff and students. A survey was run which resulted in the six themes of Culture, Bullying and Harassment, Learning and Teaching, Employability, Staff Progression and Recruitment and Selection. Marcia explained the lessons learned through the process.
Decolonising the Curriculum
Next, Dr Jenny Douglas, Senior Lecturer in Health Promotion, presented her work on the ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ movement and current critiques.
Jenny outlined the history and context of her work and the distinction between Decolonising the Curriculum and an inclusive curriculum, along with the need to address the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students’ awarding gap. Jenny also explained what the national picture is and how other universities are tackling the need for an inclusive curriculum. Jenny then explained the OU Inclusive Curriculum Tool and outlined the dos and don’ts of the ‘decolonising’ process.
Race Equality at the OU
The afternoon session was opened by Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Blackman who reiterated that race equality is a priority for The Open University, discussing his own experiences and some of the initiatives that have been shown to work in relation to EDI, such as gender equality by design. The Vice Chancellor stated that for the OU to move towards race equality, we need more role models and to redesign processes. Diversity is a resource and we need to appreciate our differences.
Staff Views: Let’s Talk about Race and Working at the OU
Ola Fodaju, Associate Lecturer and Staff Tutor gave a moving presentation on his findings when he ran an online discussion thread on the Associate Lecturers Common Room forum, focusing on race. Ola found that a small number of colleagues expressed some unacceptable views, which were countered by other AL colleagues. There were also posts from colleagues explaining difficult experiences they had encountered. Examples of good practice elsewhere were also put forward.
Student Views: BAME Students’ Views on Studying at the OU
Patrice Belton, Vice President of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, OU Student Association, presented the findings of three focus group discussions which she ran with students who are members of the OU Student Association Black Asian and Minority Ethnic group. One of the key messages was ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’, referring to the lack of Black, Asian or minority Ethnic students or staff at the OU, and the lack of role models for students. Students reported feeling unvalued and the need to keep their ‘cultural side’ separate from their western side. The presentation also included some very positive comments from students about the University and its open entry policy.
The Poetry Competition had a great response from across the University. The results were announced and the two runners up and the winner read their amazing poems.
The launch of Joan Armatrading Award which has been set up by FASS colleagues, was announced followed by a short video from Joan Armatrading.
The last session of the day included a panel discussion where all speakers responded to questions sent in from colleagues across the OU.
The day was well evaluated with colleagues asking to hear more from students next year.