“We need to stop fearing the differences and understand, embrace, and celebrate students”

Last month, Intersol Global’s Hazel George attended AMOSSHE’s ‘Creating an Anti-Racist Culture’ in Higher Education conference. Hazel is a highly-skilled investigator and trainer, with vast experience conducting high stakes and complex investigations into racial, homophobic, and religious issues. We asked Hazel to share her key takeaways from the conference, hosted by AMOSSHE, who we are proud to sponsor. 

Achieving an anti-racist culture in Higher Education Conference – a review by Hazel George, an Intersol Investigator…

Attending the AMOSSHE Conference it was great to see a willingness to review and potentially change mindsets, policies, and structures within the University setting, as well as acknowledging that some policies and structures can be problematic to achieving an Anti-racist culture. There appeared to be efforts being made to implement a new way of doing things and changing outdated practices.

It was also great to see so many young people speaking out for change, making the step for the next generation may be that little bit smoother. From an investigators perspective, the policies and the culture of the University must be in sync. There is no point in have an ‘all singing all dancing’ shiny Race policy if the people within the University do not stand by it, or recognise their mindset and behaviour breach the policy in some way. All the Universities have policies that cover race, some have a stand-alone policy, while others sit within other policies like harassment. So, I ask the question if these policies exist and are adhered to, why are we getting so much work?

The need for transparency is key, hiding behind policies and structures can be damaging, especially if those policies & structures are flawed. The needs of any student being victimised by race are paramount and when the response by the University is hidden behind their policies, there will more than likely be an issue.

Key Speaker Takeaways

  • Gurnam Singh who spoke about decolonisation gave a history of why Higher Learning environments may hold outdated views and structures, it is good to know how you got there as well as knowing where you are going.
  • Stuart Lawrence challenged our mindsets around how we listen and what we hear. He also reinforces the idea that race training is not enough, just ticking that box every year does not change anything. If we don’t act on it, it is a pointless exercise. Mindset is built over our whole existence and is not going to be changed in a day.
  • Geoff Palmer again spoke about people in positions that may impact a student affected by race and posed the question “if a student of colour had a problem would they feel comfortable talking to me?

Effective policies do not equal an anti-racist culture. People’s mindset, behaviour and actions will do more to promote it.

An Anti-Racist culture should be the norm, we should all strive for this, not only for Higher Education but in every single environment. The reason why this doesn’t happen is vast, referring to publications such as ‘Broken Pipeline’ ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’ & ‘Unpacking the invisible knapsack’ shows how we still have a way to go.

No student should be made to feel lesser than another student, no student should be made to feel uncomfortable because they have different colour skin, a different culture, a different religion. I was going to write ‘No student should be made to feel different, but the truth is, some students are different, and their needs are different, the way they are seen is different, the way they see things are different, and the way they feel is different, we need to stop fearing the differences and understand, embrace, and celebrate students. Treating everyone the same can be problematic. Years ago, the Metropolitan Police stated officers should treat all members of the public all the same, which later changed to everyone should be treated according to their needs. What is okay for a white student does not automatically translate as okay for a Black student. There should and must be a willingness to see things from a different perspective.

The spoken word is powerful, and knowledge is power, by speaking out, your truth is known, people know where you stand.

Being a bystander or sitting on the fence allows bad behaviour to remain unchallenged.

Many years ago I was ‘seeing’ a white English man who I worked with. During his lunch hour, he was sitting with a group of his work colleagues with who he had got on well. Although a new relationship, it was common knowledge we were an item. During lunch, one of the Lads told a very offensive racist joke using the “N” word. Everyone at the table laughed (except my partner at the time) but he didn’t say anything to the group… but one of the things he said after was “why did they think it was OK to tell that joke in my presence?” The truth is because they thought he would be OK with it and by not speaking out it would probably occur again. Speaking out allows people to know where and what you stand for.

Organisations like AMOSSHE, that speak out, give confidence and support to those affected by race, whilst confidently challenging those that do not strive for an anti-racist culture. It is important to hear the voices and these voices should have an equal platform.