ARAW policy session: Structural racism in academic spaces
25 March 2021
This roundtable was one of many events of the Anti-Racism Awareness Week in March 2021. This particular event was on structural racism in academic spaces and was co-organised by the Radboud University Network on Migrant Inclusion (RUNOMI) and the DEI office. It brought together representatives of various academic institutions that are making efforts to encounter racism within their organizations. The event was held via Zoom and 49 people participated.
The DEI strategist Rolla Jualla-van Oudenhoven and RUNOMI officer Linda Sloane opened the session. Although RUNOMI is not a network specifically on racism, many RUNOMI members are doing research on issues that are closely connected with race, such as the racialized myths of Black athletes in post-war Europe; the social working of anti-discrimination law; polarization and anti-immigrant attitudes; the coloniality of migration; and health disparities and culturally sensitive health care. Moreover, RUNOMI is a network on migrants who are often, as are their descendants, a racialized group and/or victims of racism.
The goal of this session was to share experiences and best practices of encountering structural racism in academic spaces and envision possibilities for Radboud University together with the audience and the speakers.
Parvati Raghuram (IMISCOE, The Open University), Sas Amoah (The Open University) and Arnold Lubbers (Dutch Research Council, NWO) were invited to share their experiences of measures against racism that were implemented in their organizations. Parvati Raghuram focused in her presentation on the international network IMISCOE, but also gave a short overview of anti-racism work at The Open University that comes into play in four categories: governance; well-being; teaching and curriculum; and meetings. At IMISCOE, a group of engaged migration scholars came together to formulate concrete steps towards racial justice and equality in research (institutes and communities) in the aftermath of the global Black Live Matters movement in 2020:
- Reflect: Parvati Raghuram pointed out that IMSICOE is starting out with a reflection, asking critically how the network represents itself and what has been done so far regarding anti-racism and working towards an inclusive policy of IMISCOE’s annual conference.
- Represent: She then moved to the importance of representation of Black people and people of colour in all IMSCOE bodies and committees, at IMSCOE events and within citation practices in research.
- Redress: Here, the focus lies on learning about structural racism and racial inequalities by establishing a seminar series. Moreover, IMISCOE strives to facilitate and support researchers that want to enhance a critical perspective on racism, coloniality and discrimination; and to improve access to IMISCOE activities and events for scholars in the global South.
- Review: Publishing annual reports on the before-mentioned steps including a reflection on IMISCOE as a network and in all its components from communications to PhD training is the last step of the IMISCOE programme
Parvati Raghuram closed her presentation with an outlook of steps that can be taken globally, saying that locating the issues, comparing them and policies, and finally collaborating internationally are important.
Sas Amoah then presented the impressive work at The Open University where he was part of the committee that organized a Black History Month in 2020. Each week focused on a different question concerning racism through a range of online-meetings between of staff, students and teachers:
- What do we know: During this week, The Open University looked at their curriculum at various faculties and examined their data on Black students and staff in the STEM disciplines
- What do we not know: Whiteness, Black feminist thinking, reflections on race at The Open University and stories of race and policing in the UK and USA were topics of the second week, highlighting issues that are perhaps not known to a broader public.
- What we need to know: Sas then pointed out what is necessary to know, saying that the third week covered topics ranging of decolonising the curriculum, the value of Black and ethnic minority history and strengthening racial equity using international partnerships.
- What to do next: During the final week, the events focused on practical approaches such as pointing out the barriers to access for BAME people, how to build representation in STEM disciplines and career progression. Moreover, a session on why Black students are less likely to choose The Open University than other universities was organized, as well as a networking event for BAME law students.
Sas reflected on the aims of the week that went from a celebratory event to awareness and understanding of Black culture to a hub for developing racial inclusivity, including some testimonies of teachers and students. He also presented the Race and Ethnicity Hub which is an online learning tool accessible to all to learn more about issues that were raised during the week. The Black History Month talks are also available online.
Next to the Black History Month, The Open University developed policy proposals in support of BAME staff. These ranged from a Race Equality Charter Mark; reverse mentoring; enhancing BAME representation in senior management; increased diversity in recruitment; to a weekly personal development hour; information sessions for BAME staff and an inclusive curriculum.
The next presentation was by Arnold Lubbers. He presented the work that has been done within the Dutch Research Council to combat inequality in either grant procedures or academia in general. The NWO has not included anti-racism anywhere in its policies (yet), but increasingly includes diversity and inclusion policies. For example, the strategic agenda of NWO includes the acknowledgment that scholars and scientists with a non-western background are underrepresented in Dutch academia. Last year the council was one of the signatories of the National Action Plan on Diversity and Inclusion in Academic Education and Research. Arnold told us that a colleague of his has co-developed a video intended for external reviewers and assessment committee members on bias and on how to account for bias when assessing very different profiles and research projects against each other. He also said that the council is now analysing the in-house data to check who gets positive or negative reviews. Moreover, the council provides applicants with the option to present who they are as a researches, focusing on what is important to them, instead of quantitative information that is usually asked in these processes. Arnold named a few specific programmes where he is personally involved, such as the Mosaic-programme that has the aim of having more graduates from minority groups entering sciences. He also presented some of the options he would like to develop in the future, such as a fair for high school students organized in collaboration with Black scholars in The Netherlands. Interestingly, although working for a national organization and therefore presenting a national agenda, Arnold also reflected on his personal influences and possibilities as an individual in an academic institutions. He pointed out that his own influence takes shape when he seek scholars for the formation of committees; looks for reviewers for applications; forms networks with scholars through attending lectures, meetings and so on. “I consider myself to be part of a group effort, even though the focus in Dutch academia is on competition and the individual, I place myself in the service of others and seek ways to rectify what I consider to be an unequal and unjust situation”, Arnold said in his closing statement.
Following these presentations, we invited Daniël Wigboldus, president of the Radboud University executive board, to give some remarks. Daniël Wigboldus started out his presentation by tapping into his background as a social psychologist, giving a psychological account of the brain that is organizing input. He showed us several examples that visualized how the brain is continuously looking for categorizations that it already knows. He concluded that it is necessary to teach and learn how to take perspective of one another, seeing that this is an ability that is developed during childhood. It is thus something that we can learn. Daniël then pointed out the efforts that Radboud is currently making, mainly awareness undertakings such as the Anti-Racism Awareness Week.
After the presentation, Rona and Linda welcomed the audience to ask their questions, but first invited them to indicate via mentimeter if they think anti-racism policies could be effective at Radboud University. It turned out that 57% of the people who used mentimeter agreed upon the effectiveness of anti-racism polices.
Although that being the majority, it already showed that the audience was not completely convinced of the potential of anti-racism policies at Radboud. During the open conversation, however, it became evident that this is perhaps not due to the nature of the policies, but the commitment they partially see lacking at the university. The audience critically compared the different presentations, seeing a gap between the best practices from IMISCOE, The Open University and the NWO on one hand, and the current situation at Radboud University on the other. Some participants also shared their frustrations about the pace of change which they regard to be too slow, seeing that they have been advocating for change since 10 years, and called for an expansion of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office at Radboud to cover the depth and importance of these issues appropriately.
Daniël Wigboldus reflected on this critique by acknowledging that what has been done at Radboud so far is not enough, but that the Anti-Racism Awareness Week and the recent appointment of the DEI Strategist Rona Jualla-van Oudenhoven are a promising beginning. He also pointed out the possible obstacles of implementing some of the mentioned best-practices into the Dutch context. For instance, is it not allowed to document the ethnic background of students and employees, which makes it difficult to measure policy implementations regarding diversity of staff and students like The Open University did. A comment in the Zoom-chat referred to the difference between policy and practice. The moderators concluded that the triangle between vision (what should be done), policy (what needs to be done) and practice (what is being done) is important to look at when thinking of countering structural racism in academic spaces.
Regarding the goal of the session, it was very interesting to listen to the various examples of policies and interventions on various levels (international, national, personal) and surely inspiring for Radboudians as well. However, it was difficult for some to envision the possibilities for Radboud University as they see a discrepancy between what Radboud wants to achieve and what they are currently investing. Throughout the week, tangible areas for Radboud to critically reflect on structural racism became apparent, for instance when it comes to knowledge production, space/campus, staff representation and language/vocabulary. These areas could be looked at by means of the above mentioned triangle (vision – policy – practice). Moreover, based on this session, we conclude that Radboud could benefit from further exchange with other universities and academic organizations that are actively countering structural racism within their organisations, and from further investing in a dialogue between Radboud staff and policy-makers.
RUNOMI and the DEI-office would like to thank all speakers and participants for their input and comments that contributed to this very honest and ‘courageous conversation’, as DEI strategist Rona Jualla-van Oudenhoven puts it.
Prof. Daniël Wigboldus has a background in Social Psychology and has been President of the Radboud University Executive Board since 1 May 2017. He is currently the holder of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion portfolio at Radboud University.
Prof. Parvati Raghuram is affiliated with the Open University and member of the IMISCOE executive board. She is leading the Anti-Racism Working Group within IMISCOE that issued a statement on structural racism and racial justice in the context of Black Lives Matter in November 2020. In this statement, they expressed their solidarity with the BLM movement and used this moment to reflect on ways in which the network and affiliated universities and networks an strive racial justice and equality in research and in practices as a research community. They offer concrete steps for IMISCOE to engage in an anti-racist agenda. See the full statement here.
Dr Arnold Lubbers is programme/policy officer involved in various programmes at the Dutch Research Council (NWO) that concern diversity and inclusion. He is project leader of the ‘Impulse Programme for Inclusion in Academia’ that includes the programmes 'Mosaic' and ‘Hestia – Impulse for Refugees in Science’. On behalf of the Domain Social Sciences and Humanities he is currently also programme/policy officer of the ‘NWO Talent Programme Vici ’ and the ‘Caribbean Research: a Multidisciplinary Approach'. He participates in the international Community of Practice ‘Funding Organisations for Gender Equality (FORGEN)’.
Sas Amoah has been Co-chair of The Open University’s Black and Minority Ethnic network for 10 years. He works closely with different departments within the university advising on how to support Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff in addition to reviewing policy designed to increase the representation of underrepresented in senior roles.
Radboud University’s Diversity, Equitiy and Inclusion Officer Rona Julla-van Oudenhoven and RUNOMI officer Linda Sloane were moderating this session.