University commits to creating greater race equity

The University of Leeds has this week reaffirmed its clear intent to be an anti-racist institution, starting a comprehensive programme of activity to create greater race equity. 

Three people talking on the Parkinson Steps

The University is participating in the Race Equality Charter (REC), a national recognition scheme that is designed to help dismantle barriers to racial justice in higher education and improve the representation, experiences, progression and success of staff and students from racially minoritised ethnic groups.

The Race Equality Charter gives institutions a way to find, reflect on, and remove barriers that hold back racially minoritised staff and students. It looks at all parts of an institution, including academic and research staff, support staff, and students at all levels.

The guiding principles of the Race Equality Charter recognise that racism is an everyday facet of UK society, individuals from all ethnic backgrounds must benefit equally from the opportunities the higher education sector affords, actions must be aimed at achieving transformational and long-term institutional culture change, staff and students from racially minoritised ethnic backgrounds are not a homogeneous group and embracing intersectionality can better support institutions to tackle racism within the higher education sector. 

The University of Leeds is taking a unique approach to REC, prioritising the difficult, but necessary work of building a campus-wide community that will drive systemic change at every level.

University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Simone Buitendijk said: "To fully reflect and serve all members of our diverse community, we must acknowledge where bias still exists and where we currently fall short - and then commit together to do better through a systemic, comprehensive approach across our whole institution, led from the top but pushed from all levels. 

“The Race Equality Charter provides us with a framework to critically examine our policies, practices and culture as they relate to race and ethnicity. This work is an important step in living our values as an institution that strives for equity, inclusion and social justice.

"The process will not always be comfortable, but leaning into that discomfort is the only way we can create meaningful, sustainable change. We owe it to our community of students and staff to create an environment where everyone feels they belong and has the opportunity to thrive."

Fiona McClement, Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion added: “Institutions do not transform themselves. It takes collective courage, humility, persistence and compassion to close the gap between rhetoric and aspiration, and the lived reality of those who are marginalised and under-served by our systems, culture and practice at the University of Leeds. 

“Our approach to REC is one of collaboration and co-creation. It is going to be a privilege to work alongside such a dynamic, bold, diverse and knowledgeable team who will be overseeing our participation in REC and ensuring we never unwittingly slip into performative gestures.”

Our Race Equality Charter ambition was launched at an event on Tuesday 10 October, hosted by Dr Kendi Guantai, Associate Professor & University Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Author, philosopher, social justice and human rights advocate-activist, educator and founder of The Center for the HumanSpirit and Radical Reimagining, Dr David W. Robinson-Morris, gave an address at the launch event, speaking about his work to radically reimagine diversity, equity, and inclusion toward racial justice and systemic transformation.

Speaking after the event, Dr Robinson-Morris said: “The challenge for this institution is the ability to tell the absolute truth about its history, its present and to truthfully imagine where it could go or be in the future. The key to this work is truth telling and I support the University’s ambition to build greater accountability to enact real transformation.”

A new, high-level team of colleagues and student representatives will be at the heart of co-creating the University’s plans to tackle the barriers that will bring about long-term positive impact and systemic cultural change. The Race Equality Charter self-assessment team met earlier this week for the first time and has representation from across the staff and student communities as well as the wider city region. The self-assessment team will report to a new EDI committee and other working groups will be established, focusing on specific themes emerging from the evaluation. These subgroups will be open to a wider group of colleagues from across the university.   

Speaking about the role of the self-assessment team, Dr Kendi Guantai, Associate Professor & University Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) said: “Our unwavering commitment is that we will undertake this work in a thorough and rigorous manner and will guard against it being completed in a performative manner. Our self-assessment team has been drawn from right across our Leeds community and will co-create our route forward, recognising our deep desire to heal our community. We are striving, as a university, for restorative justice, which transcends our institution and considers our role in our community, our region and around the world.”

Racial equality is one of the core pillars of our EDI Strategy and the charter adds to the Athena Swan initiative to support and transform gender equality.

The University has also recently published its EDI Implementation Plan outlining how we will put into practice our ambitious EDI Strategy. 

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