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Earlier this year the murder of a black man in America sent shockwaves across the world. Despite a global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests began. Here in Edinburgh, socially-distanced crowds gathered in masks to show that coronavirus crisis or not, enough was enough. This week bulletin talks to Denise Boyle, HR Partner – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and Caroline Wallace, Senior HR Partner – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, about how past months have shaped and influenced the work of their team.

“The events of this year – from the murder of George Floyd to the differential impacts of the coronavirus pandemic – have brought into sharp focus the reality of racism and racial inequalities in our daily lives,” says Caroline.

“We need staff to feel confident to have constructive conversations about racism, and to understand how we are all complicit in sustaining racial inequalities,” she continues. “There is a new appetite and energy for learning about equality, diversity and inclusion issues, and we saw a real opportunity to harness this energy, and to build on work across the institution to improve racial literacy among our staff and students.”

So how should we begin to engage with this? Caroline explains more, “The first step is to educate ourselves and make every effort to listen and hear what people of colour are saying about their experiences.”

Educating ourselves

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team has published a new learning resource, Understanding Race and Racism, which shines a light on these experiences. Denise Boyle, talks about collecting this content, “We started by drawing on the wealth of resource lists publicly available via the Black Lives Matter movement. We consulted with the Race Equality and Anti-Racist Working Group convened by Rowena Arshad, to identify the key themes and topics to be covered, and source the best learning materials in a variety of formats.”

The team has worked to ensure that a wide assortment of relevant resources is included to suit different styles of learning. Denise tells us more about the different formats of material available, “The resource is a collection of books, podcasts, videos, documentaries, films and articles to provide an understanding of the role that organisations and individuals play in sustaining racial inequality, and to support staff to take individual and collective action to address racism and racial inequality in our own institution.”

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of information out there, especially as it’s a sensitive subject. Don’t let this put you off, as even taking small actions can begin to build meaningful change, and Denise puts our minds at ease, “The resources are designed to be accessible and appropriate for all staff regardless of role or prior knowledge.”

Alongside this collection of resources, the team have also developed an accompanying toolkit, “How to stand against racism: from ally to anti-racist advocate sets out the ways in which staff can take action against racism in their daily lives,” says Caroline. “This work has been informed by the voices and writings of people of colour.”

 The team are keen to keep their resources current, and Caroline explains that the team are always looking for feedback, “We are always seeking ways to develop and expand on the understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion across the University community.” The team will be updating the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion webpages regularly, ensuring they are a central hub that promotes and supports work happening across the University, including teams such as Race.Ed and the Adaptation and Renewal Student Skills and Development Work Stream.

Recognising our privilege

So we’ve explored the webpages and read through all the resources on offer, what can we do now? Caroline describes how we can move forward with our learning, “Recognise the places and spaces in which we hold influence and power, and use our privileges and positions to make meaningful change. Much of this work can be very simple, from amplifying quiet voices and creating space for them to be heard, to taking notice of those who do not receive positive attention and support from ourselves and others, and making changes to our behaviours. And finally, all staff should feel empowered to intervene when they observe discriminatory or bullying behaviour, or injustice in action.”

Denise expands on what we can do to tackle racism and promote race equality here at the University, “The Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion webpages contain a wealth of information, guidance and resources. Staff who experience or witness racism can visit the Respect at Edinburgh webpages which contains guidance on raising and addressing concerns. We also encourage Staff to join the Edinburgh Race Equality Network (EREN) for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff and allies.”

This year has been an incredibly unusual and overwhelming time for all of us. It’s easy to become stuck in a bubble and feel that the most important issues are the ones you are experiencing personally. But we should all be aware that racial inequalities are real, and deeply ingrained in our society, and we need to stand up together to address inequality wherever it occurs.

Caroline shares a final thought, “During my research I came across a powerful quote from the author Roxanne Gay who says, “Black people do not need allies. We need people to stand up and take on the problems borne of oppression as their own, without remove or distance”. Her words helped enormously in shaping the toolkit and the messages conveyed within it, and I’m sure her words will stay with many people as they have with me.”

You can find out more about the courses on their webpages;

Understanding Race and Racism

How to stand against racism: from ally to anti-racist advocate