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Learning to Unlearn Response

17th June 2020


Dear Lewis, and signatories,

Thank you very much for your letter, entitled ‘Learning to Unlearn’ received 16th June 2020.

We want to thank you, and the signatories for the thoughtful way you have communicated the actions you want to see in response to the killing of George Floyd, the ongoing Black Lives Matters protests and incidents of racism at the University of Exeter.  We absolutely value your collective voices and commitment and know that listening to our community is vital in moving forwards.

We want to start our response by setting out our position as an anti-racist Institution with a zero tolerance position to racism and prejudice and we recognise we need to act and communicate that more strongly than ever before.  The University is striving to do better, and be better, and welcome these vital discussions we are having with our community.   We note that The Students’ Guild are also having these important discussions and will respond separately.

As the Vice-Chancellor reiterated in his message to all staff and students last week, tackling racism is for all of us. This includes listening, facilitating conversations, advocating for and implementing changes. We all have a responsibility to demonstrate that we are an anti-racist University. Debate and discussions in support of Black Lives Matter have been continuing across the University to develop a visibly and actively anti-racist approach. These conversations are expanding on the work already underway to promote equity and inclusion through the Race Equality Group, the University Inclusivity Group and the activity of the Provost Commission.

As we know you will appreciate, the conversations we are having across the University will need to measured and thoughtful, and allow time for feedback from the entirety of our community.  We have committed to producing a Manifesto for Change, co-created with our community that will set out the actions we will take to become an actively anti-racist Institution.

In response to your specific requests, we would like to reassure the signatories that there is already work underway on some of them, thanks to ongoing dialogue with our valued BME Staff, Student and Allies Network, the Race Equality Group Self-Assessment Team and the African Caribbean Society.  These include:

  • An absolute commitment to an inclusive curriculum and anti-racist pedagogy, being led by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Tim Quine.
  • We are currently working on creating a senior leadership role to advance racial equality and inclusion in education alongside a wider review of our recruitment activities to ensure better BAME representation at every level of the University, Students’ Union and Students’ Guild.
  • Specific, tailored avenues for our BAME students to access relevant wellbeing services.
  • Mandatory EDI training for every single student at the University of Exeter, to be started in September 2020.
  • Examination (already underway) of our reporting tools and processes, ensuring that they are fit for purpose, transparent and support the complainant appropriately.
  • We agree that is vitally important that there is regular communication setting out our zero tolerance position on racism.  We commit to ensuring we send our regular clear and consistent messages with our latest statements on Black Lives Matter an example of how we want to show our commitment and condemn racist incidents.  

Alongside these, we have, in conjunction with our BME Staff, Student and Allies Network, identified some other actions, including:

  • We will be launching an Independent Working Group focusing on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inclusion and Equality, with an external and independent chair, and a membership integrally involving the BAME community so that a report can be made to the Provost, the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and the new Vice-Chancellor. 
  • We will ensure there is the same level of reporting for Race Equality Commission Charter Mark as there is for Athena SWAN within Colleges and within key University meetings.


  • We will produce a plan about how we are going to ‘grow our own’ senior BAME Leaders throughout the University to ensure visibility of role models.  This will be piloted in HUMS in the first instance.


  • We will ensure College Executive Groups focus on anti-racism and race equality, as part of ensuring complete coverage of EDI issues.


  • We will examine how the University, Students’ Guild and Students’ Union can work together to support the Guild and Students’ Union on ensuring BAME representation and on its equalities’ policies.


  • We will consider how recognition and reward for work carried out in our Equality Groups and Networks is recognised in SWARM and in Professional Service workload; this will consider the Exeter Academic and a similar structure for Exeter Professional Staff workload.


  • We will include in this work how the positive impact of our network and equality groups is celebrated.


  • We will set up an Online Collaborative Forum, which will focus on tackling racism in a way that brings together the University Community to co-create ideas and focus on the issues together, every step of the way. The emphasis of the forum will be ensuring the community have an active part in University decision making and that the tone of the meetings allows open and honest discourse.


We hope that the above offers some reassurance that we actively moving forwards in tackling racism and being a safer and more inclusive community, in conjunction with both our Students’ Guild and Students’ Union. As we move forward, we will consider in detail your proposals and thoughts, to add and enrich both our approach and plans.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write to us. With the support of the whole university community we are in a much stronger position to act on discrimination and promote equity and inclusion.

With our best wishes,

Professor Janice Kay, Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Linda Peka, Chief College Operations Officer and Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group EDI lead