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Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor statement on the Black Lives Matter movement and being an Anti-Racist University – June 2020

Commitment to being Anti-Racist

The death of George Floyd is the latest of terrible and unconscionable killings of African Americans reflecting the increasingly appalling effects of structural racism that go back generations.  There has rightly been an upwelling of protest in the US, the UK and around the world.

I hope it goes without saying that this is a time for us to confront racism, to call it out in our communities and to stand up for what is right.  We must stand shoulder to shoulder together and state that racism is wrong and must stop. But saying things like this is less important than listening to the views and concerns of our Black and Minority Ethnic students and colleagues, and then, crucially, acting.

That listening and that acting has to begin in our own university community. Everyone reading this knows that we have not made the progress that we want. To my personal shame, there have been abhorrent incidents in Exeter, and we have not been able, so far, to stop these incidents before they happen. So, to state the obvious, we must do everything in our power to root out all forms of racism and hate crime in our community. I am acutely aware though that it is not just our words but our actions that matter and we must be visibly and actively anti-racist: not merely non-racist, but actively anti-racist.

I urge all colleagues and leaders to bring up and talk about issues of racism, this burden should not rest on our black and minority ethnic colleagues. Tackling racism is for all of us.

Looking ahead, we particularly want to work in partnership with our existing staff and student networks and societies in developing the right approach so that we act in unity. In early April, we wrote to the Black and Minority Ethnic Staff, Students and Allies Network and other petition signatories to propose that we set up an Independent Working Group on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inclusion and Equality, to make recommendations to the Provost; the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; and the new Vice-Chancellor.

In recent weeks we have listened further to our community including on the Black Lives Matter movement and we have had offers of support to work together on the actions, including from the African Caribbean Society. Importantly, we are also working towards the Advance HE Race Equality Charter which is a recognised framework to improve the representation, progression and success of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students within higher education.

We welcome your involvement and partnership on our next steps to be an actively Anti-Racist University.

Race Equality and Anti-Racism activities

This is an update of progress that has been made on furthering our ambition to become an anti-racist institution. The activity highlighted in this report has been led by colleagues in the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team, our University EDI networks (both staff and student) and colleagues involved in the Provost Commission, but has also drawn on support from many other individuals across our staff and student communities.

Whilst the University has made positive progress on inclusivity in recent years, we are aware we have not yet gone far enough. Over the summer, we have been taking a fundamental look at our structures and processes; the way we understand, engage and support BAME colleagues and our communities, alongside looking at best practice across the sector and beyond to ensure we are set up to deliver fundamental and meaningful change across our whole University community.

The University of Exeter is committed to addressing racial inequalities and creating an inclusive culture and environment where individuals are able to thrive, irrespective of their race or ethnicity.

Work on the charter continues according to schedule. We have completed the REC student survey and staff survey analysis. In terms of our response rate, for the student survey, we received 1199 responses, of these 389 (32%) were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students. We received 633 responses to the staff survey of these 72 (11%) were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members of staff. In terms of benchmarking with other Bronze REC award holders (one had 62 total responses for staff and students from a student body of 22591, and 1793 staff).

Work is also underway on compiling the REC application in readiness for submission in readiness for our July 2021 submission. To ensure university wide engagement with this work, we have delivered a series of presentations to provide updates on REC progress, and to engage colleges/ departments and discuss how they can be involved at “local level”. To date, discussions have been held with the Inclusion groups of: CMH, SSIS, CLES, HR and HUMS. 

Work has commenced on developing the Race Equality action plan.  As we have been pulling together this action plan, in conjunction with our BME community, we have identified six key pan university areas which align with our Everyone Welcome, Many Voices, One Community University EDI vision 2019-2025:


  1. Recruitment, recognition and reward/HR policies and redress

We will be working to actively develop Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic leadership and ensure inclusive representation within recruitment processes. We our reviewing our reporting tools and our support for victims alongside our response to incidents via a dedicated Inclusive HR group. We will also be focussing on the inclusivity of our wellbeing policies and ensuring targeted support for our BME community.

Specific activities currently taking place under this these are:


Inclusive HR Task and Finish Group:

The Inclusive HR Task and Finish Group is an ongoing piece of work which is scheduled to conclude in November 2020). Work on this group commenced in August 2020 and is distributed over 4 months (August, September, October and November 2020). The purpose of the group is to support the wider Race Equality work by making tangible recommendations that will be incorporated into the institutional Race Equality Action plan going forward. This work is chaired by Director of HR Imelda Rogers.

Group membership includes both HR staff and staff from the wider community, and the work of the group will focus on:

  • reviewing feedback received to date from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members of staff regarding some of our existing procedures;
  • assessing the suitability of some suggestions that have been put forward to address some of these issues.
  • making recommendation on the best way forward to incorporate into the Race Equality Action plan.

 The themes in scope of the group are:

  1. Recruitment and selection.
  2. Career development.
  3. Raising concerns (including grievance and disciplinary procedures)
  4. Workload allocation for Race Equality work.


Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Leadership development programmes:

Applications for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic candidates to take part in the following programmes were open in November and all places were fully subscribed:  


-Advance HE Diversifying Leadership Programme: designed to support early-career academics and professional services staff from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds who are about to take their first steps into a leadership role. It explores themes of power and influence, demystifying leadership, cultural identity and cultural capital, increasing your visibility and authentic leadership and features leadership stories from high-profile HE leaders

The Elevate programme: The first pilot of its kind, this programme offers a unique opportunity for Professional Services and Academic staff (who identify as female) to meet, share, support and learn together from across the four GW4 universities in the South West (Bristol, Bath, Cardiff and Exeter).

The deadline for submitting an application is Friday the 20th of November 2020. Further information can be found by visiting the webpages.


Inaugural Associate Academic Dean for Racial Equality and Inclusion appointed

We are very pleased to announce that Vrinda Nayak, Senior Lecturer and Academic Lead for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Student Support within the College of Medicine and Health has been appointed as the Associate Academic Dean for Racial Equality and Inclusion.  This is a new and important role that was created in response to engagement with our student and staff community over the last 6 months, with the recruitment process involving representatives from the BME Network, our Students’ Guild, Students’ Union and student representatives from The Unlearn Collective.  

Vrinda will work closely with Rob Freathy, Academic Dean for Students, and Beverley Hawkins, Associate Academic Dean for Students.  They commented “We are so excited about working with Vrinda, and are looking forward, as a team, to progressing our Success for All Students strategy. Racial Equality and Inclusion are paramount in our collaborative effort to support students from all backgrounds to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.”  Vrinda noted “this new role is instrumental in achieving race equality and inclusion in higher education which is one of the top priorities for the University. I’m very much looking forward to starting in my role and working in collaboration with Education teams across the Colleges and groups involved in equality, diversity and inclusion activities in achieving better experience for students from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds at the University. ”

The new Associate Academic Dean will work with staff and students engaged in racial equality and inclusion, including the Race Equality Steering Group, Black and Minority Ethnic Staff, Student and Allies Network, Decolonising the Curriculum Network, Provost’s Commission, and the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union.

Decolonising Groups Discussions

Politics Penryn launched the Decolonising the Curriculum Departmental Review on Wednesday 21st October with an in-conversation online event attended by almost 60 students. The Review brings together findings from student experiences, staff interviews and module data and offers several recommendations for lecturers, the department and the University for meaningful work to decolonise curricula. The Politics department has published a response, outlining its proposals for taking the recommendations forward.

We will be producing an Anti-racist manifesto, which will enable us to communicate our zero-tolerance to racism. We are examining our structures and processes and the Inclusive HR Group will provide recommendations for our next steps to move us forward and create a safer, more diverse and inclusive community.

In October 2020, we hosted a joint event with Devon County council, Exeter community safety partnership and Devon County council to raise awareness of extremism, links to hate crimes and reporting and support avenues available. Just under 300 people registered for the event. The recording and resources relating to hate crime and extremism will be circulated to attendees.

The EDI team were also pleased to welcome officers from the Devon & Cornwall Police Diverse Communities Team and a local third-party hate crime reporting centre to the Cornwall Anti-racism Forum for a focused session on race-based hate crime and incidents. The session was attended by colleagues from the University of Exeter, Falmouth University, FX Plus and The Students' Union.

Let’s Talk series

In August we launched the BME Network and The Provost Commission - Let's Talk series of events, which are currently focussed on the BME Awarding Gap. These sessions bring together colleagues working to reduce our awarding gaps with members of the BME community to discuss progress and actions across key areas, whilst encouraging open and transparent discussions and looking to increase the impact and pace of change. The sessions are open to all members of the community who would like to take part, and BME voices are prioritised within these discussions. Given the success of the series so far, the EDI team are beginning to look at opportunities to create a similar series of events focused on a new topic area, ideally one that addresses intersectionality. A consultation will be opening shortly and all thoughts about other areas for discussion are welcomed.

£25k student led anti-racism fund

Following discussions with The Unlearn Collective the University has committed £25,000 in the academic year 20/21 for student led anti-racism projects. These projects will be identified and led by the student body, with support via the Education incubator to ensure initiatives have access to the support infrastructure and networks needed to ensure their success. We hope that through the link with the Education Incubator (that funds innovative developments in teaching including project work in decolonising the curriculum) there will also be lots of opportunity for student and staff projects to spark off each other.

It is anticipated that the fund will support between 5-10 projects across 20/21, with the funds able to be used for a combination of salary funding (via the student campus partner scheme) and other related costs such as speakers, catering, travel and publishing costs. Disbursement arrangements are being finalised and the fund will be launched imminently.

For Black History month this year, we sought to profile our African Caribbean society and share resources and recommendations for all students and staff to learn more about black history and culture. A special bulletin was sent out at the start of the month promoting films, books, podcasts and internal training opportunities alongside the various events planned for Black History Month.   

Black History Month

Following the momentum of previous years, each college has shown outstanding dedication to honouring Black History Month despite the current circumstances. Every week has been packed with events ranging from research showcases, role model blogs, training sessions from specialists across disciplines and esteemed guest appearances including Dr Patrick Vernon OBE, Pamela Maynard CEO of Avanade, Prof. Gretchen Gerzina Dean of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, South West Author and poet Louisa Adjoa Parker and many more.

Particular mention to Oli Young who lead on organising over 15 events in EUBS alone including a writing competition and BHM themed Hackathon and to the Jemma Morgan in the WP Team for the BHM outreach they have done with teachers in the local community.

Anti-Racist Exe Bookclub Following a presentation and discussion at Senior Management Group over the Summer, the BME Network launched the Anti-Racist Exe bookclub with the University’s Senior Management Group. The bookclub is due to meet for the second time shortly and they are reading ‘Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege.’ Members will be considering practical ways the text can inform their practices/leadership at the University as well as how it influences any anti-racism actions. 

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Alumni Group

Plans are currently underway for the creation of a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Alumni Network, following discussions with our alumni community and colleagues in Global Advancement.  The network is likely to offer a chance for specific BME mentorship, increase visibility of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic alumni community allow the University the opportunity to amplify the voices of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community of alumni.  We hope to launch this network within the academic year and will keep the University Inclusivity Group updated with plans.

Cornwall Anti-Racism Forum

There was a great appetite from colleagues in Cornwall to continue these discussions in-house after local events took place in Falmouth and Truro throughout June, following the death of George Floyd and as part of BLM Protests. The EDI team held a 90-minute drop-in session in June for colleagues in Cornwall to talk about racism and its impacts on campus as well as in the wider community. Following discussions across a range of different topics and themes, attendees agreed that it would be useful for the drop-in to become a monthly recurring forum which is now a social space to talk openly, discuss the issues highlighted by the BLM movement and find out about local anti-racism efforts in our workplaces and communities. Rae Preston leads on the organisation and each month covers a new resource or theme. The sessions are open to all staff and PGRs at the University of Exeter, Falmouth University, FX Plus and The Students’ Union with a focus on the Cornwall community.

BME Network Support

EDI Team has clarified its role and is providing more regular support for the network on request including more meeting support, web and social media assistance, and aiding with the move into the online environment including access to online asynchronous platforms and supporting the reinstatement of recurring social meetings.

Student EDI Training eModule

In September 2020 the University launched an EDI training emodule for all students. All students will be expected to complete the training as part of their induction requirements (follow up on completion is underway within the EDI team). It is important that we acknowledge that some students may already be skilled in this area but for others the topics covered in the training may highlight new opportunities for learning. The training is intended to deliver a foundational level of knowledge and shared understanding for all and students are encouraged to implement what they learn into their wider university journey. The course covers topics such as how to challenge unacceptable behaviour, what the law says, understanding what equality, diversity and inclusion actually means, alongside University of Exeter policies and guidelines.The training is available via ELE, and linked to from the mandatory training sections of the New and Returning Students Guides and is paired with a feedback process for improving this further for future students.

Bystander Intervention Training

We are looking to hold Bystander Intervention training for 125 student leaders during 2020/21 working with Dr Rachel Fenton in the Law School. This training was originally due to be held in May 2020 but postponed due to CV-19 pandemic. Plans are underway to host later in 2020/21. 

Cultural Competence – Partnership with Georgetown

In July 2020 the University launched the Cultural Competence Community of Practice Training, led by Tawara Goode and Suzanne Bronheim of The National Centre of Cultural Competence (NCCC) at Georgetown University. 27 members of staff from across the university community are taking part.  The University and NCCC are working together to advance Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Exeter by piloting a programme to establish a Community of Practice of leaders in cultural competence. The programme will work with the Community of Practice to: 

  • Define cultural competence within a range of contexts and define the rationales for cultural competence at Exeter
  • Identify and examine the implications/benefits of culturally competent systems, behaviours and processes on outcomes and experiences for staff and students
  • Identify how the benefits of cultural competence could be applied
  • Develop actions, projects and next stepsShare the experience and knowledge gained with the wider community.


Training for HR Investigation Officers

We are delivering two 2-hour sessions for investigation officers on recognising and challenging microaggressions and supporting cases where microaggressions may be the issue. There will be two sessions, 28th October and 16th November which will be open to HR Business partners and advisors as well. 

Anti-Racism Coaching Sessions

A two hour 1:1 anti-racism training session has been designed and delivered as an accompaniment to the disciplinary procedure. The coaching session included the basics of EDI with an extra focus on self-reflection, privilege, and unconscious bias. As we maintain a close relationship with our HR and Student Cases teams for we hope to utilise suitable opportunities for this approach again in future.

Diversity Champions

Our inaugural Diversity Champions Programme which commenced last year in collaboration with Advance HE has now concluded with 21 colleagues having completed their training. Our aspiration is to reach 1,000 colleagues through the work of our Champions in the next 18 months as they implement projects in response to locally identified EDI needs, embedding EDI principles and support for ‘front-line’ staff who deal directly with students. 

We commit to building a more inclusive research culture, highlighting our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic researchers and research and ensuring the highest quality support. We are investigating how our Global Research partnerships could enable us to create more diverse linkages across the world and drive more inclusive co-working and research exchange.

Unconscious Bias Training for REF pane

lsThe EDI delivered two Unconscious Bias training sessions in conjunction with the REF team in September 2020. The EDI will continue to work with the REF team on developing the requisite EIA (Equality Impact Assessment) process for the 2021 REF submission.