Response to letter from Students, Staff and Alumni

Monday 02nd April 2020

Dear BME Staff, Students and Allies Network, as well as current signatories from Exeter UCU, Exeter Students' Guild, Jane Milling, Gajendra Singh, LGBTQ+ Staff Network, Exeter Staff Decolonise Group, History Department, Psychology Head of Department and Deputy Head of Department, Law Department and English and Film Department,

Thank you for the letter that you sent on Friday 20th March regarding race and racism on our campuses.  This joins the English and the Wider University letter, and a message we have seen online from Exeter Alumni.

The first thing I want to say is that we do not and will not stand for racism and hate crime.  We condemn abuse and hate crimes of misogyny, transphobia, abuse and hate crime against disability and against people with any protected characteristic and intersectionality. We have acted swiftly on each of the cases you raise in your letter. We also accept, however, that there are serious and systematic issues of racism that we need to tackle and that so far we have not made sufficient progress to ensure that no individual is subject to the abhorrent abuse we have seen in recent times. 

As the University and the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union wrote in response to the letter developed by the English Department, we welcome “unequivocally the recommendations put forward by members of our community through their correspondence. We also welcome the ongoing commitment of our community to work together to tackle all forms of discrimination and harassment, including online abuse, and to promote equality and inclusion.  As a University, we strive to deliver positive change. But we fully accept there is fundamental action to be taken and much more to be done.”

We also stated that we recognise the importance of developing our next steps in partnership, and delivering actions together. We know that colleagues are already actively engaged in discussions around next steps: through dialogue in our Colleges, with our Provost Commission, with our Guild and Students’ Union, through the work on the Race Equality Charter and Athena Swan and importantly through our diverse staff and student networks and groups. We strongly believe that through dialogue and partnership, we will be able to effect powerful change.

Senate of 11th March considered the issues and reiterated these points and more; senators expressed their willingness to become involved, as we focus on the further work that needs to be done.  We also have had very productive recent discussions prior to receiving the BAME Network letter.  As a first step, and since receiving your letter, we have collated the actions of various groups and have been in discussion about how we take them forward together.  Perhaps the clearest request across the letters and Senate is for greater involvement, especially by the BAME and other networks.  We hear this and want to collaborate on the next steps in the coming weeks.

We propose that an Independent Working Group on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inclusion and Equality should be set up, with an external and independent chair, and a membership integrally involving the BAME community and representatives/signatories from ‘English and the Wider University’ letter, 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.  Given that it appears that current circumstances of social isolation will continue, it looks unlikely that the Working Group will be able to start its work for some months.  However, we would still like to engage with you to develop the precise remit, keeping it broad enough to enable priority recommendations, ranging from tackling racism on campus to ensuring all our students and staff thrive and achieve exceptional outcomes, involving your suggestions and those of others who have written to us. 

We have been participating in the Universities UK Task Force on Racial Harassment and we expect this group to make recommendations by September that we should also consider as part of the review and next steps.

We would expect it to take into account best practice wherever it is found, and be strongly research and evidence based. We recently took a similar approach with the environment and climate emergency which is supporting transformation across the university and has received recognition as outstanding practice locally and nationally.

Given the extraordinary situation we currently find ourselves with a global pandemic and national crisis we would propose setting up an online forum so that we can collaborate on the best way forward between now and September and what we can do together over the next months.

We hope that you will support this approach and we also want you to know that we are not standing still and we are already taking a wide range of substantial actions to make improvements for our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Community (recognising that the timescales on some of these will shift as a result of Coronavirus). Some examples include:

  • A project plan to achieve the Advance HE Race Equality Charter Bronze award. The activities for this work will include developing an institutional Race Equality Action plan, and establishing a baseline through a student and staff survey.
  • Working with Georgetown University to establish a Community of Practice in Cultural Competence with an initial group of 30 people
  • Training a core team of Exeter Diversity Champions who can provide Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training across the organisation so that all staff will undertake both mandatory training online and face to face training to enhance their skills and understanding
  • Providing Bystander Intervention training for student and staff leaders ahead of September 2020
  • Piloting reverse mentoring with BAME law students and mental health support for BAME students
  • We have changed our Freedom of Expression and Events Policy and will take account of the forthcoming legislation on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom
  • We issued a public message with all our local partners including the police, NHS, and local authority to make a stand against racism and hate crime which was praised very recently by the Principal Adviser for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Advance HE as best practice and a clear institutional commitment to ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all
  • We are implementing an Education Strategy that puts success for all at its heart and prioritises widening access and participation, international students wellbeing and decolonising the curriculum
  • We are improving the induction programme for new and returning students from September 2020 that will build on our new ‘Everyone Welcome’ campaign which is designed in partnership with BAME students and staff and puts diverse and international voices at the core of its messaging to change behaviour.

 

We certainly do not underestimate the distance we still need to travel but the entire senior team are absolutely committed to tackling racism and supporting Black and Minority Ethnic success at the University of Exeter.

We hope you will work with us in partnership in the coming weeks, months and years so that we can create the diverse and inclusive community we all want to see.  

 

Best wishes, 

Professor Sir Steve Smith

Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive

 

cc        Janice Kay, Sarah Turvill, Salam Katbi, Linda Peka, Wendy Robinson