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Last year, the passing of George Floyd in America sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the globe. Since then, people, businesses, companies and institutions have pledged to really look at themselves and do more – and the University of Chester is no exception.

In June 2020, the University established a Race Equality Challenge Group to promote and coordinate positive change in relation to race equality and diversity across all sites, Faculties and Professional Services of the University.

Who is in the Race Equality Challenge Group?

The Race Equality Challenge Group has a small core membership:

  • Vice-Chancellor, Professor Eunice Simmons
  • Undergraduate Student Representative, Arfana Ali
  • Postgraduate Student Representative, Chiedza Ikpeh
  • External Consultant, Akil Hunte
  • HR Manager for Development and Diversity, Kathryn Leighton
  • Academic Representatives, Associate Professor Servel Miller and Dr Anjali Shah
  • Professional Services Representatives, Reverend Gill Reve and Mayo Osundeko
  • Project Support - Annie Doyle

Importantly, the University’s Vice-Chancellor is the Chair of the Group and this Senior Leadership commitment just shows how serious the University is about making positive change happen.

What has been achieved so far?

Staff Focus Group
In early July, over 50 motivated staff, keen to make a difference, took part in a focus group, providing a safe place to share their experiences and emotions. It also gave all who attended an opportunity to learn from these experiences and actively engage in the conversation.

May actions arose from this focus group, and as a result of the consultation actions are being taken forward to:

  • Accelerate progress on race-related institutional targets in the University's Access and Participation Plan
  • Promote and support specific educational interventions (including, but not limited to, decolonising the curriculum)
  • Explore how historic antecedents reflect on the current University
  • Review faith spaces
  • Review staff culture (this will include building on how staff are developed through Diversity and inclusion programmes, and to ensure staff are aware of their own unconscious biases and feel able to challenge others)
  • Review the student journey from applicant to alumni

Student consultation event: Raising Our Voices 
The Race Equality Challenge Group hosted a student consultation event Raising Our Voices in September. With keynote addresses from Akil Hunte, multi award-winning law graduate from Nottingham Trent University, and the University of Chester's BAME Student Representative Arfana Ali, this event was an opportunity for all who attended to engage in a focus group to provide their views on the priorities for the new University of Chester Strategy.

This event aimed to give students a real opportunity to give their views on the positive changes that need to take place across the University to help bring about long-term change and have their voices heard, all in a very safe space. Over 50 BAME students attended and while some students told upsetting stories about their experiences, the event did what we hoped, which was to provide a space for BAME students to come together, share their stories and raise their voices. Many actions came from this, which the Challenge Group are taking forward, including further promoting racism reporting mechanisms, raising awareness of the impact of racism and creating more opportunities to share cultural experiences.

Student Race Advocate Role
The Group has developed the role of Student Race Advocate and ten Advocates have been recruited and in post since January 2021.  The aim of the role is to actively support and promote the needs of Black, Asian and other minority ethic students through contributing to numerous aspects of the University's work. This is a paid role and will give the students undertaking this opportunity a variety of experience through promoting race equality across the University of Chester and suggesting creative ways to improve inclusivity and availability of BAME student opportunities; providing support for BAME students and providing help with welfare issues, reaching out to hard to reach students; partnership working with staff on a range of topics; policy input and development; providing mentoring, buddying and reverse mentoring, and developing conferences and events.

You can find out more about the Student Race Advocates and their progress on Instagram and Facebook:

Race Equality Discussion Board
The establishment of a Race Equality Discussion Board​ on the University's intranet has allowed for a space for people to share articles, podcasts, TEDX talks and events to enable others to learn more about this important topic.

The University has reviewed the number of BAME staff members within the Senior Executive Team, Heads of Department, Deans of Directors and academics (data is being compiled on professional services staff and students). The outcomes of this has led to the following actions:

The University is fully funding two places on Advance HE's 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. (Applications closed in December 2020.)

There have been a number of changes to the University’s Recruitment and Selection process:

  • With immediate effect, it is mandatory for all recruitment and selection panels to explore a commitment to Equality and Diversity with all prospective candidates. 
  • The Competency Based Interview Question Bank has been updated to include over 20 equality and diversity focused questions that interview panels can choose from or adapt to really ensure that the University is appointing new staff committed to the promotion of diversity and equality and the elimination of discrimination in all its forms. 
  • The selection panel recommendation form also encourages the interview panel to discuss and reflect on their own Unconscious Biases and Positive Action and consider all aspects of Equality and Diversity in reaching a decision on appointment. 

Positive Action is a key focus for the University and this was demonstrated in the way the recent vacancies for senior role Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor and Pro Vice Chancellor Student Experience roles were advertised, with targeted recruitment across targeted ethnicity, LGBT, disability, gender equality and generic diversity recruitment sites.

Only the beginning...

What the Race Equality Challenge Group is making clear is that the University of Chester has seized the moment, but this is not a passing phase. Generally, people are listening, watching, reading and taking more in about racism and race equality than ever before; but as we can see, the University’s actions are about creating long term, systemic change. 

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