Why universities should not be complacent about equality and diversity training

Cardiff University

13th March 2017

With a budget that is stretched to its limits, it can be really easy for the busy administration of a university to be complacent about equality and diversity training.

We know diversity is a priority for universities, but they should not limit it to compliance based training.  Developing a sense of inclusion goes beyond not breaking the law and just being compliant with the law is now not enough. Not having equality and diversity training for educators that goes beyond the basics can have detrimental effects on the well-being of minority students.

For example, two incidents at leading universities reveal how inclusion is more than just complying with the law.

One university is accused of circulating a “criminalised” CCTV image of former student who happens to be a black male. The image was emailed to all of its staff and students, along with a message warning them to “be vigilant” as the the college’s “wonderful and safe environment” can be taken advantage of.

A former student was shocked:

“Had friends and colleagues at the college not quickly condemned the email, this criminalised image of me could still be at the forefront of students’ minds.”

At another university, it was discovered that face paint was used to impersonate a staff member in a student-led performance, causing offence to several students of African heritage.

A Vice-Chancellor of the university said that “as a university we accept the report’s recommendations and are already undertaking a number of proactive measures to address them. Our message is clear: offensive stereotyping of any person, or group of persons, is not acceptable.”

The resulting inquiry into the university’s equality and diversity policy set out several recommendations that were intended to help the university avoid similar incidents in future and address wider equality and diversity issues identified.

The recommendations included:

  1. Increasing the diversity of staff
  2. Actively discouraging offensive stereotyping of any person or group
  3. Improving complaints’ procedures and ensure there are clear guidelines for complaints about racism
  4. Clarifying structures surrounding equality and diversity initiatives in the university
  5. All university staff should receive regular training in diversity, including on race, gender and sexual orientation

David Marshall, Managing Director at Marshall E-Learning, said:

“Both examples are a good reminder of the importance of equality and diversity training that goes beyond the basics, and how universities should be going beyond compliance when thinking about inclusion on campus. Many universities are a bit more complacent about diversity because of how international their student intake is, but obviously something like this is very damaging.”

“Some universities have to be careful that due to their highly international student intakes they just cover the basics. Students are increasingly judging universities on whether they are in fact inclusive not only diverse. “

Dan Robertson, Diversity & Inclusion Director at enei, said:

“The incident of racial stereotyping is absolutely shocking. The ‘blacking up’ by white students in a recent play is a demonstration of overt racial bias which is obvious inappropriate and offensive.”

“Whilst it’s important to stress that the university has accepted in full the recommendations of an independent review, this incident is a reminder that to avoid these sorts of incidents university across the UK should proactively ensure that staff and students alike are provided with adequate diversity training together with appropriate processes to deal with these kinds of incidents”

How universities can be more inclusive?

For universities that are looking to be more inclusive, here are some practical recommendations from Dan Robertson at enei, said: to help you remain compliant with equality and diversity best practice and ensure your university isn’t making headlines for the wrong reasons:

  1. Call out bias: Ensure that inappropriate comments and behaviours are challenged by calling them out
  2. Actively support networks: Universities should be providing active support to both student and staff networks
  3. Celebrate difference: Arrange a talk or event on key dates such as International Women’s Day, or as part other either Black History Month or LGBT History Month
  4. Championing equal representation: Work towards achieving equal representation amongst both student networks and in employee groups
  5. Be Compliance Plus: The Law is designed to provide a minimum standards on equality issues. Be best in class by moving beyond your legal requirements to ensure your University environment is inclusive to all

How can Marshall E-Learning help you go beyond equality and diversity compliance?

Marshall E-Learning’s Diversity in Learning and Teaching training goes beyond compliance issues by supporting teaching staff in developing positive responses to the challenges of increasing student diversity.

Recognising that often there are no clear-cut ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, the course encourages teachers to develop a ‘diversity mindset’ and proposes a comprehensive approach to the diversity curriculum.

Through case studies, scenarios and exercises, our Diversity in Learning and Teaching e-learning course offers a framework for reflection on current practice and experiences across a broad spectrum of equality and diversity issues in learning and teaching, including:

  1. Developing a safe and inclusive learning environment
  2. Meeting the needs of ‘non-traditional’ or minority students
  3. Developing diverse resources
  4. Reviewing the Eurocentric curriculum
  5. Providing accessibility for disabled students
  6. Guarding against assumptions
  7. Supporting students who are gender transitioning
  8. Understanding the needs of international students
  9. Making faith-related adjustments

Protect your university from incidents like these. Learn more about our Diversity in Learning and Teaching e-learning course, or get in touch with Marshall E-Learning if you’d like to discuss a customised, bespoke solution to your university’s equality, diversity and bias training.

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