Reflections on culture week and the next steps at University of Surrey

Guest blog from Emily Williams, Academic lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

This week, our Surrey Embracing Ethnic Diversity (SEED) network have brought us Culture Week. This is a new initiative that allows us to learn more about the people within SEED and their priorities. I find this really exciting! As Academic Lead for EDI for the University, I wanted to raise awareness about how SEED fits into our EDI ecosystem and the important role they play in championing change.

Hopefully, you will be aware of the race equality work we have been prioritising over the last 18 months across the University. SEED have been leading or championing much of this work and feeding into its development. This consultative role is crucial to ensure that our EDI work is meaningful and impactful for the groups we are trying to support.

Some of these are broad activities such as participation in our University-wide EDI forum, but many are more specific. For example, Pro Vice Chancellor, Education, Professor Osama Khan, has headed up a new Race Equality action plan to implement cultural change across many areas of the University. The SEED group reviewed this action plan and suggested areas of development. This was particularly useful because of the range of people within SEED, Professional Services and Academic staff, and this gave us confidence that we were providing relevant change for everyone. This action plan is well underway and 80% of the 68 actions have been started or completed.

We have introduced our new Race Equity training for Surrey staff. SEED played a huge part in the development of this, offering personal stories about experiences at Surrey that were included in the training, reviewing the modules and ensuring that the training addressed Surrey’s specific challenges in relation to race/ethnicity so that these are the areas we can create the greatest change. This training is receiving brilliant feedback across the University for being honest about our challenges and areas that we must improve. It is part of our essential training, like Health and Safety, and all members of staff are expected to complete to it.
We are often asked why it is called race equity rather than race equality and this is an important question and distinction. Really, all our EDI should now be focusing on equity (in my opinion). The difference between equity and equality is best explained in a picture, such as the one below. The box on the left shows the reality of where society is with regards to race, that certain privileged groups experience unmeasurable advantages over marginalised or minority groups. With equality (second box to the left), we are offering everyone the same opportunities, and yet this doesn’t equate to everyone benefiting to the same extent (often because their disadvantaged starting point). In the third box, the equity box, people are given different provision to achieve the same outcomes…within EDI, this is where we really want to be and what we hope to achieve. The final box, justice, would be amazing, but we are a long way from a society that doesn’t have a racial hierarchy and therefore, we need positive action initiatives to try to achieve equity in the meantime. So, while equality is the most widely understood term (used by Advance HE in the Race Equality Charter etc.), equity more accurately describes what we are trying to achieve. We named the training this because, as it is such impactful training, we wanted it to be an accurate reflection of our intentions (even though the terminology is not consistent across the University). Perhaps this is something we should change now at the University, so that people become more familiar with equity than ‘just’ equality, to reflect our progress…something to think about …

Image credit : The Centre for Story Based Strategy

We are still working towards our Race Equality Charter (REC) submission (submission in February 2022); SEED members are part of this core REC team and the network will soon be asked to review our submission to ensure it is honest, transparent and captures the reality of race at Surrey.

I am enormously grateful to the SEED network for all their effort and work in this area this year, for raising the profile of our race equity work and for being vital agitators for change. While we need their leadership in this space, I do recognise the emotional workload that this work carries, and it makes their efforts even more special.

I’m excited about what Surrey can achieve in creating a more equitable community for all our students and staff, and hope we can bring everyone along on the journey!

Emily Williams
Academic Lead for EDI