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Supporting black and ethnic minority students and staff

People from ethnic minorities continually confront systemic racism and inequality. This has been highlighted by the global pandemic and the ongoing police brutality that has inspired the Black Lives Matter protests. These events bring home forcefully that institutionally embedded inequalities, present at all levels of society, continue to harm and pain countless citizens in the UK. The Department of Psychological Sciences, and Birkbeck as a whole, are not immune from these societal failures. We must protect our students and staff from these injustices. To do so requires concrete actions, not more words and hand wringing. Below we describe some concrete actions the Department and the College are taking to try and address the iniquity of racism and inequality in our shared working environment.

  1. Developing an application for Race Equality Charter membership [2020-21]. Advance HE's Race Equality Charter (REC) provides a framework through which institutions identify and self-reflect on systemic institutional and cultural barriers obstructing our minority ethnic staff and students. It is hoped that by identifying systemic inequalities, member institutions can develop initiatives and solutions for action to meet the REC priorities to: "improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education".
  2. Reviewing the awarding gap for black and minority ethnic students, both within our department and within the School of Science more widely. Minority students are less likely to graduate with high degree classifications. By understanding the nature and causes of this problem, we hope to identify specific actions to help to close the gap and ensure that degree results are a fair reflection of students' performance and abilities.
  3. Birkbeck has recently announced five full-time Diversity100 PhD studentships, open to black and minority ethnic candidates, to mark 100 years since Birkbeck joined the University of London, and to help bring more minority students into academic research. One studentship was awarded to each of Birkbeck's five Schools, providing full tuition and a stipend for three years of doctoral study. Applications were submitted in May 2020, and we are delighted that the successful applicant in the School of Science will be completing her PhD in our department.
  4. We are developing a checklist for all modules to initiate the process of decolonising the curriculum. The aim is to ensure that our curriculum considers a broad range of cultural and theoretical perspectives, and cross-cultural research conducted by researchers from a diverse range of cultural, geographic, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. This effort is supported by the British Psychological Society, which accredits psychology degree courses and sets the overall standards for psychology curricula in the UK.
  5. Launching a Birkbeck National Saturday Club [2020-21]. Saturday Clubs are part of an educational charity (Sorrell Foundation) that works alongside, but outside, the formal education system to give young people a voice, gain new skills and explore their potential for further and higher education and future careers. The primary objective is to reach out to 13–16 year olds and provide, free of charge, the unique opportunity to study a subject that they might want to study at university. Our Club will aim to increase the number of 'First Generation' university students from minority ethnic groups in London.
  6. As part of ongoing actions, all staff in our department will have undergone Equality and Diversity Training and Unconscious Bias training by December 2021.

The Department and the College are committed to extinguishing institutionalised bias. These actions represent small steps towards addressing the issues surrounding systemic racism and inequality. We are just one department, but we hope these actions will reach beyond Psychological Sciences to the School, our College and our community.

A better future for our students and staff requires self-reflection and provides an opportunity for us to build a community response, involving our student body, our staff, our local London businesses and residents, and society more widely.

We stand in solidarity with our students and staff from ethnic minority groups.

Matthew Longo (Chair, Athena Swan Working Group), Gillian Forrester (Assistant Dean for Equalities, School of Science, Deputy Head of Department, Psychological Sciences), Mike Oaksford (Head of Department, Psychological Sciences)