This blog is written by Rhianna Garrett and Nina Cunningham, reflecting on their experiences as students at the University. They are also the lead fellows on a student-led anti-racism (SLAR) project, ‘Active Together‘, funded by the University Provost’s Office and supported by the Education Incubator. Their project seeks to create long-lasting positive effects on the way Exeter students approach discussions and engage with training about racial diversity and inclusion within sports and societies.
As we are all aware, the University of Exeter has had – and continues to have – issues with racism. Despite the University’s efforts to create more equal spaces, students are still experiencing racism and discrimination on a daily basis. As Active Together, we have been working alongside the Student Guild and Athletics Union to improve current equality, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI) training, increase awareness and promote actionable change among the student community.
Through these experiences, we have learned that intersectionality is crucially important to ensuring this training is effective. However, intersectionality is also incredibly complex to situate and explain in a short amount of time, which has become increasingly challenging as studies suggest that it is most effective to avoid 2-hour training sessions and work towards a slower introduction to information.
Therefore, we need to start asking different questions. We need to stop asking if we have the training, and start asking what the training is achieving? Are we getting results? What results do we want? What is our end goal?
We believe taking this more Socratic, student co-created approach will help make EDI training as effective as it can be.
Active Together aims to investigate unconventional forms of training that evoke emotion and action and has been heavily inspired by Building the Anti-Racist Classroom (BARC). BARC offers a unique workshop to gather individuals interested in anti-racist pedagogy. Gamification methods are utilised – using game elements in non-game contexts – to promote change and challenge racism, asserting the student voice/experience as the main narrative. BARC encouraged us to think of new and creative methods to engage students in anti-racist activism and question the training that is currently in place. Training sessions like this are more meaningful experiences that help students retain what they have learned in the long-term, rather than implementing training systems for performative reasons.
As part of our project, Active Together aims to provide a suitable external training facilitator that matched our educational aims. We met with many interesting companies who all had different approaches to anti-racist training. The company Change Makers UNLTD offered us a huge amount of personal support, giving us advice on what training should include and validating our goals. Their company aims to create personalised training sessions depending on the goals of the customer. Another personalised training company we found was Equality and Diversity UK, who took a more systematic approach and tailored their sessions to the needs of the participants, the demographic of the group, and focused on the 2010 Equality Act. These amazing facilitators stress the importance of ongoing education and the significance of intersectionality. One of our project recommendations is for the University to research these new options and work to create more personalised training sessions based around what students need.
To make EDI training more effective, universities also need to consider creating inclusive environments and ensure their activism is non-performative. Performative activism means the institution or group is making symbolic gestures to create the illusion that they are dedicated to equality, diversity, and inclusivity. Performativity often includes buzzwords such as stressing ‘commitments’ to promote diversity or introducing training to tick an EDI box, rather than thinking about its pedagogical aims. The danger of performativity is that universities risk assuming they have a more progressive approach to EDI than they really do, and therefore ignore issues of racism as they think they have been ‘solved’. We are worried that unless our University fully engages with the effectiveness of EDI training, they risk reproducing inequalities in society.
The challenges we have encountered when auditing the current provision at the University is the white-centred nature of many training sessions and the lack of follow-up check-ins afterwards. We feel that current training opportunities sometimes promote white voyeurism – making white people feel validated for doing the bare minimum – which negates from the struggles BIPOC students face every day. It needs to be stressed that these anti-racism training sessions and interventions will not make you feel good. You might even leave feeling worse, but that is the point! We do not feel comfortable with racism, so why should white people feel comfortable learning about it? By presenting a training option that provides a slow drip-feeding of information, it creates principled spaces for self-reflection and uncomfortable emotions without scaring students away. We cannot teach students to understand and change systematic structures of oppression, intersectionality, de-centring whiteness, racist microaggressions, active allyship, bystander training, historical injustice etc., in one training session, particularly one that does not seek to address these issues holistically.
As students with lived experience of racism at the University, our project group has suggestions and ideas for how EDI training can be improved. We aim to promote long-term training systems filled with follow-up sessions and constant communication; ones that understand the amount of time and effort that needs to be put into creating real equality. The alternative approach to training that we are advocating does not claim to solve all EDI issues within one session but allows students to practice and get feedback on their actions. We suggest creating a larger community of students and staff to asynchronously and synchronously discuss what training is needed and encourage those involved to act. We have taken inspiration from BARC and realised the importance of using real student examples of racism in their daily lives to represent how racism is not an invisible, abstract concept but a covert, systematic form of oppression that produces traumatic experiences for many.
We invite our senior leaders to enter these conversations with us and find a way to promote this new approach to training throughout the University. As this is a very sensitive subject, we have included the links to articles that discuss these issues, and you can read them if you wish to engage. From a small blog post, a small project, and three students, we have seen the power the student voice can have. We imagine a University where all students co-create anti-racist projects in their sports clubs and societies and make it a part of daily life. Spreading the burden is essential. This work isn’t easy, but if students and staff came together to spread the burden and recognise the work it truly requires, we believe there is a chance of creating more inclusive spaces.
Please feel free to contact us with any information on your personal training, or what you believe needs to be improved upon. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message our Instagram/Twitter/Facebook @ATogetherexeter.
Articles discussing previous issues of racism on Exeter campus: *TRIGGER WARNING* discussions of racism, white supremacy, antisemitism, anti-Asian hate.
Brackston law society:
Anti-Asian hate Exeter University:
- ‘If you’re not white, you shouldn’t be in Exeter: https://thetab.com/uk/exeter/2020/06/29/if-youre-not-white-you-shouldnt-be-in-exeter-the-racism-faced-by-non-white-students-in-exeter-47898
- ‘Brushing racism under the carpet’: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/02/universities-brushing-racism-under-the-carpet-students-say
- This is what unpalatable activism costs: https://medium.com/@ns1997/this-is-what-unpalatable-student-activism-costs-5d06f653a84f
The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.