How can we all contribute to a more diverse UU?

The festive greetings from The Executive Board announce the first university-wide Diversity and Inclusion Award. “Let’s make 2019 even more diverse,” ends the message from my faculty. Undoubtedly sentiments I agree with; it’s great that diversity is clearly on the agenda of the university’s leaders for 2019. Aside from diversity being central to the moral, educational and civic mission of universities, evidence shows that workforce diversity fosters innovation and creativity. Homogeneity in higher education will not help us solve complex societal issues.

Yet, unless those with recruitment responsibility at university hire, select and promote a diverse group of people, especially in senior positions, the university will continue to do a poor job of representing the community that it serves. (Columbia University’s guide to best practices in this area is a good starting point.) It’s also necessary to address the conflicts that can follow from diversity - bringing people with a range of experiences together doesn’t automatically lead to good outcomes.

Those of us in other positions of privilege have alternative ways we can contribute to making UU a more inclusive place. We can make sure we’ve thought about how to work with a diverse group of colleagues and students, perhaps by attending the Introduction to Intercultural Awareness workshops, thinking about how to use language that doesn’t discriminate and signing up to the Diversity Task Force newsletters. Or read some of the articles in DUB’s March magazine on diversity.

As teachers, we need to think about why there is a growing movement to decolonise the curriculum. This means, among other things, recognising the importance of including non-male, non-white, non-European thinkers in our lectures and reading lists, and raising students’ awareness of the social and historical contexts which have produced the academic knowledge that we use. (During a recent workshop that I attended on how to present your research, six of seven examples were of white men, surely reinforcing presumptions that it’s basically white men who do science. I challenge you to count the next time you’re at a lecture...) The newly developed diversity toolbox may help teachers to add diversity to their classroom.


We also have responsibilities in our research. Those of us in the social sciences must be aware that the vast majority of what we think we know about human behaviour is based on WEIRD participants (from Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic societies). And even within such societies, research is much easier to do on wealthier, more highly educated majority groups, who are more accessible research subjects. So we develop theories, interventions and treatments based on trials with the people who (relatively speaking) need them least. We must do better.


But it’s not only our research participants who need to be more diverse; our reference lists should be too. A brilliant Argentinian researcher I met earlier this year reminded me of the enormous disadvantages that she, from the Global South, faces to get her work recognised. Firstly, she has fewer resources to begin with. Secondly, major journals just aren’t so interested in her work. (I’m aware of the irony that, in searching for evidence of bias, it was much easier to find research from the UK.) And thirdly, even if we find it, we’re unlikely to reference her research anyway. Most of us will reference the studies with WEIRD samples that all our colleagues also cite. (How often have you failed to read beyond the abstract when you’re realised the researchers aren’t at a globally-recognised institution?)

These suggestions come from recognition that those of us in positions of privilege need to act and not just talk. But we also need to do a lot more listening. Which means that this third blog is a good time for me - a white, native-English-speaking cis man - to end my term as a regular contributor to DUB. Earlier this year DUB did a great job sharing experiences of students from refugee backgrounds, and I hope the space I leave will be filled with a breadth of voices: people of colour, young people who are the first in their families to attend university, students with disabilities. I look forward to listening.

Tags: diversity