Past Event details

Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy

Friday, 16 October 2020

This SRHE Postgraduate Issues Network event continues to examine the roots of structural racism that limit social mobility and equality for Black and ethnicised students and academics in its inherently white Higher Education institutions. It brings together established academics in the fields of Race and Education to explore what institutional racism in British Higher Education looks like in colour-blind ‘post-race’ times, when racism is deemed to be ‘off the political agenda’. Keeping pace with our rapidly changing global universities, this event will pose difficult and challenging questions. As the presenters powerfully argue, it is only by dismantling the invisible architecture of post-colonial white privilege that the 21st century struggle for a truly decolonised academy can begin.


Paper: Can racism in Higher Education be dismantled whilst whiteness remains invisible?

Dorrie Chetty – Education Consultant, UK

Universities state the importance of diversity in their prospectus and their equality policy.  They are keen to highlight the diversity of their student body in their promotional material and on open days, for example by including students who are visibly identifiable as belonging to an ethnic minority group, through the colour of their skin or their dress.  I contend that the high visibility of multiculturalism in promotional material can serve to obfuscate further the continued operations of white power.

This paper explores the extent to which racism can be dismantled while white privilege remains embedded within dominant structures of Higher Education (HE). Through the voices of eight individuals at one institution, it discusses the ways in which some committed individuals have engaged with the project of decolonization in HE.  The findings indicate that, in contrast to individual efforts and ‘pockets’ of work carried out by individual lecturers or researchers, there appears to be a lack of critical engagement and strategic thinking with regards to dismantling racism in a significantly transformative way. Challenging the myriad of ways in which whiteness operates and remains invisible in HE can lead to awkward and sometimes defensive reactions.  I contend that, unless we are brave enough to have the discomfort of difficult conversations and debates, we may be complicit in upholding dominant structures that uphold white privilege and power.

Dorrie Chetty is an experienced academic who worked as a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster.  She is now an independent academic, researching in issues of diversity, race and education. She is currently working on projects that relate to decolonizing the curriculum in higher education.  As Dorrie is concerned with migrant identities and social inclusion, she also works closely with migrant organisations and has contributed to public debates on this topic, including on BBC Radio.  She is the author of ‘Using Diversity to Advance Multicultural Dialogues in Higher Education’, in: Race R. (ed) Advancing Multicultural Dialogues in Education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018):


PAPER: Access and Inclusion for Gypsy and Traveller Students in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy

Dr. Kate Lemon, Open University, UK

This research seeks to draw attention to the longer-term educational consequences of poor inclusion and access in primary and secondary schooling for Gypsy and Traveller pupils. In this presentation, research data suggests ways in which barriers in primary and secondary school affect access and inclusion in Higher Education as these issues are not often explored within the literature. Indeed, this area continues to be under researched as a result of the assumption that Travellers do not access post-compulsory education, or do not admit to their ethnicity if they do. This work has been informed by empirical research and explores the perceptions, perceived barriers and opportunities for Gypsy and Traveller students. Findings suggest that access and inclusion in Higher Education is desired but complex, and there is limited information reaching Traveller students about the processes to access and enrol. In addition, there is an urgent need to explain these complexities to teaching staff and policy makers to make amendments and ensure that widening participation agendas include those from all marginalised communities. This presentation therefore has important messages for all marginalized students in Higher Education.

Dr. Kate Lemon (formally D'Arcy) worked in education and applied social services for many years. Her practice has always been situated on the margins of society, supporting a variety of vulnerable and often disengaged young people and women.  Between 2003- 2010 she worked as part of a Traveller Education service to improve educational access and achievement for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils and their families.

Kate then joined the University of Bedfordshire as a lecturer and researcher and worked with the Internal Centre for CSE, Violence and Trafficking where she was involved in a number of different research projects, which studied the impact of, and how we might improve services for young people and women affected by, CSE and sexual violence. She currently works for a charity in Bristol who support women who sex work and/or want to move away from the streets. Consequently her research interests are centred on Gypsy, Roma and Travellers communities; Marginalised women; Race, Equality & Education and Practitioner-led research. 


PAPER: The Underrepresentation of Black female professors: Does Higher Education really care?

Professor Uvanney Maylor, University of Bedfordshire, UK.

Black female academics are underrepresented in UK higher education and especially in senior leadership roles (HESA 2018; Arday and Mirza 2018). Recently I was interviewed by the media as part of celebrating Black history month and their desire to explore the reasons why there are very few Black women professors in UK higher education. Two areas were suggested to me as pertinent reasons: an absence of Black female role models in higher education and a lack of aspirations by Black women to undertake senior roles. Then I was asked what I had done to achieve a senior position? Thus the onus in all three aspects was laid at the door of the Black female academic. The interview caused me to re-think the role and responsibility of higher education in promoting race equality in senior educational leadership and offering a more ethnically diverse professoriate.

The paper explores whether such a state is desirable and achievable in twenty-first century Britain particularly at a time when greater emphasis is given by universities to student (rather than staff) experience and NSS scores/league tables which promote student experience, and conducting race equality impact assessments are no longer compulsorily required. Many institutions do not have a race equality charter to govern their activities. The emphasis on student experience and the BAME attainment gap (Higher Education Policy Institute, 2019) means that AdvanceHE is working with HE institutions who seek their support to develop strategies for embedding equality, diversity and inclusion in the curriculum. In the midst of this however, while all eyes are on students, Black academics are being ignored. In light of this, the paper explores the implications for higher education in facilitating diverse but equitable senior leadership/professoriate from a social justice perspective.

Uvanney Maylor is Professor of Education and was Director of the Institute for Research in Education at the University of Bedfordshire (2013-2017). She is former director of Multiverse and was a member of the Higher Education funding Council for England Research Excellence Framework (2014) Education sub-panel. Her research interests are in the areas of race, ethnicity, diversity, culture and equity in education.


PAPER: Promoting race equality and supporting ethnic diversity in the Academy: The UK experience over 2 decades.

Professor Andrew Pilkington, University of Northampton, UK 

This paper employs a macro perspective to examine the role of the state in the UK in promoting race equality in higher education. While the dominant policy discourse has periodically drawn attention to the need to combat racial disadvantage, the only serious race equality strategy which made a difference, was short lived and in the last decade race equality has virtually fallen off the policy agenda. And yet over the same period, research evidence accumulates to demonstrate that BME staff and students continue to experience considerable disadvantage. Reflecting on the emergence and demise of the strategy which sought to support racial inclusion and ethnic diversity in the academy, it is suggested that universities are remarkably complacent. Such complacency partly stems from the dominance in the academy and indeed of much of society of a liberal as opposed to radical perspective on equality. Universities typically see themselves as liberal and believe existing policies ensure fairness; they thus ignore adverse outcomes and do not see combating racial inequalities as a priority. Such inertia will remain intact unless significant pressure is placed on universities to change. The paper concludes by outlining two ideal typical approaches to the promotion of race equality (mandatory vis a vis optional) and suggests that the period has witnessed the transition from an approach close to the first ideal type to an approach close to the second approach. In this context, universities are urged to have no truck with a deficit model and to see it as their responsibility to take action to ensure more equitable outcomes.

Andrew Pilkington is Professor of Sociology at The University of Northampton and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. His research has especially focused on issues relating to race and ethnicity, and he has published widely in this area, including 'Racial Disadvantage and Ethnic Diversity in Britain' (Palgrave, 2003) and, with Shirin Housee and Kevin Hylton, an edited collection, ‘Race(ing) Forward: Transitions in Theorising Race in Education’ (HEA, 2009). A particularly influential book is ‘Institutional Racism in the Academy: A Case Study’ (Trentham, 2011) in which he compares the response of universities and the police to legislative measures and policy initiatives designed to promote equality. 

Network: Postgraduate Issues
Date(s): Friday, 16 October 2020
Times: 11.00 - 13.30
Location: Online via Zoom - link to be forwarded
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