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18th May, 2021

A Time of Reckoning for Equality and Diversity



Pauline Rutter – Creative Response to the TCCE Equity and Social Justice in HE Research series April 2021

This short piece is the preamble to a longer hypothetical interpretation of UKRIs 2020 guidance on nominating bodies for REF 2021 panel membership[1]. However, it could have been a creative reflection on any one of a number of similar documents urgently in need of reframing within an equity imperative. Without this, how can full accountability be assured for public investment in and allocation of research funding[2], for the setting of strategic research priorities, or even for the scrutiny of accepted approaches to incentivising HEI research and individual researcher excellence[3]? By stepping back momentarily from the corporate accounting of such human endeavour and into a creative and cultural perception of what might be known or understood through its enactment, space has been made for this tentative experimental response to a type of equality and diversity script. It is bathed in the light of theory that captures human experience both quantitatively and qualitatively. Take a document bind it to the realities of female scholars, researchers, creatives and diversity practitioners of colour, and capture the alternative meanings revealed by this interlocking. It is a small act of inquiry. However, does it offer clarity on what has been constructed and upheld by the instructive language for doing equality, diversity and inclusion? Perhaps this meditation itself allows new transformative perspectives to materialise while still grounded by undeniable data about the persistent inequalities experienced by many ethnic minority researchers[4].  At this moment, then, the focus is race equality even though the construct of race shows up as a deep colonial scar still attached to linguistic imperialism.

Last year I began a journey of connections without knowing the ultimate destination. I have followed theory and practice that signpost equity, and reveal paths of social justice that have almost been lost within higher education through erasure or obscurification. I have discovered those who do not concede to environments where activist, academic and other kinds of intellectual work are viewed as being separable. Their collective wisdom guides this journey and cites black female academics many of whom are trying to survive the precarious pandemic working conditions while also reaching out to their marginalised students and communities. I pause and write some words in a moment of reflective stillness. Not designing, not developing, not doing, but warmly reconnecting with the insights of those whose voices are often muted or constrained.

In December 2020, the first creative writing session lead by author and academic Olumide Popoola, embraced some of the characteristics and markers of voice, language and connection.  An embodied understanding of restrictive power dynamics, limiting stereotypes and the desire to thrive in the research space, then inhabited the second event, a mini assembly with guest speakers Nike Jonah, Sadhvi Dar, Deborah Brewis and Erinma Ochu.  This unearthing revealed some of the hidden challenges within the higher education and creative research landscape and asked when are we ever safe to do our best and most passionate work? A final event will consider the resources and behaviours beyond those currently distributed, that would seed an equity of belonging, curiosity, responsive knowledge more bountiful inclusive support for excellence and unconditional nurturing relationships.

Preamble

What does the time of reckoning feel like when separate worlds collide? This is a question I am repeatedly asking as I draw together the promises and obligations of those equality bodies internal and external to the academy with the marginalised academic communities wounded by their own efforts for inclusion yet still calling for emotional and professional repair. Institutional racism does exist. Months later and I am in deep water, wading through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) ethnicity analysis of funding applicants and awardees, the Race Equality Charter guidelines and the EDI documentation of thirty UK universities highly rated within the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for Sustainable Development Goal 10[5] ‘Reduced Inequalities.’ What does it all add up to? My head slips under, the weight of evidence and methodology pulling me down below the surface. “I can’t breathe”. On the shore so many female academics of colour have gathered. They have fashioned a paper lifeboat of published journal articles, thousands of pages lightly glued to each other. They have filled the sail with their breath and even now are pulling me from the inky depths with a lifeline woven from unconditional care. I deserve to be rebuked for entering those waters alone and this is my reprimand spoken with gentleness.

“The post-race university does not exist. We have called to you from the warmth of our corners, where our smoke signs to each other signal how we create beyond the moment we are in and move purposely within it. We have shown how our deliberate bodies travel with stealth and facts to set irresistible revolutionary offerings on the academy’s’ table, one dish at a time.  Look here, a space for our voices and there many woven props close to buckling under the weight of our curtailed creative freedom. Time is passing while we terra form a nurturing landscape with embodied knowledge and share collaborative tools learnt in our communities but without a currency of their own to buy their way in. Some of us are indeed imagining ingenious floating platforms for others who have seen their cognitive labour decoupled from the social justice spectrum and its intersectional meaning drowned in the lake of hollow policy and procedures. Still “Knowledge is Power[6]” Let the wounded rest and the fallen be saved in our hearts and minds.

I try another route from knowing to understanding. This time I take the lightest manuscript of reconfigured equality deliberations to the top of Thundersbarrow Hill on the South Downs and speak the acronymic instructions to the elements. At first, I’m choking on words not formed in the mouth for speaking. Once released, however, they merge with the testimony on my lips, of those who have resisted being dismantled during unintentionally fragmented academic lives and whose truth has been trampled. Unwritten words like ‘whiteness, racism and white privilege,’ perhaps still too emotive for the illustrated PDF reports. There is nothing rational, only procedural in the conjured templates of equality guidelines. The metrics will not warm the heart in this landscape. The green swell of the rolling hills takes no position on how anonymity makes data equitable and easier to digest. As the sun dips, I breath in cooler air and a lightness settles my thoughts on something more speculative. A love poem for the time of reckoning.

Pauline Rutter – Creative Response to the TCCE Equity and Social Justice in HE Research series April 2021

TCCE are pleased to accept written or creative responses to Pauline’s blog for inclusion in a small online crowd sourced publication that will be hosted on our website. We are happy to include pieces anonymously, but please do send your details to us with your submission, and let us know that you would like them to be kept confidential. Please send your responses via email to pauline@tcce.co.uk by 28th May 2021 and if you have any queries or questions, please do contact either Pauline or Suzie Leighton suzie@tcce.co.uk

[1] www.ref.ac.uk/media/1225/improving-panel-representativeness-review-of-nominating-bodies-equality-and-diversity-templates.pdf

[2] www.ref.ac.uk/about/what-is-the-ref/

[3] www.ref.ac.uk/publications/guidance-on-submissions-201901/

[4] www.ukri.org/news/epsrc-publishes-detailed-ethnicity-data/

[5] www.timeshighereducation.com/rankings/impact/2020/reducing-inequalities#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/undefined

[6] knowledgeispower.live/about/


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Evelyn Wilson

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