Remaining hopeful for change

I joined the Race Equality Task Force because I remain forever hopeful. In the words of one of my idols, bell hooks, an American writer, activist, and professor: ‘Hope is essential to any political struggle for radical change when the overall social climate promotes disillusionment and despair’.

During the first year of the pandemic, with each of us experiencing an unprecedented and unfathomable disruption to our lives, and with people of colour disproportionately suffering from economic difficulties, health inequalities and death, the climate was certainly one of despair. Add to that, the murder of George Floyd and killing of Breonna Taylor in the U.S., and the international upsurge of anti-Asian hate targeting Chinese, East and Southeast Asian people, the world seemed alight with anger and pain.

But amid the proliferation of institutional and interpersonal violence, there was an accompanying surge of activism and allyship, with the global Black Lives Matter protests and #StopAsianHate campaigns sending a signal of hope for something different – a transformed reality that before seemed unachievable. The pandemic showed us that quick, dramatic, large-scale change is possible. Could this also happen for racial justice?

In this moment of upheaval, I was offered the opportunity to contribute to a University-wide effort to make a sustained and lasting change towards racial equity, and I seized it. Balancing two roles – Programme Manager for the Task Force, and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) – during a pandemic, with a full year of home-schooling, has been a struggle. Yet, even with the ups and downs, collaborating with inspiring colleagues and students has made it all worth it.

I am proud of our work. Forty of us (including Task Force and programme team members) have come together throughout the past year, dedicating ourselves to anti-racism, but approaching the work in different ways and with wide-ranging perspectives. We haven’t always agreed. We have respectfully challenged and pushed. Our consultation document is not perfect, and it will never be, because even among the most committed, there is still a divergence of opinion and methodology. What we present to you is our best collective attempt to advance race equality within our institution.

For nearly 7 years, I have been engrossed in equality, diversity and inclusion work at the University of Oxford, and I am personally most excited by two areas where I see immense potential to innovate and achieve measurable success: 1) support for researchers working in areas related to ‘race’ and racialisation, and 2) active engagement with local communities.

I completed an Ethnic Studies undergraduate degree at the University of California, San Diego long ago, and it transformed my understanding of the world and of myself. This interdisciplinary field exposed me to history, literature, and music from communities of colour in the U.S. It centred marginalised voices and I felt like mine was finally being heard. As a leading, highly visible research institution, our University should be providing opportunities for students to learn about ‘race’ and racialisation in every discipline, and researchers conducting work in these areas should be adequately supported, funded, valued, and celebrated. The possibility of a centre dedicated to the critical study of ‘race’ and racialisation at Oxford is exhilarating.

Lastly, as an Oxford resident I can see the numerous ways in which the University has already reached out to local communities; for example, the Science Together programme in MPLS and Medical Sciences Division, the Gardens, Libraries and Museums’ Community Connectors project, the Small Community Grants scheme, and countless other outreach and public engagement efforts. Yet do local groups from marginalised communities feel able to access and connect with the right people within our complex University? The Task Force’s proposals include developing a ‘local community engagement liaison officer’ role or team, and committing to ‘involving and co-creating research with community groups’. These measures have the potential to make a tangible difference locally and beyond.

We need to fight racism within our University and our city. If we can get this right, the impact can reverberate globally. This is your opportunity to share your thoughts, priorities, and hopes with the Task Force. 

Take part in the Race Equality Task Force consultation

All staff and students can contribute to the Race Equality Task Force consultation, giving you the chance to feedback on proposed measures for tackling the under-representation of racial minorities at Oxford.  You can either give your views on the overall priorities (which only takes a few minutes); or complete the full survey to provide more detailed input. You have until 1 December to take part.

The views in this blog are those of the individual and do not represent the unanimous view of all members of the Race Equality Task Force.