In the wake of the great debate on diversity in important spaces like workplaces, media and politics (shout-out to the five Congress women recently elected), a shift has occurred in our understanding of representation, especially for Black and Minority Ethnic communities. It is a movement that has spread from the glam of Hollywood and the boycott of the Oscars, all the way to campuses with a recent report being published on the disturbing lack of BAME academics employed in universities.
Queen Mary University of London, an educational institution that prides itself on its diverse body of students, has, ironically enough, had a distinct lack of representation amongst academic circles. The wonderful array of modules offered in the History department, for example, are refreshing. They are distant from the usual Eurocentric model we have all been taught since primary school within this country. Modules on Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the colonial, the post-colonial and various other fascinating topics showcase an emerging change within campus curriculums. They enable the studying of a more global history past the
confines of Europe.
On paper, this may look like a change in the right direction, but does Queen Mary really take such a progressive stance?
When assessing the number of BAME lecturers there are in the School of History, it comes to a mighty number of absolutely none.
Zilch, zero, nada, nout, nothing.
The School of History, with all its variety of great modules, currently has no BAME lecturer or academic. In a university so dominated by BAME students, not being taught by a singular person of colour simply perpetuates the normalisation of white-dominated institutions and spaces, not only in academia but other aspects of life.
It marginalizes the voice of the minority.
Being a BAME student myself, of Asian descent, not having myself represented in my place of learning certainly has had a visceral impact (not to be dramatic of course). Speaking for myself, and possibly many other BAME students, picturing oneself in the front of hundreds of students as a lecturer becomes more and more of a distant image.
Why is that?
It truly matters.
If we cannot feel ourselves represented, it becomes harder to visualise ourselves in that position. The powerful message of ‘if they
can do it, so can I’ is not as meaningful anymore.
The lack of diversity and representation is not just a Queen Mary University of London problem. It is nationwide. As a growing multi-cultural society, universities in Britain are highly lacking in the inclusivity of staff from a BAME background. A recent
groundbreaking revelation, published in a report by the Royal Historical Society, found that the number of BAME academic staff only amounted to a meagre 15%. Amongst History academic staff, it was found that in UK universities only 6.3% of staff were BAME, of those, 0.5% being black. The under-representation of BAME staff in universities undeniably has a significant impact on both staff and students, creating uncomfortable environments that have the potential to foster racism and discrimination.
It is a problem that can no longer be denied. Rather, under-representation is a problem that needs to be directly challenged at grass-root level.
The institutionalisation of racism and marginalisation of Black and Minority Ethnic communities has to be dismantled in order to stimulate a space for younger minority groups to explore potential interests and passion in careers within the world of academia.
Forming an environment that would encourage intellectual growth for BAME staff and students, rather than a hyper-awareness of white dominated spaces, should not be a debate.
We’ve talked enough.
Now, it is time for action.