By Robin Webber-Jones
The recent Equality and Human Right’s Commission (EHRC) Report into harassment in higher education presents some serious challenges that the sector has to tackle. The EHRC have evidently worked well with the sector (including through UUK) in compiling the report. The sector acknowledges incidents are likely to be under reported, partly because of lack of confidence in complaints processes and reporting is less likely where staff and student populations come from less diverse backgrounds.
In many ways the Report has been described as a ‘wake-up call’. The Report says universities are over-confident in handling issues of racial discrimination and are under estimating both the volume and impact of it. The report cuts to the heart of whether or not we have inclusive institutions, and how issues are dealt with and how that makes students feel. The report cites the impact of micro-aggression; the small ways people are discriminated against which make people feel unwanted and under-valued. While these are hard to pinpoint, there is an acknowledgement that people in positions to challenge and tackle it do not always know what to do for the best.
Thus, it leads us all to ask deep questions such as how we understand this as a wider cultural problem of racism. We need to consider how we can decolonise the curriculum and the ways in which we can make institutions more open and tolerant, regardless of whether or not micro-aggressions (or full-frontal inequality) exists in broader society. This challenge starts with Access (how can we create learning environments where people feel they really belong?), and goes right through the life-cycle so that students feel secure, can thrive and progress.
Nicola Dandridge’s blog in response to the report pointed to the responsibilities of both universities and colleges to work to tackle all forms of discrimination. Indeed, building on some of the interesting chapters in the Higher Education Policy Institute Report – The White Elephant in the Room – we need to consider how diversity leads to better learning. For everyone in higher education it asks us to question how we check our own biases. Challenging questions, but ones which are crucial to answer nonetheless.