Diversity @ Edinburgh Neuroscience
Who are Diversity@EN?
Diversity @ Edinburgh Neuroscience is an initiative launched by Edinburgh Neuroscience in May 2019 that seeks the opinions and views of all members of our diverse community, particularly in relation to making sure everyone is able to fully participate on their own terms. This grouping has no formal leadership - it is simply convened and enabled by Edinburgh Neuroscience. It provides a space and a voice for diverse members of the Edinburgh Neuroscience community who are interested in helping our community maintain an open and inclusive environment.
Edinburgh Neuroscience has further committed to fostering a equal and inclusive working environment by formally endorsing the 'Equity and Inclusion Declaration' from ALBA, a network of brain scientists committed to fostering fair & diverse scientific communities. You can read the declaration here.
In light of recent events, our Diversity@EN grouping wishes to make the following statement, which has been endorsed by the Board of Edinburgh Neuroscience:
Diversity@Edinburgh Neuroscience open letter to the University of Edinburgh regarding racism
Like many in the academic community and beyond, we have been shocked and distressed by further graphic episodes of police brutality against black people in the US, and by the wholly unacceptable responses of some, including those in positions of power. These episodes dominate news cycles and serve as a festering reminder to those in our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities of previous aggressions and micro-aggressions. Much is made of the need for reform to prevent such events occurring in the future. While that is of course correct, we should also take the opportunity to reflect on and acknowledge the systemic racism and inequality in our society and institutions, and how we must take urgent individual and collective actions against this. Black Lives Matter.
To the BAME community, we want to acknowledge the ongoing systemic racism in your day-to-day life, that this is a triggering, frustrating and exhausting time for you, and that this is not OK. Specifically, to the black community, we acknowledge the disproportionate racism you endure. We offer to you our support, our empathy and pledge to use our voice and position to advocate, acknowledge the problem, and demand and implement reparative action.
To the wider university community, we must stand together and advocate for an anti-racist environment in which we all live and work. We must reflect on the lived experience of BAME individuals in our culture and society, and recognise how ignorance of our history (including recent history) perpetuates racism. Those of us who experience white privilege are too often completely unaware of the different, non-privileged, experiences of others; we can no longer use ignorance as an excuse. It is not now, nor has it ever been, appropriate to articulate a defence of “colour blindness” – that we as an institution do not discriminate, and the problems lie outside our walls. We will only become a welcoming, diverse, inclusive educational community through both critical self-reflection and action. This is likely to be a challenging and difficult journey, but the alternative is to be complicit in the maintenance of systemic racism. It is our collective responsibility to learn, to listen, to seek out information, and to engage in conversations on these topics. It is not the responsibility of our BAME peers to take on this burden.
To the university leadership team, systemic racism is consistent and pervasive in our institution. In 2017, we ranked worst amongst Russell Group Universities in admitting black students and a degree-awarding gap persists between white and BAME students. Similarly, the ethnicity pay gap has worsened. In 2016, according to our Racial Equality Charter Mark (RECM) action plan, the university’s target was to reduce the ethnicity pay gap to <4% by 2019. In 2017, the average pay gap was 6.8% (7.1% median) and in 2019, this had increased to an average 7.9% (8.4% median). These examples are just a selection from many demonstrating the ongoing systemic racism in this institution. The University of Edinburgh must do more to acknowledge its current shortcomings and take urgent action towards an anti-racist climate for all its students and staff.
Considering how best to proceed, there are some opportunities for immediate action.
- The institution should implement the recommendations of the 2019 Thematic Review on the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic Students in full. The institution should also act upon (and if they cannot, provide an item-by-item rebuttal) the actions requested in the letter/petition from students of the African Caribbean Society.
- The institution should develop and implement a clear action plan for institutional change that would merit an Advance HE’s RECM Award. The last attempt in 2016 failed, highlighting clear institutional inadequacies and there appears to have been little action to address this – this is unacceptable.
- The university should re-instate the institutional leadership role on Equality and Diversity (previously People and Culture) to the Vice-Principal level, and provide a suitable discretionary budget, to empower genuine and sustained changes. The university leadership should provide a timetable for revision of the University Equality and Diversity Strategy (the “current” version ran until 2017) and make publicly available membership and meeting minutes of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee as a matter of urgency.
These actions will begin to provide an appropriate institutional response.
To be clear – we abhor racism and discrimination in all its forms. This manifests in the lived experience of BAME members of our community, including our friends and colleagues, and should be the urgent focus of our attention. Words and statements of support are necessary and may be helpful but are by no means a sufficient response; we need collective, individual and institutional actions.
Signed by the Diversity@EN Group (including, in alphabetical order the people below) and endorsed by the Board of Edinburgh Neuroscience
Cathy Abbott, Peggy Assinck, Can Ayder, Zsanett Bahor, Thomas Bak, Gillian Currie, Sammy Danso, Rebecca Devon, Kaitlyn Hair, Jane Haley, Olivia Hamilton, Nathalie Jenkins, Malcolm Macleod, Sahan Mendis, Brenda Murage, Christopher Sena, Emily Sena, Ezgi Tanriver Ayder, Sau Yee Tsoi, Rose Vincent, Emma Wilson, Charis Wong, Beth York