How we're progressing race equality

Recent events in the USA and beyond, and the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, have brought issues of race, inequality and racism to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Our commitment to progress race equality precedes these events and will continue in the future, even when the topic isn’t as prominent on social media or in the news.

Our objectives and commitments are set out in our Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan, which was launched in March 2019 in partnership with students and staff. The five overarching aims of the strategy are:

  • Reduce the awarding gap between BAME and White students to zero
  • Widen access to students from BAME backgrounds and support these students to succeed once studying at the University of Sheffield
  • Improve graduate outcomes and progression to postgraduate education for BAME students
  • Increase the diversity of the staff body and support the career progression of BAME staff
  • Create an inclusive campus culture that facilitates belonging and promotes respect for BAME students and staff, and the wider BAME community

Since then, work has taken place in several areas to progress these actions. To mark one year on, in March 2020, we organised two workshops to create the space and opportunity needed to conduct a critical review of the past 12 months, to update our plans for the future and to inform the wider community of the progress made. The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown meant that we had to postpone these workshops and this update. The workshops will be rearranged for the next academic year.

We know that we have a lot more to do. We have had many conversations, particularly with our Black students and staff, about the need to improve our support provisions and about how we need to do more to help people feel safe, valued and confident about the University’s approach to race equality. We are listening, we will do more and we are absolutely committed to long-term actions that will improve our race equality and culture for everyone.

The following is an overview of the work that has taken place over the past year and a look at some of the actions for future focus:

Race equality programme for all new students

In 2019–20 we implemented a three-phase race equality programme for all new students. This is being adapted to work via an online delivery model for the 2020–21 academic year. The programme includes:

  • An animated video played during welcome talks to introduce new students to the history of race-related issues in the UK
  • Lectures that were facilitated by student champions to explore this issue further
  • Race conversations that were shaped by feedback and comments received from the previous phases where students could explore key issues on racism in more detail

Video played during welcome talks to introduce new students to the history of race-related issues in the UK

Training for student societies

At our Students’ Union, every student society must have an inclusion officer on their leadership committees. These elected students work to ensure that inclusion and accessibility are at the heart of all society activities and they receive training and support from the Students' Union to ensure they are equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to understand and tackle systemic barriers to participation that students face. In addition, annual anti-racism training is now compulsory for all sports teams. It is also offered to all society committee members.

Training for student ambassadors

We have expanded the training we provide to student ambassadors to include guidance on equality, diversity and inclusion. This includes highlighting specific examples of situations that they will be involved in, such as interacting with prospective students on University open days and in outreach schemes.

Access and Participation Plan

We are committed to reducing the awarding gaps experienced by Black and Asian students and have written targets specifying this into our Access and Participation Plan.

Training for student support services staff

We have committed funding to provide additional training to our student support services staff to enable them to offer better support to our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students. We’re planning for the training to be completed before the new academic year.

Racism in higher education training for staff

Over the past year more than 100 staff in critical roles, such as heads of departments and members of the University Executive Board, have attended a series of full day, in-person workshops from Advance HE on the subject of racism within the UK higher education sector. So that we can offer race equality training to more staff, we’re looking at a mix of online and face-to-face training for the next academic year.

Student recruitment

We have dedicated a member of staff in Student Recruitment & Admissions to work nationally to address our representation and encourage more students from BAME backgrounds to apply to Sheffield.

Report + Support

We launched Report + Support, an online platform for staff, students, and external visitors to report and access support about harassment and discrimination of any kind. This platform is reviewed every few months to ensure that it remains fit for purpose.

Understanding the impacts of Covid-19

We are undertaking an Equality Impact Assessment to ensure that we understand the consequences of Covid-19 for the health, wellbeing and work lives of our BAME staff, amongst other groups, as we plan the phased return to campus. We are also planning to contact students and staff to find out how Covid-19 has impacted their wellbeing, their access to resources and their learning and teaching experiences.

Inclusivity in learning and teaching

Inclusivity remains a key priority for learning and teaching in the 2020-21 academic year and, as part of this, we will continue to work with students and staff to decolonise the curriculum.

Race Equality Charter

Over the next few months we will begin to work through Advance HE's Race Equality Charter and ensure that the actions set out in our Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan are aligned with the charter. The charter aims to improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education and it provides a framework through which institutions work to identify and self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of minority ethnic staff and students.

Student and staff perspectives

It is vitally important that we all continue to talk, share and learn together as we progress our commitment to long-term actions that will improve our race equality and culture for everyone. We hope to be able to share some individual perspectives from our BAME students and staff as well as from allies who are non-BAME on these pages over the coming weeks and months.

A message of support from the BAME Staff Network:

“We have been appalled by the tragic events that have taken place over the past week or so, and by the way in which they have been handled by US authorities, who have allowed the situation to escalate. It reminds us that systemic racism also exists in the UK. The latest events have increased the stress our BAME community was already under, due to the more severe effects of Covid-19 on us, compared to its effects on the white population. So, what can we do?

“Martin Luther King famously said, ‘If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.’

“We acknowledge that the level of support provided by the University to these specific BAME-related issues may not be as we would like, however we welcome the dialogue that this has invoked and encourage you to play your role. Only by our involvement will we move forward and bring about change. We must use these events as a catalyst.

“We do not expect this to be a straightforward exercise, but in these difficult times we request your engagement with us. All our committee members are BAME and while we don't claim to share exactly the same experiences as you, we are here to listen and try our best to make sure your voice is heard.

“We will be holding virtual sessions for staff to engage with us which we encourage you to attend. Details will follow shortly.”

University support for staff and students

We are working with our staff and student communities to improve our support provisions, and are grateful to those of you who have discussed this with us. Please find below details of the current support available:

For students:

  • Our new wellbeing service offers 1-2-1 support to help students who are feeling down, overwhelmed or struggling with any aspect of life during these challenging times
  • Our Counselling Service offers confidential emotional support for students who need dedicated help
  • You can also visit Report + Support to report and access support about harassment and discrimination of any kind
  • The University Chaplaincy provides a non-judgemental listening-ear service to all students and staff whether or not they have a religion or belief identity

For staff:

You may also wish to consider these external sources of support:

Curated resources: Black Lives Matter

If you’re looking to learn more, the University Library has a curated list of resources including books, films, podcasts and talks. These resources have been compiled by the library based on suggestions from people across the University, and new suggestions are encouraged via this recommendation form.

The following books have also been suggested. These are on order and will be added as soon as possible:

  • So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts

Professor Susan Fitzmaurice, Faculty Vice-President Arts and Humanities and Chair of the University’s Race Equality Steering Group, recently shared an update on our work to progress race equality. You can read this on our staff and student web pages.