BME Staff Network

We in the University’s BME Staff Network are strongly committed to the eradication of institutional racism in its multiple forms within the collegiate University, across the higher education sector, and beyond. Issues over the last several months, such as the death of George Floyd, disproportionately adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic on BME communities, and renewed attention on undergraduate access, have highlighted the need for the University to take a more aggressive and pro-active approach to acknowledge and to address long-standing questions of race and racism.

As a network of staff members, spread across the teaching, research, and administrative domains in the University, we have recently outlined a number of areas in which the colleges and central university might act in pursuit of broader anti-racism goals. We note that a number of these concerns have been variously echoed by many others in the University and without, and we acknowledge that on various fronts the University has made progress. The newly announced Race Equality Task Force will have the unenviable task of drawing together a vast array of disparate threads, and the BME Staff Network recognise that the process of arriving at institutional recommendations in this regard is as important as the recommendations themselves.

Determining the nature of the problem

The University have taken steps to acknowledge, understand, and address race-related problems in the institution, not least in the headline activity of the Race Equality Charter Mark and its renewal in 2022, which we wholeheartedly support. We encourage further steps to be taken to expand our collective understanding of the lived experience of BME staff members here (arguably beyond what standardised and multi-purpose surveys may reveal), to increase disclosure of race-related harassment, and to create safe spaces for BME staff to discuss issues of race and racism. Similarly, we look forward to extensive further dialogue to understand where and how our curricula and administrative processes may either entrench or conceal problems of racism. One might look at the University's first response on Twitter to the killing of George Floyd earlier this year as an indicator, which read: 'We're committed to supporting our community in opposing racism in all its forms, including upholding anti-racist values.' As a statement in itself it was unexceptionable, but it rather failed meaningfully to acknowledge, or to engage with, the broader social urgency that occasioned the statement's being made in the first instance. It perhaps inadvertently betrayed a mild complacency in some quarters of the University that the BME Staff Network, as a friend to the University, will continue to work to combat.

Fostering participatory mechanisms

The BME Staff Network continue to encourage the University to set and pursue ambitious goals in the racial composition of the University community and in the way that its members engage with each other. Progress has been made with promises to appoint BME members to selected university committees; however, there is similar scope for such advances in committees and other decision-making fora at the divisional, departmental, and collegiate levels. Beyond formal bodies is an enormous range of discussions and consultations, so we hope to promote further and continuous dialogue between all parts and all levels of the university on matters relating, directly or indirectly, to race. Fostering a high degree of interaction and engagement is critical for achieving and maintaining buy-in from BME communities spread across the university (and this point will not be unique to the university's BME community, either). We recognise that under-representation of racial minorities at the University needs to be addressed at all levels, starting with recruitment, continuing through promotion and retention, and cutting across all staff groups (faculty, researchers, and administrators). Devising mechanisms to encourage minority applicants, making promotion and retention processes transparent and fair, and resolving imbalances on these various fronts across the university and within staff groups, will be an enormous challenge for which widespread engagement and input will be vital.

Shaping and enabling effective responses

At the moment, it is perhaps the case that the decisions and responses to race-related issues across the University do not quite amount to a cohesive whole, but the Network have supported different actors and stakeholders across the University to achieve particular aims, however scattergun they have arguably thus far been. Some ongoing efforts include (but are not limited to):

  • assessing equality and diversity training and its coordination across the collegiate University: We are involved in dialogues that, inter alia, interrogate what types of training mechanisms are useful, how to measure that utility, where to position training to encourage more widespread applicability, and how to present training so as to avoid perceived box-ticking.
  • evaluating recruitment and promotion mechanisms: In addition to helping to articulate objectives and mechanisms for recruitment and promotion across all staff groups, we also hope to have continued input into the process by which progress in these regards is measured. We recognise that there is a delicate balance between aspiration and feasibility, so the forward challenges are to capitalise on those areas where we as a University have enjoyed success (and replicate those successful mechanisms elsewhere) as well as to set institutional ambitions that would make Oxford a leader, rather than a follower, in recruiting, retaining, and promoting BME staff at all levels.
  • shaping the decolonisation agenda and supporting BME-focused research activity: While our membership includes research and teaching staff involved in the formulation of the decolonisation agenda and the promotion of research focused on BME issues, the Network itself takes more of a bird's-eye view of how the legacy of colonialism relates to modern-day race-related challenges. We commend the University for a range of projects and initiatives in this vein that have certainly gained particular momentum in recent years, and we continue to support the University in identifying where there might be scope for improvement.
  • embedding BME staff in all aspects of the community: Beyond simply hiring and promoting BME staff, it is important that BME staff are (and feel) truly integrated into the professional, social, and intellectual community here at Oxford. Various efforts across the University are ongoing, including mentoring support, analysis of BME involvement in funding applications, support networks for contract research staff, and more. The Network is committed to enabling and supporting purpose-driven groups and initiatives to deal with specific challenges or differential experiences, but we are also mindful that these disparate efforts are meant to converge into a broader result of integration and engagement, as much of people as of ideas.

Black and Minority Ethnic Staff Network

The Network is comprised of teaching, research, and administrative staff members drawn from across the University who identify as black, Asian, or minority ethnic. The Network works to assist the University in promoting the involvement and inclusion of BME staff members, to serve as a support mechanism and safe space for BME staff members, and to foster links with groups whose interests overlap or are allied with BME concerns. We strive to be a constructively critical friend to the University in the pursuit of its equality, diversity, and inclusion goals. We welcome all University employees who identify as BME. Please follow the link to learn more, to join the network, and to become involved:

Read the BME Staff Network’s letter to the Vice Chancellor regarding Black Lives Matter, Rhodes Must Fall and decolonisation of the University here.

Read the Vice Chancellor’s response to the BME Staff Network letter here.