As with much of the rest of the world, the community of The Queen’s College was deeply affected by the Black Lives Matter campaigns in 2020. This led the Provost and Governing Body to issue a statement on 9 June 2020 noting that: ‘We see it as our role to do our utmost to ensure that Queen’s is a place where diversity is recognised as a profound source of richness; inclusivity and fairness are essential; and individual differences are respected in everything that we do.’
A Race, Diversity and Access working group was formed over the summer, made up of students and staff from across the College. Smaller sub-groups looked at a range of areas, including outreach activities, admissions and financial support for both undergraduates and postgraduates; the procedures related to hiring and retaining academic and non-academic staff members of the highest calibre; student support; and all aspects of fostering a community in which everyone feels respected, valued, and heard.
Work will continue and there is no quick fix to such complicated and long-standing issues.
We have, however, already seen a greater diversity of focus in College activities this academic year. Confluence@Queen’s is a new space for members of ethnic minority communities and allies to come together, mingle, exchange ideas, share in cultures and expand horizons, building a community for all of Queen’s across common rooms, staff and Fellows. We are also involving some of our alumni such as Honorary Fellow and author Caryl Phillips and a new search committee seeking out future Honorary Fellows will continue this direction by having diversity as one of its key considerations. The student-run Addison Society (for debating) meanwhile chose radical veganism and its relationship to race, class and queer rights as their first topic of the year, with guest speakers Christopher Sebastian and Laila Kassam.
We have also been able to build on the College’s strengths in History – which include welcoming the Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History year (many of whom have addressed questions of race and the slave trade in their research) to become a member of the Fellowship each year. Thanks to the generosity of an Old Member, we will appoint an historian with knowledge of the culture, society or politics of people of African and/or Caribbean descent in Britain to the newly established Brittenden Fellowship in Black British History (along with an Associate Professorship or Professorship in Oxford’s History Faculty), starting in September 2021.
Queen’s has a long tradition in the study of twentieth-century British history and its current historians include Fellow in History John Davis, who works on twentieth century London, Fellow in Politics, Nicholas Owen, who works on the British left and oppositional social movements including anti-colonialism, and Rebecca Beasley, Tutorial Fellow in English who works on twentieth century literary modernism.
Announcing the Brittenden Fellowship, the College’s Senior Tutor, Seth Whidden, noted that ‘this post will contribute directly and meaningfully to the College’s unwavering commitment that Queen’s continue to be a welcoming place for all: within and beyond the syllabus. While necessarily looking to the past, this appointment of a Fellow in Black British History will also help us chart a course for our future.’