Brain Sciences


Q&A with Jake Cable, Acting Race Equity Lead

27 October 2021

As part of Black History Month, we sat down with the new Race Equity Lead Jake Cable. Jake is a technician within the Ear Institute, and has been at UCL since studying at undergraduate level.

Photo of Jake, smiling at the camera.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

It’s of course a month of celebration of ‘black’ achievement and history, although for me personally it’s a time of reflection. It reminds me that many of the liberties and freedoms I enjoy today were not givens, but hard-won concessions from power. I feel a duty to continue the ‘black’ tradition of fugitivity from the racialised nature of our society, but also to help change the racial power relationship, so that people racialised as ‘black’ at UCL can spend more time on their academic progression than battling regressive social structures that limit them.

What are your ambitions as Acting Race Equity Lead within the Faculty and what attracted you to take on this role?

I was attracted to this role primarily because of my lived experiences as a student at UCL – I felt I ‘slipped through the cracks’ as an undergraduate. My mental health deteriorated due to many factors, but one of them being that I couldn’t see myself as a neuroscientist.

Once I reached second year and I was lectured to about Francis Galton’s works [uncritically] I could see why. I discovered the ideas of Galton survive today and form attitudes about human ability that are the cause and effect of poor ‘black’ attainment and retention at UCL compared to their ‘white’ peers.

My ambition is to create an environment where all UCL professionals understand that it is no accident that there is an attainment and retention gap for ‘black’ students and staff, and where ‘black’ students and staff no longer feel it necessary to turn themselves inside out to access and thrive in academia at UCL.

Can you tell us about any race equity initiatives that you are you involved in currently, or any that are in the pipeline? 

We are planning to create a network in which people can come together to talk about how racialised society affects staff and students of racialised backgrounds. Closing the attainment and retainment gap for ‘black’ students and staff is a priority, and we’ll be using data to target our efforts accordingly in the Faculty.

To what extent to you think the tide has turned on our collective understanding of institutional and interpersonal racism?

It very much has turned – although I believe a very necessary step on our path to ending racism is for us all to understand its history and the sheer extent of its synthetic nature – to embrace that many of our understandings of the ways in which the world ‘work’ today are built upon the othering, suffering and division of peoples that have delivered to us many of today’s political nasties that still keep many – including ‘white’ people – away from their best and most developed selves.

What can we do as a university to create a more equitable academic environment?

The #1 thing I think we can do is to embed fair recruiting procedures as the norm, rather than a ‘free-for-all’ approach to recruiting new staff. Prejudices are as pernicious as they are pervasive, we live in a centuries old shadow of prejudice that has informed all our ideas about people’s characteristics and their supposed meanings, to the detriment of our recruitment practices.

We must take seriously that these prejudices exist, that they are invented ideas rather than biological realities, and to ensure that we give people otherwise marginalised by these ideas a leg up where possible.

(Lastly it would be great if more people read Emma Dabiri’s short yet powerful ‘What White People Can Do Next’, escaping racialised thinking is critical to equity, and this book is supreme in this regard)

Are there particular lessons that universities could learn from other organisations or sectors?

I personally believe that universities, in particular UCL as a ‘global university’ are best placed to inform the rest of society on what works in terms of bringing about equity for society at large. Indeed, many of the ideas that created the inequitable society were formed in the very same colleges and academic institutions. Although not entirely free from the highly racialised grips of capital, the HE sector has a unique opportunity to be a beacon for equity.