Since the police killing of George Floyd a little over a month ago, anger about racism and its associated inequalities and injuries has been finding new voice and amplification, around the world and in London. The time for overwhelmingly white institutions to listen and to respond is long overdue. Well-meaning intentions are not enough. Our existing equality, diversity and inclusion plans are insufficient. Our attempts to decolonise the curriculum are only scraping the surface of what needs to be done. The pace of change has been glacial. Meanwhile the injustices, marginalisation and aggressions experienced by Black students and members of staff continue to be perpetrated, and we go on reproducing our disciplines and departments as structures of racialized hegemony.
As a community of social and historical scientists, dedicated to advancing understanding of social, economic, cultural and political processes and practices in their current and historical forms, we committed last year, in our Faculty’s Ten Year Vision and Strategy, not to ignore or bracket off the framework within which we are working, in order to get on with what some might consider the ‘real business’ of academic life. We agreed that this framework is our work, our object of study and, indeed, of intervention. We identified a focus on diversity, difference and inequalities as one of our strategic priorities for research and education for the coming decade, and we stated our aim to become a radically more diverse and inclusive community, in which all staff and students feel respected and are treated as equals. We said that the value we place on equality, diversity and inclusion will underpin and inform all aspects of our work, and that we will strive to transform structural inequalities and resist systemic bias within the Faculty. Recognising the intersectionality of identities and the cumulative impact of multiple forms of disadvantage, we set ourselves the challenge that by 2029, we will have a significantly more diverse and equal workforce at all levels and in all roles, across all departments. We said that we will ensure that staff from different backgrounds and with differing identities, with caring responsibilities, and with disabilities, feel included and accepted as individuals, able to thrive at work as fully equal members of the Faculty. We also said that by 2029, we will have significantly extended our recruitment of non-traditional students at all levels, particularly first-in-family students. We will have established effective practices to welcome and induct non-traditional students and to support them throughout their studies, recognising the specific challenges that they face at UCL and beyond. We will pay particular attention to the needs of commuting students, living at home in London. We have pledged to institute far reaching change that tackles structural inequalities in attainment. We also promised to attend more explicitly and deeply to the origins and destinations of our postgraduate research students, to ensure that we recruit from the full talent pool of potential students, focusing particularly on encouraging applications from Black and minority ethnic students and supporting them through their doctoral studies. We noted that vital to this are both the provision of funding and the openness and outreach of our academics.
These are all worthy aims, but to write them down is not enough. As members of a university, we believe in the power of the written word, but we are, first and foremost, a community of practice, a space in which working lives are led, where minds are formed and changed, and knowledge created. We must make these goals real in our everyday work with each other and with our students. We also need to recognise that the Faculty’s Vision and Strategy will need revision, that it must be open to reframing and re-specification in dialogue with all those whose voices have not traditionally been heard at UCL, in particular Black colleagues and students – present and future. Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the harsh economic conditions that we are facing, we need to place challenging racism in all its forms centre stage in everything that we do as Faculty. There is much that we have to learn and work out, and I would welcome your thoughts, observations and suggestions about this urgent, shared project.
Professor Sasha Roseneil, Dean of the Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences
The Dean’s Reading Group
Racism, racialization and the social and historical sciences: educating ourselves - an online reading and discussion group for UCL Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences staff
The events we have seen in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, point to the urgency of the work that we all need to do to rethink the premises and practices of our disciplines and departments. Foregrounding issues of racism and racialization in the social and historical sciences is a key first step. Throughout June and July, the Dean has organised a series of weekly two hour online reading and discussion groups open to all staff within the Faculty.
Each session takes a text chosen and introduced by a member of staff from within the Faculty that raises important questions about how to understand the racialized histories and frameworks within which we think and work, and about the challenges that Black scholars and those working in postcolonial and critical race studies have posed to them.
If you are interested in reading what some of your lecturers have been reading and discussing this summer, this has been our reading list:
- Achille Mbembe, ‘Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive’ (2015)
- Richard Wright, ‘Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States of America’ by Richard Wright, with photographs by Edwin Rosskam (1941).
- Franz Fanon, ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ (1952)
- Vron Ware and Les Back, ‘Out of Whiteness: color, politics and culture’ (2002).
- Gail Lewis, ‘Birthing Racial Difference: conversations with my mother and others’ (2009).