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Black lives matter - it's our job to do something about it

Robert Van de Noort

The overwhelming response to the murder of George Floyd across the world, including in the UK and among our students and colleagues at the University of Reading, reminds us that the experience of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in our own communities is blighted by a deep-rooted, pervasive racism that cannot be allowed to thrive in 2020.

So we condemn racist violence. We sympathise with those for whom racism is a daily and lifelong obstacle. We identify the size of the problem. And then we do something about it.

As a University, this is what we are for. We exist to find solutions to the biggest challenges facing humanity. We are in the position to be able to listen, to encourage debate, to challenge the status quo. We champion our position to speak freely, listen to every perspective, weigh up every argument, and not just the convenient or fashionable ones. Racism in society is a problem tied to politics, business, psychology, history, the economy, education, the law. We have some of the world’s greatest minds in those subjects.

As Vice-Chancellor of this University, I have the privilege to be able to listen to our students, our academic and professional colleagues, and the wider community. Today the University received a letter from a second-year student, who wrote this:

“You have to power to carry out real change. You have the authority to help students and staff during this time of need …You must send a message to your Black students and to the world that you recognise what is happening, that you care, and that you vow to take action. Be the difference: push boundaries and change things for the better.”

I couldn’t agree more. Therefore, I have asked the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Parveen Yaqoob, with support of the Dean for Diversity & Inclusion, Dr Allan Laville, to explore this issue and review what more we can do at the University of Reading.

The full details will be for them, but the process should draw together an assessment of progress across existing measures, such as supporting the development and progression of our BAME colleagues, widening access to education for BAME students and their academic progress, and progress towards equality and diversity in staff recruitment, pay and promotion. But it should also offer the space for our students, our colleagues, and our partners in Reading and elsewhere to share their experiences and help shape the change that is needed within our community and beyond.

I’ve asked them to deliver a report by the end of 2020 with assessments of how we are doing, and provide recommendations of what more we can do – through our teaching, research, activities, or influence. In the meantime, let's start the conversation. Talk to your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours. Explore your own convictions. And share your views and experiences with me and the wider University. With your permission, we will share your stories more widely.

This won’t be easy, not least at a time when we are facing serious institutional issues as a result of a global pandemic. But however hard the task, it is our responsibility to be the difference, to push boundaries, and to change things for the better.

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