National Inclusion Week (27th September – 3rd October 2021) is a time for organisations across the UK to take time to focus on the impact inclusion can have and to celebrate the individuals and groups advancing inclusion across our many communities.
This year’s theme, #UnitedForInclusion, speaks to the efforts that SOAS is making as part of the school’s new strategic plan; working together as a community to become a more just, collegiate, and respectful university.
Across Inclusion Week itself, we asked staff and students to nominate others at SOAS who bring inclusion to everything that they do, whether that involves ensuring everyone has a chance to speak during meetings or widening participation in student events.
Outside of the week, SOAS is committed to becoming an inclusive environment for staff, students and visitors.
We’re working with Gendered Intelligence, the Students’ Union and the student Trans* Dignity Group on producing an Inclusion Policy for staff and students who are trans and/or non-binary and/or intersex to help SOAS become more welcoming for people of all genders. As part of this project, we’re consulting with members of the SOAS community who are trans, non-binary and/or intersex, as well as those who feel they are gender diverse and/or are questioning their gender, as well as all other members of the SOAS community via a survey until 18th October 2021.
Work is also beginning on several self-reflective processes for SOAS. We will be working on submissions to two equality charters administered by Advance HE, Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter (REC). Athena Swan encourages higher education institutions to commit to advancing gender equality, and the REC aims to improve the representation, progression and success of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and staff. While we have submitted to Athena Swan before, SOAS will be working on the REC for the first time. Information on both processes will be communicated in the coming weeks.
Discussions have begun on the introduction and inclusion of a restorative justice approach in the way that SOAS works. Dr Awino Okech, Associate Director Equity & Accountability, recently coordinated an advisory group of experts from across SOAS to explore what bringing restorative justice into our policies and procedures might look like and require. Broadly, restorative justice involves bringing together people harmed by a conflict and those responsible for the conflict, enabling a way for all involved to repair harm, reflect, and engage with each other. Further updates about this process at SOAS will be communicated over the coming weeks.
All members of the SOAS community received emails earlier in the summer detailing the investigation process into past complaints of alleged racist language and behaviour at SOAS, including anti-Black conduct. This process is continuing, with Dr Jason Arday and Dr Zainab Khan being appointed as external independent investigators for the process, and the ultimate aim is to suggest improvements to the way complaints of all forms of racism are dealt with at the school. You can take an active role in the investigation by sharing a written account.
While a lot of the processes we’ve outlined involve elements of reviewing and suggesting institutional, procedural change at the school, as a community we also want to celebrate the joy and positivity in being inclusive at SOAS. To support this aim of celebration, as a school we will be holding more events in the future celebrating key campaigns and cultural periods; for example, Black History Month, Disability History Month, and IDAHOBIT Day. We will continue to plan for these events all year round and will work with members of our community, UCU, Unison and the Students’ Union. If you’d like to discuss a particular event, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jumara Stone is the Diversity & Inclusion Manager at SOAS University of London, and is also a qualified Mental Health First Aid England Instructor and consultant on equality, diversity and inclusion matters.
Rob Drury is the Race Equity Project Lead at SOAS University of London, focusing on SOAS’ upcoming submission to Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter.