ECU Conference – Inclusivity, Intersectionality, Action
The annual ECU (Equality Challenge Unit) conference took place this week in Birmingham. The conference brings together academics, practitioners and representatives working on equality and diversity issues in HE (higher education) with the aim of further developing this community of practice.
The conference focused on 3 main themes:
- Inclusivity – creating and inclusive university
- Intersectionality – taking an intersectional approach to equality and diversity
- Action – taking action and overcoming barriers to action on equality and diversity
I attended the first day of the conference and was able to hear some insightful speeches and discover innovative approaches to tackling equality and diversity issues in HE.
Shakira Martin – NUS President
Shakira Martin, the NUS President, gave a rousing speech on the social and racial barriers that persist in HE. She mentioned her work on the Poverty Commission, aiming to address the barriers working class students face in regards to access and success in post-16 education. Shakira made a strong case for poverty being a defining factor for many students from lower-socio-economic backgrounds both before and after HE, stating “poorer students are being penalised for being poor”.
She explained how she saw her responsibility as the NUS President is to challenge the governments homogenisation of different social groups and avoidance of the barriers students face throughout their everyday lives because of their ethnicity, gender, disability and sexuality. Her campaign is aimed at engaging with people on a grassroots level, understanding that no 2 students’ experiences are alike and to promote the real life stories of many students, which are often overlooked.
Curriculum Co-Creation: A transformative strategy to enhance student success
Academics from Kingston University London delivered a workshop on the benefits of implementing a co-creation model aimed at working collaboratively to help bring students and staff together across different disciplines. They illustrated through a series of exercises and presentations the necessity of rejecting a traditional model of education in which academics are the produces of knowledge and students are the consumers.
A former student from the Politics MA spoke about his negative experience of a modern political thinking course module. He stated how the curriculum and syllabus only focused on white European thinkers and argued that coming from an Arab background, with other diverse student ethnic groups on the course, he felt completely alienated by the module. He approached the Equality & Diversity team at Kingston and asked if he could work with the academics to create a more relevant and inclusive curriculum.
It was inspiring to hear of students and staff taking such a collaborative and progressive approach to directly tackling the barriers of a specific course. This highlights the importance of including elements of identification for all students to help boost engagement and inclusivity.
Professor Akwugo Emejulu
Professor Akwugo Emejulu
Professor Akwugo Emejulu discussed intersectionality in terms of its context and the misuse of the idea and practice within HE. The term and development of intersectionality is rooted in Black feminist movements originating in America, with a framework developed by and for women.
Looking at how intersectionality has spread across society and embedded within different sectors and institutions, Akwugo questioned whether intersectionality is possible within the HE institutional framework and how this needs to be reshaped. Akwugo critiqued the Athena SWAN Charter and the Equality Race Charter for their separation of gender and ethnicity, as its lack of an intersectional dimension ultimately continued to disadvantage and under-represent individuals it aims to benefit.
Akwugo argued that we must aim to change the HE institutional framework so that we actively implement intersectionality within it. She pointed towards the decolonise movement and its progressive approach to reforming this framework, stating “connecting intersectional and decolonisation work could be transformative to the academy”.