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Engaging in race equity: navigating power and privilege in higher education

28 Mar 2023 | Yasmin Washbrook, Ali Bloomfield and Claire Taylor Yasmin Washbrook, Ali Bloomfield and Claire Taylor reflect on their journey so far in planning, implementing, and reviewing actions required to achieve race equity across Wrexham Glyndŵr University.

Within Wales, the Welsh Government has taken a distinct position and set goals that are influencing how higher education institutions are working to progress race equality. In 2022, it published the Anti-racist Wales Action Plan, which set a clear goal for universities to pursue a charter mark. Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter (REC) is now being formally pursued by all universities within Wales.

Wrexham Glyndwr University (WGU) has adopted its own approach through support from Advance HE that speaks to the direction it has deemed right for its own context.

Yasmin Washbrook, Lecturer in Youth and Community, Ali Bloomfield, Head of Organisational Development and Diversity and Claire Taylor, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Professor of Education at WGU share insights of their experiences for navigating power and privilege across various levels of the institution as new REC members working to achieve a Bronze Award.


In February 2021, Wrexham Glyndŵr University was invited to participate in the HEFCW funded ‘Race Access and Success Collaborative Project’, facilitated across Wales by Advance HE. The project saw Welsh higher education institutions come together to evaluate and review institutional policy, practice and curriculum. The aim was to develop a tangible action plan, to be used to devise, implement and achieve the Race Equality Charter award across their respective institutions. This work, combined with the Welsh Government Race Equality Action Plan (2022), has been shaping race equity strategies across WGU.

Almost two years on, we review our progress to share our learning for navigating power and privilege around race and racism at Wrexham Glyndŵr University.

NB: Due to ongoing contention surrounding the ‘BAME’ terminology, we use the terms ‘Black/ Brown’ and ‘Global Majority’ throughout this piece, we acknowledge that this is tentative.

What happened

Once we embarked on the journey towards race equity, it became apparent that for change to take place, a whole-institution approach was required over an extended period. Cultural perspectives and institutional practices required review. For the sustainability and success of the task, staff, student, stakeholder and community involvement across all levels, were imperative to the process. Collaborating with Advance HE enabled those channels to be opened with members of the Executive team at WGU.

Ali (HR) and Yasmin (YCW) approached Claire (DVC) to discuss plans and recommendations for race equity across WGU. This enabled Yasmin to share lived experiences as a Mixed-race academic in a predominantly White profession and geographical location, including sharing experiences of micro-aggressions in the workplace. The group engaged in dialogue with a focus on the race equality action plan, as further race-related tensions were being highlighted across the University community.

Tensions comprised of structural issues around class and racial privilege, including the experiences of students in comparison to the staff teaching them; widening participation and the needs of students from Global Majority backgrounds; student attainment and awarding gaps and staff recruitment and retention, to name but a few. Additional tensions included personal experiences such as overt racism, micro-aggressions in the workplace or place of study, and a lack of confidence in staff to discuss and challenge racism. These issues became compounded, at times, when procedural responses from management or colleagues (without lived experience) did not acknowledge these tensions; alongside a lack of reporting mechanisms for racism or racial discrimination across the institution.

As a result of these preliminary discussions, the group were able to establish several sub-groups and projects to support Black and Brown staff and students across the University. Some of these included an open communication channel with the DVC and a bi-monthly discussion forum for members that identified as Black or Brown, to meet and discuss their experiences in relation to WGU or the wider local community. In addition, the development of the race equality self-assessment team, co-ordinated by the newly in post Race Equality Charter lead, enabled a working group from all levels of the University to monitor, review and critically analyse WGU policy and practices, in line with the Race Equality Charter requirements.

Moreover, HR developed and reviewed working groups, CPD opportunities, external workshops, and speaker invitations to encourage external speakers to discuss cross-sector research and experiences around race equity in Wales and the UK. Furthermore, the Youth and Community team developed and established multiple learning and information workshops, programme reviews and development, research and publications, and intersectional online projects.

As this work continued to develop, additional working groups were created within WGU with a focus on race equity in research, curriculum and academic development.

Using the learning to navigate power and privilege

Specifically for Claire as DVC and in a position of power at the University, learning together with Yasmin and Ali has focused reflection and self-challenge on the following:

  • As a senior leader, check in with yourself. What is your intention if you are involved in race equity work, are you being authentic in your actions, language and behaviour or are you being a White saviour, performative ally or unintentionally racist?
  • Be real. Acknowledge those experiences you are hearing and acknowledge your privilege.
  • Read and research. Engage in authentic reflective practice of your own privileges and intersectional experiences, how do these compare to your Black and Brown colleagues/ students/ friends?
  • Remember that discussing lived experience is a type of secondary trauma and that although you might be going about your day as normal, after the discussions, those Black and Brown staff engaged may need some time to recover.
  • Take action, if you, as a senior leader, have asked for information and contextual knowledge, actively use this to shape future policy, practice, curriculum, recruitment. This supports the shift in the power divide, as it reduces individuals from feeling tokenistic with their contributions.
  • Acknowledge and admit mistakes – we are learning together. Take action to reduce repeating this in future.

Towards a whole-institution approach to achieving race equity

Yasmin, Ali and Claire acknowledge that this work is all about culture change. We are at the start of our journey as a University committed to achieving race equity and are pleased with achievements to date. However, we are also mindful of the challenges we continue to uncover that will directly impact future race equity work at WGU. Therefore, at this point, it is helpful to reflect on our learning so far and we have identified five key points in this respect:

  1. There has been the need to acknowledge power and privilege across the complex levels that comprises the HEI, such as personal power, cultural power and institutional power parallel to the impact that intersectionality can have on individuals. For example, people living with disabilities, as part of the LGBTQ+ community, learning differences, religious beliefs, financial difficulties and/ or age discrimination, to name but a few.  It is imperative for a direct channel of communication to remain in place between senior leadership and those who experience race discrimination (especially where there is a lack of lived experience), as visible and authentic support can help develop a progressive culture change.
  2. It has been essential to ensure that race equity is the responsibility of all within the organisation, including department leads, team leaders, academic and professional staff, and catering and estates services. Staff are encouraged to assess and engage with race equity via personal development reviews and work allocation, staff recruitment processes and procedures and CPD or training opportunities.
  3. There should be a focus on developing an equitable curriculum, diverse student recruitment channels and student engagement with projects involving critical analysis from those who have lived experience.
  4. We have been acutely aware of a challenge related to people unwilling to acknowledge their privilege, lacking time to reflect on ways in which they may have benefitted or even discriminated against someone (even if unintentionally).
  5. A pillar of our approach has been to actively engage directly with colleagues who identify as from the Global Majority, however it is important to acknowledge that not all people who experience racism, want to discuss it. Therefore, inviting people to share or analyse practices pertaining to racism, may lead to secondary trauma or unacknowledged negative experiences for those involved. We were keen to provide external support for such colleagues here at WGU should it be required.

Final reflections

It has been incredibly important to embed authentic space to listen to our Black and Brown workforce, across all levels of the University. But in doing so, we have had to intentionally support colleagues by allocating time back and providing emotional support whilst asking for their help. It is important to acknowledge that learning is ongoing, for everyone. Mistakes will be made and that requires us all to reflect, apologise and take action for change. Finally, those who identify outside of the Global Majority need to remember that it is a privilege to learn about racism rather than experience it.



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