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"The honest child in me wants to be an optimist..."

07 Jul 2020 | Monica Medina Monica Medina, EDI, Forth Valley College, Falkirk, is a member of the Steering Group for Scottish Funding Council (SFC) funded project being led by Advance HE - Tackling racism on campus: Raising awareness and creating the conditions for confident conversations. She explains her motivation for joining the group in the run up to the 'Critical Conversations on Racism' webinar which took place on 23 July.

When I heard about the steering group I was instantly interested. I had switched from lecturing in colleges to specific EDI work because of my experience with antiracist activism. After living in Scotland for several years, I had finally found a community where people would talk openly about racism and social exclusion. The assertion of ‘creating confident conversations’ particularly attracted me as this is the precise predicament. If we cannot discuss racism, deny its existence; we fail. 

For decades, antiracist educators have been hit with a backlash of defensiveness and anger when racist structures and ideas are challenged. Even more challenging are the instances of people simply mentioning race and being labelled a racist for breaking the colour-blind code of conduct. However, following this code only feeds (the already fattened) misunderstanding. The idea that there would be a unified message throughout the sector seemed like a genuine way to make a clear, informed communication mainstream.

From the first meeting I was energised by the passion, knowledge and experience within the group. The sheer diversity of our lived experiences, professional, academic and personal, has kept us drafting and refining the project to ensure it fits a multitude of audiences. 

Considering the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, consciousness has been raised, again. People’s outrage over George Floyd and systemic racism especially as a cause of disproportionate COVID deaths to Black and Ethnic Minorities is an opportunity to continue conversations that go beyond the EHRC report. 

This project has the potential to extend discussions into actions, to look at what we have differently, to listen to people’s stories and challenge ideologies that work for few. It is the monumental challenge of undoing centuries of inequality but like the civil rights movement in the 60’s, the zeitgeist has turned in our favour. When I meet with my colleagues from the steering group, we speak the same language even though we come from various backgrounds, and in this, I find optimism. Many friends and colleagues have lost hope over the years because of the fatigue associated with constantly battling injustice. 

However, the child within me pushes forward. In the words of James Baldwin, "I can't be a pessimist because I'm alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I'm forced to be an optimist.” I would go a step further. Though the academic evidence is required to prove the problem as well as the solution, the honest child in me wants to be an optimist. So often in professional settings like these we distance ourselves from emotion in order to perform an impossible objectivity. Still, as Baldwin asks, how do we remove the humanity from the race problem? We are speaking of people’s education, livelihood, well-being and with that, I want to embrace the reality that we cannot be emotionless in the face of human lives. As a people, the steering group holds that spirit and I look forward to seeing it delivered.

 

Advance HE is developing a suite of evidence-based resources in support of Tackling racism on campus: Raising awareness and creating the conditions for confident conversations.

This project is funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and led by an expert group of EDI practitioners, academics, tertiary education staff and students.

The resources are designed for staff and students in Scottish colleges and universities so that they have access to tools that support conversations about race and racism and whiteness. The steering group directing the project on behalf of the Scottish Funding Council was established in February 2020, formed of EDI specialists, university and college staff, students and SFC and Advance HE representatives. Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader in Early Years from the University of the West of Scotland, Khadija Mohammed is the appointed Chair.

Our webinar, which took place on 23 July, focused on the work of the steering group of the Tackling Racism on Campus project. Khadija Mohammed (Chair) hosted conversations with EDI experts, including Monica, who are leading each of the three work streams within the steering group. 

View the full recording of the webinar.

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