Featured, On Campus

25th November 2020

Report + Support: An Interview With Professor Fiona Beveridge

Following the University’s announcement of the Report + Support Scheme in response to the 2019 Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), LGSM has been lucky enough to take part in an interview with one of the key figures behind the new changes to be implemented. Professor Fiona Beveridge, Executive Pro-Vice Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences, led the working group aiming to respond to the EHRC report, by developing new initiatives in order to empower and educate both staff and students with the necessary tools and support to report any and every form of harassment. 

Have a read of the interview below; 

In the past year we have witnessed a massive catalyst in the campaign for racial equality- would you say that this was one of the contributing factors owing to the University publishing its report?

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission Report Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged, published last Autumn, was the catalyst for us to establish a Working group and produce this report. However, while the group was working on our response to that report, important events were unfolding which further demonstrated the need for the University to make a step change in our approach to Race Equality – the disproportionate burden of Covid-19 on BAME people in the UK, and the eruption of unrest following the killing of George Floyd served both to highlight the depth of inequality and to generate a broader acceptance of the need for urgent and serious change.”

The University has reinforced its commitment to racial equality on campus, it is definitely going to be a long journey, but how do hope to achieve this aim?

“As a first step we have committed ourselves to tackle an agreed list of challenges – for example, we have established a new Report and Support scheme to improve our approach to racial harassment, we have produced more targeted data on BAME student attainment gaps, and we are looking at how we can ensure more black students start post-graduate study at the University. These are just some examples – the report has many more.

Longer term, we will sign up in Spring 2021 to Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter and use that framework to ensure we have a solid long-term action plan, based on a rigorous analysis of our race equality gaps. This will be required to apply successfully for an award and it’s a way of holding ourselves to account very openly and transparently.”

The report highlights the fact that many instances of racial harassment go unreported- how do you hope that the new Report + Support scheme will combat this, and bring these conversations to the forefront?

“First we will promote it very actively so that students and staff know where to go to report any harassment which they experience or witness – awareness of the new scheme is clearly very important. Behind the schemes we have also ensured that when a report is made, there is clear responsibility for following it up: both to offer support to victims and to investigate and deal with perpetrators. 

In the past we received very few reports – we hope that will change and staff and students will feel confident to report: that will enable us to take action and provide support, but also give us a good overview of the kinds of unacceptable behaviour being witnessed. An Annual Report will discuss this, in a strictly anonymised way, so we can consider how best to address what we are seeing – whether through better education, tougher disciplinary measures or in some other way.”

The report has highlighted your work with the Liverpool Guild of Students, is this a partnership you hope to continue and strengthen?

“Yes, indeed! The Guild officers and some student societies have been very supportive of the action we are taking and keen to contribute to the change we are seeking. For example, it’s the Guild which provides training for student leaders, and it’s key that that includes Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training. As part of the Action Plan the Guild also undertook to review its very successful programme of bystander training which shows students how they can safely and effectively provide support if they witness harassment: in the past, the main focus of this training was sexual harassment, but now racial harassment will also be included. Students are very motivated to address race equality and keen to know how they can do this. We introduced a new module on anti-racism in Foundation Week this year and over 5,000 students took part.”

There is a significant case of underrepresentation in staff from BAME backgrounds, both at the University of Liverpool and in higher education as a whole. How will the University aim to make the faculty more diverse and representative?

“There are two key areas for attention. One is to ensure that our recruitment processes are fair and inclusive and that we are making ourselves as open and welcoming as we can to potential applicants from BAME backgrounds: that is quite hard in some areas where there simply are no role models at present, so we need to be thoughtful about how to do that. The other challenge is to change the ‘pipeline’ from which we recruit. Typically, academics have completed a Masters programme and a Ph.D. and have some post-doctoral experience, so it’s a long apprenticeship. But the numbers of British BAME students progressing through that route are low and even fewer progress into academic positions. So, we need to fix that pipeline by encouraging more BAME students to think about research as a career option, and then provide the support and mentoring as they progress so that they are not deterred from pursuing academic careers. We have a Post-doc support programme called PROSPER https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/researcher/prosper/three-pillars/ part of which is about democratising research careers and we hope to learn from that what works best.”

On a personal note, I myself am a student from a BAME background, and I am currently studying in what is considered to be a quite white dominated subject area (Humanities and Modern Languages). I have witnessed and experienced first-hand the lack of inclusivity and representation both during my application process as well as during my year of study- how will the University narrow this gap, and make themselves more inclusive and appealing for both prospective and current students? 

“Part of the issue is to decolonise the curriculum, so that students from all backgrounds see their own cultures and life experiences reflected in the topics they study and the literature they read. We have to work hard to ensure that no subjects are dominated by a narrow range of perspectives and that all our courses are perceived as relevant to all, whatever their background. 

It’s also from hearing from students that we can better understand the perceptions which make some of our subjects less appealing, and inclusive. We will do this through working with our departments which come into contact with students every day, and through speaking to students themselves through student liaison committees, through the Guild, and through other forums – humanities and social science degrees open doors to a great many different options and graduates in these areas have key skills and attributes that are highly sought after by top employers.”

Finally, the University has announced its partnership with The Anthony Walker Foundation. Could you describe this partnership, and the aims you hope to achieve in collaboration?

“The Anthony Walker Foundation, based in Liverpool, has a wealth of expertise and experience in tackling racism which will really help us in our journey. The partnership will enable us to commission training for key staff and gain support and guidance from the Foundation. It will also help us to link the work we are doing within the University to other initiatives in the City Region. We know that the Foundation will challenge us constructively to help us to deliver real progress.”

Intrigued about Report + Support and UoL’s partnership with The Anthony Walker Foundation? 

Have a read of our article here! 

Feature Image Credit; University of Liverpool