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Edinburgh College’s Sue Clyne discusses the anti-racism work undertaken at the college which led to it winning the Inclusive College Award at this year’s CDN College Awards.

Tackling Racism on Campus

I began working at Edinburgh College at the end of 2018 having previously worked for several colleges in England and Scotland, as well as a large university. Having led on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work in my previous roles and throughout my career, I knew racism was not something we could be complacent about, and more than that, I was keen to embed an anti-racism ethos (a process of actively identifying and opposing racism) across the College which could be promoted to the wider sector too.

Anti-racism rather than not-racist

In 2020, Scotland’s colleges and universities signed a declaration to tackle racism on campuses as part of a project funded by the Scottish Funding Council. Since then, our College has built on its commitment to creating a culture where everybody is equally valued and respected, and while tackling racism is a big part of that, it is important for us, and the sector, to focus on anti-racism rather than on simply being ‘not racist’. Driven by our Board of Management’s commitment to tackling racial discrimination and inequality, we began to look at how we could put anti-racism at the forefront of our College’s equalities strategy.

Where were we?

We set to work on looking at ethnicity pay gaps and the available recruitment data for Black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) applicants – both reflected that more could and should be done to bridge the gap. In May 2021, we created an employee-led network, the Anti-Racist Unity Group (ARUG), to champion our commitment to addressing the under-representation of BAME groups across the College and to improving equality for members of these groups. The ARUG consists of volunteer representatives from across the College who have spearheaded new initiatives, prompted important discussions, and provided a safe space for colleagues to talk about race equality and their personal experiences. The group brought to light the experiences of our staff and students and the issues they were facing.

Action and affiliation

We became the first college in Scotland to affiliate with the Black Leadership Group (BLG), a group of college sector professionals who want to challenge systemic racism, and who provide training, resources and peer support. Following on from this, in October this year, we held an event for all managers, introducing them to the BLG 10 Point Plan, a strategy for our College becoming 100% anti-racist. Managers reported they could see how they could make a difference from within their specialist areas, having not really been aware of this before, and volunteered to take forward actions against the points.

Another important step in our anti-racism ambitions was to introduce a four-part Let’s Talk About Race training course delivered by the Scottish Association of Ethnic Minority Educators (SAMEE), a nation-wide organisation, led by BAME education professionals who provide a strong voice to social, educational and professional communities. The programme was delivered to all managers and then later opened up to all staff across the College. It consisted of four modules: acknowledgement, affirmation and navigating critical conversations, agency, and activism and effective white ally ship. As well as being a ‘real eye-opener’ for many, it identified a number of actions to be taken forward. The intention was to get conversations going about race and to challenge complacent views about white privilege and other core issues.

Next steps

The College has recently revised its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy to better incorporate its anti-racism ambitions and will continue to measure the success of its initiatives through improved statistics and race climate surveys, asking honest questions about the experiences of the College’s BAME community. Our next step will be to start to implement the BLG 10 Point Plan, building on the fantastic momentum garnered from the October event.

While some great work has been done, there’s still a long way to go for our College and the sector as a whole. I look forward to sharing our work with colleagues and to hopefully making a real impact on racial equality across our colleges.