Posts Tagged 'diversity'

How to start dismantling white privilege in higher education

Racism is still alive and well in US and UK academia, writes Kalwant Bhopal, author of White privilege. She argues that to dismantle it, there is a need for radical action from universities, which must start by acknowledging the existence of institutional racism and white privilege.

Originally published by the LSE British Politics and Policy blog on 28th November 2017. 

Kalwant Bhopal

Despite many claims to the contrary, racism is alive and well and robustly shaping the educational experiences of black and minority ethnic students in the United Kingdom and the United States. The evidence that this is happening in schools, when accessing elite (and non-elite) universities and later when applying for better paid or higher status jobs is scrutinised in my new book, White Privilege: The myth of a post-racial society. I argue that in neoliberal contexts, policy-making ensures covert and overt forms of racism, and exclusion continues to operate at all levels in society in which white identities are privileged. The talk may be all about a ‘post-racial society’, but in reality the status quo remains unchallenged.

Black and minority ethnic academics working in universities remain marginalised and regularly describe experiencing subtle, covert, and nuanced racism. At senior levels, they are less likely than their white colleagues to be professors or occupy decision-making roles. The white space of the academy perpetuates and reinforces white middle class privilege; consequently our higher education continues to be dominated by a white elite. I have researched educational inequalities for 30 years and it often feels like we are going around in circles: the more things change, the more they stay the same. A radical shift is needed from universities to acknowledge their long-standing role in privileging whiteness and implement change that addresses the inequalities this has fostered.

Credits: pxhere (CC0 Public Domain).

Higher education must firstly acknowledge institutional racism and white privilege; a failure to acknowledge racism results in a failure to act upon it. Institutional frameworks to facilitate change at local and national levels include universities monitoring racist incidents, identifying measures to address racism, and action plans with specific outcomes. Such action plans need to be characterised by their ‘clarity’; they need to demonstrate a clear link between identifying a problem, providing solutions, and measuring outcomes. Additionally, they need the ‘clarity’ we might associate with being ‘out in the open’, in which racism is publically acknowledged and addressed. Such clarity would ensure that it is the outcome of change that is assessed, rather than the rhetoric of what should happen.

Secondly, universities should be held to account for their lack of representation of black and minority ethnic groups in senior decision-making roles through monitoring and reviewing their staff profiles on a regular basis. A greater visibility of black and minority ethnic staff is needed in senior decision-making roles so that there is a specific recognition and valuing of diversity in staff representation. Unconscious bias training should be mandatory for all staff: at the very least, this training should be a requirement for individuals who are involved in promotion and recruitment panels. Simple measures such as the introduction of name-blind job applications to avoid the ample evidence that non-Eurocentric names are disadvantaged in recruitment processes are easy to implement and immediately signal a willingness to tackle issues of diversity. To support black and minority ethnic staff to reach their full potential, all universities should be expected to provide formal mentoring and training to staff who wish to progress in their careers.

Thirdly, universities must address the racial makeup of their student bodies. Oxford University was recently accused of ‘social apartheid’ for not admitting a single Black British student in nearly one in three of its colleges. Too often institutions that fail to recruit Black British students talk about their commitment to diversity by highlighting the numbers of international students they have recruited. These are discourses that demonstrate a lack of clarity. The value of international students for universities is closely tied to their greater economic contribution compared to home students. When the playing field is level, when white home students and black home students are paying the same fees, it seems remarkable that diversity is suddenly not accounted for.

Universities must be held accountable for failing to admit a diverse body of home students. I suggest a quota system should be introduced for selective universities, as well as elite universities, such as Oxbridge and the Russell Group in particular. The persistent failures of these publically-funded universities to address their inability to recruit the brightest students if they have the ‘wrong’ skin colour is, in the language of civil servants and policy-makers, not delivering value for money. Measures such as outreach programmes targeting poor areas, underperforming schools and underrepresented schools; offering support packages to pupils to develop their university applications; training for interviews; bursaries and scholarships to Oxbridge, are in no way about lowering standards. They are simple, necessary steps to move towards an inclusive approach for students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who are not currently finding they have access to the same opportunities afforded their white, more wealthy, privately-schooled peers.

White privilege is awarded to those who are already privileged. This reinforces and perpetuates a system in which white elites are able to maintain and reinforce their position of power at all levels. Within a neoliberal context, policymaking is legitimised through a rhetoric that reinforces the benefits of neoliberalism as a universal value. I argue, however, that it reinforces whiteness and white privilege. It fails to acknowledge the role that race and inequality play in perpetuating advantage over disadvantage and that neoliberalism does not benefit all members of society equally.

Furthermore, to argue that the aftermath of the Macpherson report on institutional racism in the UK police has resulted in a post-racial society is utterly absurd (as I highlight with Martin Myers in a recent paper). Such discourses only serve to further marginalise black and minority ethnic communities. Racism exists at every level of society: it permeates our schools, our colleges and our universities. It is alive in all elements of society, our popular culture, our media and the social spaces that we occupy. We do not live in a post-racial society. What you look like – if you are black or from a minority ethnic group determines how you will be judged. Race acts as a marker of difference in a society poisoned by fear, insecurity, and instability. If we continue as we are, then whiteness and white privilege will continue to dominate in higher education institutions, with white groups doing whatever they can to protect and perpetuate their own positions of power.


White privilege by Kalwant Bhopal is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £10.39.

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Beyond Downton: Can the welfare state embrace a participatory future? #participatorycare #allourwelfare

The union of personal experience and professional knowledge has informed Peter Beresford’s latest book All our welfare which publishes today. In his guest post he reflects on a life lived in parallel with the development of the welfare state and suggests greater involvement of participants in the process of welfare could be the key to an enduring future…

Beresford imageWriting All Our Welfare has really made me realize just how much the welfare state has impacted on my life – personally as well as professionally.

At a time when we are encouraged to think of ‘welfare’ as for ‘other’ people, particularly stigmatized and devalued other people, this goes against the grain of received wisdom.

I realize that I may have had more contact than most people, with state services – including so-called heavy end ones, like ‘benefits’, psychiatric system, environmental health, rent officers and so on. But this increasingly feels like a strength rather than a weakness in exploring social policy.

Lived experience

I wanted my book to include and value lived experience as well as traditional ‘expert’ knowledge. As part of this I included comments from many members of my family in the book. What was interesting was that all of them could speak from direct experience about the welfare state, from age three to 91 and most did so enthusiastically (Charlie (aged 11) and Poppy (aged 9) weren’t too keen on some aspects of school!).
Continue reading ‘Beyond Downton: Can the welfare state embrace a participatory future? #participatorycare #allourwelfare’

The Spartacus report, service users and personal budgets

An interview with the authors of Supporting People.


Supporting People author imageSupporting People author imageSupporting People author image  Supporting People Cover





Peter Beresford, Jennie Fleming and Suzy Croft are among the co-authors of a book published last May entitled Supporting people: Towards a person-centred approach. Peter recently wrote a piece on this blog about the contribution of service users, disabled people and their organisations to challenging the status quo and making change happen. We asked Peter and his colleagues to tell us more about these movements.

TPP: Peter: in your blogpost you mentioned the viral campaign of the Spartacus report on government welfare reform earlier this year, which eventually led to the House of Lords rejecting the bill. Please could you let us know more about this:

A group of disabled people, service users and allies got together because of their desperate concerns about the effects of planned government benefit reforms. Their first report made clear that the government’s evidence base for its proposed reforms to Disability Living Allowance were not reliable. Since then with minimal resources and capacity, but maximum commitment and skill, they have gone on to highlight the cruel effects of current welfare reform and build up a high profile user led campaign to challenge it. The Reliable Reform or as it has come to be called the Spartacus Report looks like being a major precedent for future ‘user-led’ campaigning.

 TPP: Can you all tell us how service users are better placed than academics to ‘make a difference’ and some examples of this:

The great strength of service users is their ‘experiential knowledge’. They are talking from experience. They live the issues that politicians, policymakers and researchers engage with 24/7. That has given them a great determination to make change. That’s the invariable reason people give for getting involved – they want to make a change for themselves and others. This doesn’t mean that academics haven’t a contribution to make, but there do seem to be pressures inhibiting the action of many of many of them.

TPP: You talk about letting service users’ voices be heard when discussing their needs. Can you also let us know what social science academics can do to support service users through their work:

It’s all about inclusion and addressing diversity. The academy is a hierarchical place that sadly mirrors most of the barriers and exclusions of the wider world. First it must mount a bigger challenge to these and secondly, it’ll be great for more academics to follow the paths of those who are already working to support service users’ voices to be heard on equal terms. There are academics working in partnership to support service users research issues that affect them and so create a case for change.

TPP: Supporting People talks of a mismatch between the current social care market and person-centred support. Can you describe what this is and how it can be addressed:

The recent scandals of people with learning difficulties being abused at Winterbourne View and  the service provider  Southern Cross collapsing, highlight the problems of a social care market that is increasingly dominated by large unaccountable private sector organisations. Service users, carers and practitioners, emphasise the importance of small local organisations to provide sensitive, flexible and appropriate support. There is strong evidence that service users particularly value user led organisations as service providers. However, for all the talk of welfare pluralism, enormous barriers are still working against the development of such provision, even though we know that it has a key part to play in advancing person-centred support or ‘personalisation’.

 TPP: Peter, you spoke at the Community Care Live conference this week about the way that personal budgets are being used inappropriately to cut social workers. Could you let us know a little more about how this is happening and what can be done to change things:

Personal budgets were offered as a panacea that could sort out all the problems of an inadequate, excluding and underfunded social care system. Of course, while they’ve worked for some people, they couldn’t achieve miracles and are being increasingly brought into disrepute, as support is cut more and more.  In the meantime, using the rhetoric of ‘personalisation’ and ‘self-directed support’, social worker posts have been cut, social workers replaced by untrained, more tractable staff  working to scripts, service users have lost valuable advocates and fewer and fewer service users are gaining the support social workers can offer to help them empower themselves.

 TPP: Finally, what is special for you all about your book Supporting People from the Standards We Expect project?

Two things stand out. First we spoke to and sought the views particularly of service users, carers, face to face practitioners and middle managers. They are the key people in social care but often their views are ignored. We didn’t want to ignore them as well. We thought they had some of the most important things to say – and they did. Furthermore there is a lot of consensus among them in what they say. Finally what the work really highlighted was that if we are going to improve social care, then it is really only likely to happen if those groups can all get together and form alliances and create a new force for change. We felt that the project helped to show how to do that and what it could achieve.

For us one of the special things about the book is how it shows the importance of user involvement and highlights the impact people’s individual involvement in decisions about their day to day support and also considers how groups of people can be actively involved in the design, delivery and evaluation of services to ensure they better meet needs individually and collectively. 

We found that if service user involvement is to make a progressive contribution to the lives of service users then there needs to be a real organisational commitment to listen to what service users say, act on what they say and power sharing.   In this way service user involvement can move beyond being tokenistic or seen as an end in itself, and lie at the heart of improving the lives of service users. Things will only change when people who are affected by the issues are involved.  

Peter, Jennie and Suzy, thank you for your time. Their book is available at 20% discount here.

The inspiring voices of Muslim women

Over the past few decades the UK has seen major demographic, social and cultural changes and Muslims have emerged at the heart of countless critical debates and analysis with particular reference to mainland and global security; cohesion, participation and integration, marriage, immigration, and also educational and economic disadvantage. Many of these debates have continued to homogenize Muslim men and women, and failed to represent the rich diversity of opinion within Islam and between people. It is necessary, in a society where over the years particular voices have been silenced, that we hear authentic experiences that talk to us with genuine openness and critical reflection.

As a Muslim woman myself, and as the editor of Our Stories Our Lives, published by the Policy Press in July, I have always believed in the power of stories in reaching out to people’s hearts and minds and the importance of capturing history as it unfolds. Across the UK I have witnessed a number of changes. I see a number of Muslim women who have achieved positions of influence – in local government, business, further and higher education, charities and other organizations; women who care about the society in which they live and bring up their children; women who increasingly find a voice together to promote values and who work together to make things happen.

There’s a considerable way to go in harnessing the potential that lies at the heart of this change and there is a need to acknowledge that there also continues to be a disproportionate lack of reflection on women’s achievements and experiences. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Muslim women are paving the way forward in new, dynamic, challenging and creative ways.

Our stories, our lives featured in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus on Tuesday 6 October 2009.

Wahida Shaffi

Coordinator for the OurLives Muslim Women’s Digital Media Project and editor of Our stories, our lives.

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