Diversifying Durham: a half step in the right direction

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BAME, a vague acronym standing for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic, is a current catch-all phrase being used by academic institutions in the UK to refer to multiple groups which have been underrepresented.

While the acronym itself is controversial as it happily groups together a wide variety of ethnic groups that are in no way similar, it also leaves too vague of a descriptor to recognise all underrepresented communities in academia. It has become quite the eye-catching in academia recently which attempts to improve representation in groups that are typically underrepresented in academia.

It has gained a renewed significance since 2020 and BLM [Black Lives Matter] and SEAH [Stop East Asian Hate] movements, with increased pressure on improving representation of these groups in academic fields. However, these requests from people of colour are nothing new, and there has been an ongoing fight since the dawn of universities and academia.

Durham was ranked the 27th most white university in the country.

Durham, like many universities in the UK, has been consistently ranked quite low for diversity. This is particularly evident in terms of ethnicity. As of the 2020-1 academic year, 30% of Durham students identified as “BAME”, but only one third of these were ‘home’ students. A The Tab article from 2020 showed that among UK students at Durham, 87.35% were white, ranking it 27th most white university in the country in terms of UK students.

The University has attempted to combat such low levels of diversity. The latest initiative is a £2.5m plan scheme to support incoming postgraduates from BAME backgrounds in the entire North East. And Durham is leading it.

 This latest initiative hopes to provide financial support to incoming students, as well as fund programmes which should lead to supporting more students of colour continuing their education. Thus, an initiative like the one that’s just been put in place is brilliant. I, for one, am looking forward to the changes this might bring. It shows the University is recognising that students of colour need more support to continue education and they will benefit from such students continuing at Durham.

One of the key benefits to this programme is that it will start more conversations. When more voices are added to the conversation, so are new ways of thinking and new ideas. This will allow academic research to expand and increase what we are able to know. Additionally, such an undertaking is likely to set off a crucial chain reaction. With more people of colour being supported in academia, we can hope for a future where academic staffs of professors and researchers are educating and ensuring future generations have a well-rounded education.

While it is important to note that this is a great step in the right direction, there is still so much more for the University to do to support these students. Starting with supporting existing students from ethnic backgrounds. There is more to making a diverse community than just simply increasing the numbers. It is also about allowing people to flourish and be safe once they are there. The SU has done much in this regard by starting programmes such as “Decolonise Durham”, but one way in which the University could support students of colour in their studies is to create EDIMH interns who are paid to work with the department to ensure that student welfare is being followed.

The initiative will be beneficial in starting conversations.

Furthermore, I wish this initiative was expanded to searching for more academics of colour being hired to work in the University. This would be the strongest way of solidifying more BAME uptake of postgraduate studies. Representation is key. When people see others like themselves succeeding, they know they are also able to follow this route and succeed too. In this case, it would be concrete evidence that after completing all this schooling they’ll be employable and get to do the jobs they are hoping for.

 Lastly, it is important to note that one key area where things could get better would be through using terminology that isn’t incredibly ‘othering’. The conflation of so many people from different backgrounds does not help to increase diversity but to expand division. A ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ are made. It is also important to note that there are more than just ethnic demographics which are underrepresented in academic communities, and more work also needs to be done towards supporting them, as that is the only way to really expand education.

 Initiatives like these are so important as they are the building blocks for humanity to enter a new golden age of knowledge. But alas, even with all the good this will do, the question remains: to what extent is this just the University trying to virtue signal?

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