Update on race and diversity actions
At the MML town-hall meeting last term, we had a stimulating discussion about race and diversity. Students and staff at all stages of their career highlighted the range of ways in which MML research and teaching reflects on, and encourages us to engage with, the legacies of colonialism. Our Faculty, like the University, is a microcosm of UK society and institutions; we acknowledge that the MML course at Oxford — like UK society — has been and continues to be implicated in structures of inequality with respect to colonial legacies, and questions of race and diversity. Our subject attracts a low proportion of BME students, for which there are complex reasons, including the decline in language teaching in the state school sector. We are committed to addressing the ways in which biases within our curriculum have helped to impact on the opportunities and experiences of underrepresented groups in education. As a Faculty we have agreed next steps to translate this commitment into tangible actions, including curriculum reform.
Because of the devolved nature of the Faculty, and its Sub-Faculties, not all these activities are always visible to everyone. This update highlights some of the actions during MT and HT, both in MML and in the larger context of Divisional and university-wide initiatives, as well as to outline planned actions. The focus in MT has been on discussion and activities to raise awareness and showcase while preparing an action plan; the focus for HT is to effect changes through university and faculty committees and structures; the aim is to agree a programme on actions. Progress may now be less fast than we had hoped, given the added challenges of the pandemic and its effects, which are often disproportionately experienced by BME students and colleagues, but work will continue.
- Launch of the ‘Oxford and Colonialism’ project to highlight faculty activities in a university-wide context
- Town-hall meeting on race and diversity
- Participation in the Humanities ‘E&D Forum and Race Action Plan’
- Online release of the Zaharoff lecture, delivered by Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga, as part of a collaboration between TORCH and MML
- Research workshop ‘From Presence to Action: Black Africans’, organised by Diana Berruezo Sanches to mark Black History Month
- Use of BME writers for translation exercises across all languages in the course of 2020/21 in order to highlight that BME authors, and a diversity of texts, are a core part of the course, not a specialist option
- Collaboration with the consultative undergraduate and postgraduate student groups on student-facing activities (e.g. support, adaptation of examinations and work during the pandemic)
- Participation in OpportunityOxford, which is one of the programmes the university has developed to increase the diversity of the student body in terms of undergraduate admissions.
Projects in progress
MML teaching for undergraduates and postgraduates increasingly reflects research on cultural diversity and colonial histories. A meeting of the Faculty Board affirmed that such embedding of reflection is best done by incorporating it into mainstream teaching, rather than side-lining such issues and writers to optional subjects. We are working on making this more visible to all students, so that they are aware at all stages of their course of the need, but also the opportunities, to reflect on colonial histories and their impact on what they study. We have therefore agreed the following:
- Review of all handbooks and descriptions of papers, so that they highlight reflection on cultural histories as an important part of the course, and make visible how each paper encourages students to reflect on methods, challenge conventions, and explore diversity;
- Review of paper rubrics (e.g. replacing ‘authors’ with ‘key texts’ to highlight the diversity of modes of writing, collaborative as well as individual; use of ‘literatures’ in the plural to highlight non-hierarchical plurality);
- Sharing best-practice in conducting a diversity review of courses, e.g. Portuguese does an annual diversity audit and has embedded African authors into the compulsory first year as well as FHS teaching; the French Prelim course has included post-colonial writers since the late 1990s, and recently added Marie NDiaye’s play Papa doit manger and Aimé Césaire’s Discours sur le colonialism’; Spanish regularly includes ‘indigenismo’ as part of paper VIII, and lectures have included a series on ‘Spanish Literatures in the Carribbean’; German has launched ‘Decolonial Discourses in German Studies’ with online resources;
- Roundtable event with Elleke Boehmer, Jane Hiddleston, Barry Murnane, and Veronika Schuchter on ‘Colonial Discourses and Decolonizing the Curriculum’. The aim is to discuss ‘best practice’ and practical steps in a broad way, drawing on expertise from other subjects. The event is organised as a Zoom seminar by TORCH and you will need to sign up here.
- Developing cross-linguistic graduate initiatives: the greater individuality at PGT and PGR level means less structural rigidity around questions of ‘core’ vs. ‘margins’ or canonicity; our Masters provision offers a wide choice of topics engaging with questions of colonialism, decolonization, decoloniality, and race and diversity; these questions are central to our Key Questions lectures/seminars and other Method Options, a key part of our Masters tuition; similarly we have active graduate research environments in Francophone, Latin American, Lusophone languages and cultures, and transnational literatures and cultures in German, Italian, Greek;
- Highlighting the interdisciplinary graduate courses for which MML has played a key role, e.g. the MSt in Comp Lit, which commits us as a Faculty to engaging with questions of colonialism, postcolonialism, race and identity politics in intercultural contexts alongside colleagues from Anglophone and non-European literatures and cultures; the MSt in Womens, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and MSt in Film Aesthetics which are similarly non-Eurocentric and canon-critical in focus;
- Better showcasing of the richness of research in MML, which includes numerous colleagues working on aspects of diversity. We recognise that we need to do more to highlight particular themes (including – but not limited to – issues of diversity, e.g. queering the canon, intersectional approaches to race, class, and gender, or post-colonialism). We are working on changes to our website that will help to identify those themes more clearly and allow us to highlight ways in which research can challenge conventions and have impact.
We are also collaborating with the Division on a number of activities:
- Use of the newly developed Race Awareness training for all university staff;
- We were successful in awarding one of the Humanities Division’s designated BAME PGT awards in 2020/2021; on a related point of funding, projects addressing questions of colonialism, decolonization, decoloniality, and race and diversity are routinely supported in our funding exercises and are by no means underrepresented in comparison with other UK institutions;
- In 2021 the Faculty is one of only two in the Division which is participating in the University’s new Uniq+ programme for widening participation at graduate level specifically amongst graduates from under-represented backgrounds, including people of colour;
- Participation in the Black Academic Futures programme, a series of scholarship programmes which will address underrepresentation and help improve equality, diversity and inclusion in the graduate student body;
- Recruitment to an Associate Professorship in Francophone Literatures and Cultures, which the university has released despite a general freeze on recruitment, because it recognises the role which this post can play in increasing diversity. Given the small number of academic appointments, that is inevitably a slow process, but one to which, with the support of the Division and the University, the Faculty is fully committed.
In Michaelmas Term, we had agreed to set up a Race Equality working group, to collect data and information, listen to BME students and colleagues, and to coordinate actions across the Faculty and its Sub-Faculties. Due to the pandemic, progress on this may be slower than we had hoped because of staff and student workload. But we are committed to it as soon as circumstances permit. If you are interested in being involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We have already initiated discussions with the Division, so that we can have professional support and external expertise as well as the rich range of experience from within the faculty.