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Helping a specialist university with a diverse community to combat racism

Helping a specialist university with a diverse community to combat racism

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Our client was a leading specialist university with a highly diverse community.

The university wanted help to become an anti-racist institution

The university had committed to becoming an anti-racist institution following internal and external scrutiny over past efforts. Despite having an very diverse community, the university recognised that students and staff experienced racism.

With our support, senior leaders wanted to understand those experiences better in order to design a new Head of Equity and Inclusion position and to establish organisational change principles to reduce inequity.

We used a trauma-informed approach to explore the incidence of racism

A diverse Nous team conducted an institution-wide listening exercise to understand and improve the experiences of students and staff of colour. We used a trauma-informed approach, that emphasised safety (physical, psychological and emotional) and helped rebuild a sense of empowerment in those who had experienced trauma. At each stage we emphasised the process’ confidentiality.

Our trauma-informed approach involved:

  • offering specialist counselling support to all participants
  • offering several ways to participate, including one-on-one consultation and self-organised and allocated focus groups (with a counsellor present).

The exercise identified incidences of racism and highlighted challenges for the institution to address. We used journey maps to visualise challenges students and staff of colour experience during their engagement with the university.

These helped communicate experiences of bias and inequity and focused attention on the actions needed to reduce racial inequalities. We also provided insights from across higher education to help the university understand what progress toward becoming an anti-racist institution might look like.

Our recommendations are being put into action

Our recommendations, which have been accepted, will help the university in its drive to be anti-racist. Recommendations included

  • improving anti-racism training and support for staff
  • overhauling misconduct/complaints policies and procedures
  • reforming governance accountability
  • improving anti-racism work transparency
  • promoting further efforts to decolonise the curriculum.

We are supporting the university to implement our recommendations.

What you can learn from this institution

  • An external review can provide a safe environment for communities to speak about their experiences without fear of repercurssions.
  • Racism exploration should consider using a trauma-informed approach with expert support.
  • Becoming anti-racist is a whole-of-institution challenge that must intersect with understanding.
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