Category Archives: Race and Faith

Discussing religious and racial discrimination issues that continue to be an issue in today’s society, and promoting tolerance and acceptance.

Meet Vijaya Kotur, our Race Equality Advisor

October is Black History Month in the UK, and like many other institutions, the University is hosting a number of events to recognise the history, experiences and accomplishments of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and to promote race equality more broadly. In this post, we talk to Vijaya Kotur, our University Race Equality Advisor, about her work and what staff and students can get involved with this month.

Can you tell us a little bit about your role?  

My key responsibility is to work with everyone from across the University to support the organisation’s commitment to race equality. That means that I work with Professional Services and Academic staff, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students. Based on the data and evidence available I’ll be ensuring that race equality is implemented in the University’s culture, policies and operations by measuring equality impact of race alongside other protected characteristics.

Our University has reached a lot through promoting and achieving various Athena SWAN awards. However, there are still inequities in areas, where people from diverse backgrounds have not reached their full potential or benefited equitably from the opportunities our University provides. Hence, my role will involve working with you all to raise awareness, challenging relevant issues and promoting the need to move away from the deficit model of race equality that has been around for generations.

What might an average day look like for you? 

Each day is different and that’s what makes my job so interesting. I have to read a lot to keep myself abreast of any relevant changes in legislation and whatever is new out there. As the only person in this role, I get to meet interesting people from all over the University. I enjoy meeting with students as their enthusiasm is contagious and gives me more inspiration to work on race and equality matters.

An average day is: having a few meetings; acting on actions from meetings attended; writing up certain process or guidance that needs to be addressed; and researching new ideas that can be used to raise awareness on race equality within our University. But on some days, I might be running around like a headless chicken whilst responding to the demands of my day-to-day responsibilities!

What events have been organised around the University for Black History Month, and is there one that you are particularly looking forward to? 

‘Black History Month’ means different things to everyone and pride for this month is expressed in a variety of different ways. For many, ‘Black History Month’ is a way of reflecting on the diverse histories of those from African and Caribbean descent, taking note of the achievements and contributions to the social, political, economic and cultural development of the UK. There are many events planned in and around the University by and for both staff and students, including:

I am looking forward to promoting ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ as it will mark a commitment from our University that we stand against Racism in all its forms, and that we respect, celebrate and cherish our diverse communities represented within our University.

You’re running some Race Equality Awareness Workshops this month and early next year, can you tell us more about those? 

These workshops are designed to support staff to strengthen their understanding of race equality and highlight the skills required for effective culture change. It introduces participants to key concepts within the field of race equality with the aim of improving knowledge and understanding about race and racism within a safe and reflective space.

These sessions should make an individual aware of what contributes to racial inequalities, their own privileges and how to challenge certain behaviours like micro-aggression, which knowingly or unknowingly happen all the time around us at the workplace. I am hoping that the sessions will enable staff to begin engaging with conversations on race equality much more freely.

What do you see as some of the major challenges in the HE sector around race equality

The biggest challenge I find is that people within the HE sector find it very uncomfortable to talk about race. Any change takes time. We need resources to implement race equality in such a diverse and complex institution. We also need to ensure that the work life experiences of all staff are fulfilling, and students’ experiences at University will be measured by their attainment level by ethnicity.

Diversifying the curriculum will also be a major part of promoting race equality within HE, and that will be quite challenging. However, there are some fantastic people within our University who are committed, and with their backing I am positive that these challenges will become a bit easier.

Some universities holds Race Equality Charter awards for their work towards race equality, is Newcastle University aiming for this type of award? 

Newcastle University is also working towards applying to be a member of Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter. Once we become a member, we are committed to applying to get a Bronze Award within three years. So we all need to start cracking on our work on Race Equality!

Looking for something to read for #BHM2018?

If our staff and students wanted to learn more about black history or race equality in the UK, is there anything that you would recommend they read? 

One of the best books I would recommend for everyone to read is: ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge. It’s an easy-read and relevant to the UK.

For any queries about the Race Equality Charter or the University’s work towards race equality, contact Vijaya.



Worrying about words: is language a barrier to talking about equality and inclusion?

This week, I attended the first of three workshops on the language we might use to talk about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues, organised by staff from our School of Psychology. Whilst I was secretly hoping for a clear steer around what terms I should (and shouldn’t) be using, I got a lot more from the talks and discussions we actually had.

The idea for the workshops stemmed from some first-hand experiences: it is easy for even well-meaning staff to upset students with the words they use without even realising it. And when acceptable language can change quite quickly, it can be particularly challenging for people to always use the right words in a particular situation.

The workshop had three fantastic speakers, all with their own perspectives and approaches to the importance of language around EDI. The first speaker was a young researcher from our Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Katie Markham. Katie eloquently talked through some recent examples of where things said on social media had dramatically gone wrong. Through exploring these, what I learned was the importance of listening to the complaint if we use the wrong language: it is OK to feel the sting of criticism, but so important to learn from it.

Our second speaker, Nadeem Ahmad, who has worked in a number of EDI advisory roles and is a Trustee of Show Racism the Red Card, directly addressed whether there should be a list of “dos and don’ts” in the language that we use. Whilst I was hoping there would be an easy “yes” answer to this, his answer was, “no, there shouldn’t”. That’s because when we become prescriptive about what can and can’t be said, it opens up the opportunity for people to argue that there is nothing wrong about certain words being used under particular circumstances. Instead, he suggested that we should all have a list of words we try to avoid, and that we should be asking ourselves, “Do I need to use that word?”. This seems a much more pragmatic solution, and one to keep in mind.

Our final speaker was Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle (Central), who spoke about some of her personal experiences of growing up in Newcastle, and the importance of discussing the language we use. She spoke powerfully about the problems she has with the use of the term ‘political correctness’: my personal feeling is that this term can be used to mute criticism from those affected by what is perceived to be insensitive language. But surely we need to be making sure that we don’t cause offence to people unintentionally, not defending language deemed to be inappropriate?

My take-home message was, that whilst it is clearly worth putting in some work to understand what words are offensive or acceptable (and the University will be producing some guidance on that shortly), interpretation of language depends upon the context that it is used. But when people are offended unintentionally, the key response is to listen, understand, and learn for next time. I’m sure that other people will have different points of view, but we are all individuals, with our own views, and our own ways of expressing them. The key thing is to make sure that what we say, whatever the situation, is respectful and as considerate as we can be. And if we are challenged on the words we’ve used, listen carefully, and think about whether there might be a better way to say it next time.

Candy Rowe, Director of EDI (FMS)

There are two more workshops: 10th October 4-6pm with a focus on mental health and disability, and 17th October 4-6pm with a focus on trans and non-binary language the legalities of what we can and can’t say. All sessions are held in the Atrium with an afternoon tea provided. Book here.

Is it enough?

Tolerance: “The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.”

I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day, whilst we were planning a series of workshops that our team are going to be running around the misuse of terminology concerning protected characteristics, and she commented that the word ‘tolerant’ makes her squirm. A lot.

This wasn’t something I’d given much thought to before, but she was exactly right: ‘Tolerate’ has a sub-text of ‘putting up with until it goes away’. And that’s really             not what this term is meant to be about. We shouldn’t be ‘willing’ to allow others to have their own beliefs or opinions that might differ from our own. We should be, as my colleague rightly pointed out, actively accepting it. Embracing it. Understanding it.

So perhaps ‘tolerance’, despite its well-meaning intent, actually smacks of ‘making do’ with a situation. Perhaps there’s a bit of ‘I won’t interfere but as long as it doesn’t affect me’ wrapped up in the word. When, actually, perhaps what we need from society is a much more open-minded view, where we choose to understand and really embrace one another’s backgrounds, cultures, identities or lifestyle choices.

In the E&D team, we would like to run some workshops that will focus on these kinds of issues and hopefully help to break down some of the taboos and barriers around misunderstanding another person’s identity. Very often, ‘putting up’ with something is driven from a fear of it: Not knowing enough about it or only knowing what labels and stereotypes the media has left us with. Not wanting to interact because we perhaps don’t know how. In nurturing open and honest discussions about one another’s identities, we hope that we can move from tolerance to acceptance. With the grand goal of inclusion. Because that’s ultimately what a positive society is all about.