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‘There’s a difference between inclusion and change’

If you want to talk about inclusion, you have to bring up the subject of race. This is what Kamna Patel said at Leiden University’s annual Diversity Symposium on 22 January. She is Vice-Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at University College London. We spoke to her beforehand.

Why is it important to include race in the debates on inclusion?

‘Because it is paramount to understanding inequality in our universities and to seeing who is excluded. Inequality can take many forms. At my own institution, UCL, our data has shown that there are stark differences in people’s chances of being offered a job and promoted, based on their ‘race’ and gender. This has a direct impact on how much someone is valued by the institution, in other words, on how much they are paid. According to data from my institution, women of colour are mostly represented at the lowest levels, which means that on average they earn less than white men who are over-represented at the highest levels. This is a comment on the distribution of value – who is most valued and least valued at the university.’

As far as I’m aware, Leiden University doesn’t collect data on race and pay. Should we?

‘Whether any institution collects data on the ‘race’ of its employees and students depends on the context. It’s fairly standard in the UK to ask for this data, and we are used to giving it, but perhaps this is less so in Continental Europe. The key question I would ask is: do you need quantitative data to convince university management to take action for race equality and inclusion? If the answer is yes, it can be useful to collect quantitative data, but of course there are other forms of data too including ethnography and qualitative interviews. What type of data is most persuasive in your context?’

'Velen zien de universiteiten als pure meritocratieën, maar vergeten dat structuren van ongelijkheid het stijgen en dalen op de carrièreladder beïnvloeden.'

What would be your first recommendation to a university that says it wants to be more inclusive for students and staff from another ethnic background?

‘To give an honest and full account of itself. There is a story many of us tell about universities and our roles within them. The prevailing story is that universities are meritocracies and you’ve have reached a certain position on merit alone. But people tend to forget that structures of inequality, particularly racial inequality, help our rise and fall. Our entire university system was created by white men, within a register of whiteness. And so, if one is familiar with navigating whiteness it is much easier to rise, than for racialized minorities to have to learn this system and even then may not ‘pass’ within it.

You said in a previous interview that we should see diversity as a structural issue. Could you say a bit more about this?

‘There’s a difference between more diversity and structural change. You can achieve diversity by appointing more people from minority groups, but this doesn’t necessarily change the underlying structures of inequality and could mean that you hire different looking people who still end up being at a disadvantage. I would suggest a roadmap to structural change in the university can come through the curriculum. This means academics, professional staff and students – all of us - have to learn to  apply ‘race’ as an analytical lens to see and understand ourselves and how we see and engage with the world around us. In the previous interview you mentioned, I located the need for this lens in the experience of British colonialism and imperialism; I’m sure there are similar lessons here for your readers.’

What if a white male professor happens to be reading? Should he do things differently?

‘I can’t tell people what to do nor prescribe solutions. I would ask instead: is this white male professor open to the argument he has benefited from structures of inequality? Is he open to seeing, and can he see, his power and privileges? And if he can, what does he think he can do to concede power to others?’

Image: Sean van der Steen.
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‘Diversity doesn’t appear at the wave of a magic wand’

Read an interview with the other keynote speaker of the Diversity Symposium.

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