Diversity in Higher Education

At a recent workshop, we were asked to reflect on how we experienced diversity through the PCTHE. This is a contribution to that discussion.

I observe that on this course for new lecturers in higher education, diversity is governed by employment, but that shouldn’t deter our engagement with equality, diversity, accessibility: values we assert. We assert that we practice equality, diversity and accesibility through inclusivity. I do not want to call out those whose physiognomy might mark them as “Other”. We are all “Other”. But despite good intentions, we appear not to be all that diverse. Gender is balanced, but “colour” is not. And I use that term, colour as possibly less problematicaly marked than race or ethnicity. We could argue that the PCTHE should be extra enabling of individual diversity but we appear to follow rather than lead. (As an aside, the University has recently signed up to implement the Race Equality Charter Mark.)

In the workshop, we were asked to write a story related to diversity: short, true and relevant.

Mine arises  from three observations of exchanges I had. One with a participant in a wheelchair. She was very engaged, a scientist, and advocate for accessibility. I am a cyclist. I like a good set of wheels. So, I remarked that she had a nice set of carbon fiber, aerodynamic wheels on the chair. “Nice wheels, ” I said. Her reaction got me thinking. “All you guys see is the wheels!” She said a lot more, as well about commenting on clothing and looks. I apologised. I had hoped I had found a space – a third space? – that we could connect on, that could expose one point of difference and get beyond it in both our particularities. But it is complicated being embodied. On another occasion, at a committee meeting I assumed a black man had a role supporting BME participation. He supports all student representation. The third, personally, has to do with my beard. I grew it last February. After 6 weeks or so, men began to comment on my appearance, Men don’t do this. (Do they?) Beards appear to license men to be kind to one another.

These incidents, cause me to reflect on my often unexamined underpinnings that are still not sufficiently touched by training and profession of values: to respect individual learners and diverse learning communities, to promote participation and equality of opportunity in HE, and to acknowledge the wider contexts within which higher education operates. I am more reticent now. Less inclined to remark on elements of diversity embraced within the law and to focus on diversity of epistemology as being the main thing of relevance to education. But we have to note that one’s embodied cultural identity cannot help but to affect one’s epistemology. We know what we know as who we are.












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