Notes from ARLT SIG 11th Dec 2023 discussion –  Strategies for Change by Dr Teeroumanee Nadan

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This blog was originally posted on 18 Dec 2023 on Dr Teeroumanee Nadan’s blog teeroumaneenadan.com.

On 11th Dec, members of the Antiracism & Learning Technologies Special Interest Group (ARLT SIG) (https://bit.ly/3zqImwT) community met around the theme of “Strategies for Change” – in direct response to the community’s Have Your Say survey from the summer, where people-centric strategies were top suggestions from the community.

I summarise in this blog the questions that I had set for this topic and the group discussion. I had initially planned to run through 4 out of the 5 strategies to create change, but since attendance altered on the day, we went through only 2 steps, which were in themselves very powerful to kick-start some changes.

Let’s delve into activities, experiences shared, and general feelings. The first 2 steps covered in the workshop were:

  • STEP 1 – RAISING AWARENESS
  • STEP 2 – REMEDIAL CHANGE

The 2-hour discussion was limited to these two steps with 1 question each, as this discussion is a difficult one, in particular being open to talk of one’s experience and to transcend one’s own limits – which is key to creating the potential for change.

Two additional activities were included:

  • Building Momentum
  • Pledge for Change

I provide below a summary of what was discussed around those questions and activities and share my personal views on some of the topics as well. Whilst this was not a recorded session, I commend the participants in attendance who contributed to the group discussion and the ARLT SIG officers who took the time to join in the discussion and provided backend support in the smooth running of the session and took notes in the discussion groups.

Anonymised summary of STEP 1 – RAISING AWARENESS

  • STEP 1. RAISING AWARENESS
    • Share one example of racism you have been through, or witnessed or dealt with. What happened? Why it happened?
      • Participants were then requested to share how they felt hearing the different stories shared within the small group.

Two main themes came up from group discussion: students’ experiences and international staff’s experiences. To maintain anonymity, these are summarised briefly below:

It is common for students of X ethnicity to plagiarise – it is part of their culture

Lack of diversity in students’ online discussion groups leads to racism

Int’l non-White lecturers perceived as incompetent by students

Int’l non-native English speaking lecturers bullied by students

Int’l non-White Staff with qualifications & competence not recognised

Hearing those stories, participants felt:

  • Uncomfortable
  • Embarrassed
  • Difficult to express their feelings
  • Annoyed
  • Not surprised

Participants recognised the power of personal stories from those who have lived experiences of racial injustice. An additional observation was the need for cultural awareness and being open to different cultures. Participants appreciated the opportunity to increase their cultural and historical awareness, and global understanding of racism by hearing the stories shared.

My personal thoughts: I believe participants found this exercise powerful for two main reasons:

(a) POC who never had the opportunity to share their stories finally found a safe platform to do so. One participant shared that they did not know that this group existed, and extended support to the ARLT SIG committee especially for similar workshops or even in-person events. However, this was not the case for all POC, a few had resistance and were not ready to embrace the first step for change. One powerful comment that came out was that many POCs have to constantly ”defend” their existence.

(b) White people in the room realised and acknowledged their lack of first-hand experience. One participant shared they felt the session was informative but was uncomfortable as they did not have any “real” story to tell. The willingness of the White people who attended to be in a virtual room only to listen and widen their understanding is much appreciated since white people are the missing links for real change and impact.

Anonymised summary of STEP 2 – REMEDIAL CHANGE

  • STEP 2. REMEDIAL CHANGE
    • Taking a step back, discuss what should have happened to avoid the situation at a team/departmental level, line managerial level & personal level?
      • What structural change is needed at each level?

Participants were invited to pick one or two of the stories shared in the earlier group for discussion in this part of the session.

  • Disciplinary procedures to stop repeated racist behaviors.
  • Redress or rebalance power – Who makes decisions?
  • Identify what hinders people from following procedures

It was important for participants to discuss and acknowledge that remedial actions are to be taken at various levels.

The participants identified the need for equity and dignity for everyone. It was discussed that we need to be more intentional and purposeful in our efforts to apply the same standard to everyone and to leverage bureaucracy to promote equity.

At a higher level (institution-wide), a lack of disciplinary procedures was flagged as a key component that needs to be re-visited to successfully address racism. Participants discussed:

  • Are there clear procedures on where/how to escalate in efforts to do the right thing?
  • Are disciplinary measures in place and applied to avoid the perpetuation of racist behaviours?

At the managerial/team level, it was recognised that there was a need to redress and rebalance power. Participants questioned:

  • Who is making the decision?
  • Is there adequate clarity on individual remit – who has the authority to make certain decisions?
  • Is there accountability and transparency?
  • What is the impact of power? What is intentional or what is not?
  • Could procedures be a good segue way to level out power?

When it comes to equitable approaches, the question arose as to who is the expert on equal opportunities related to antiracism. It was recognised that there is a need to level the playing field for an individual who may be holding onto more feelings/ideas. The need to diversity and expand teams would bring more perspectives in decision making.

At a personal level, our own readiness to “See it – Say it – Sorted” was discussed. Participants considered the need for:

  • Opportunities to be reflective, in particular, to check one own privilege
  • The need to “unlearn and relearn”
  • The willingness and courage to speak out about injustices, question decisions, and acknowledge the gaps/lack of accountability!
  • Opportunities for self-retrospection to answer (a) What hinders us from implementing the procedures? (b) What feelings impact our ability to do the right thing/the equitable thing.

My personal thoughts: The discussion was very intense, particularly the remedial steps at a personal level. One thing that was also discussed was to have procedures to support those who do not have a voice or who may not be aware of their rights. Unfortunately, even a 1000-page procedure cannot bring a victim of racism to take steps towards justice for themselves. Having a voice and being aware of one’s rights sits at the self-development level. There is definitely a need for a follow-up of this workshop, as personal-level change is detailed further in Step 4 of the strategies for change.

Reflection & Committment Activity

Two additional activities were included in the workshop:

  1. Building Momentum
  2. Pledge for Change

I was keen for the conversation to continue beyond that one-hour meeting, and provided the participants with a commitment, which was to email me with any personal commitment they would take to change things in the future:

  1. An immediate action you will take this week/this month
  2. An action (or commitment) you will take in the next 3 months (on your own or in your team)
  3. An action (or commitment) you will take in the next 6 months (on your own or in your team)

My personal thoughts: The “Building Momentum” was sadly not understood by all participants, it was meant to be a self-reflection, but there were a few respondents who deviated from the intended outcome. With regards to the “Pledge for change”, I am used by now that people omit or forget this activity, as it is very hard to openly commit to changes and be accountable and follow through.

Moving forward

I hope you have found some of the discussions that emanated from this event useful and hope you can discuss some of them in your own team, department, and institution.

Committee members who attended the event appreciated the content of the workshop, so we may run it again!

One suggestion we received in the past has been to run longer sessions expanding over 1 hour. Whilst longer workshops include more free labour from officers involved, it was noted that not all registrants attended on the day. It was decided to ensure that unpaid antiracism works are not taken for granted in the future.

Along the line of longer workshops, in-person workshops are planned for this academic year to cover these topics in more detail.

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