In a world of increasing distraction and economic pressure, it proves difficult to engage and educate students on issues that are necessary to creating an inclusive campus.
Prof. Buge Apampa, Dean for the Office of Institutional Equity at the University of East London, is one HE leader who understands the importance of EDI initiatives that meet students where they’re at.
She sat down with Chris to discuss her work on the Race Equality Charter, why inclusion and belonging is so important to campus life, and how engagement & reach are central to achieving race equity and broader EDI progress – hence partnering with GoodCourse.
Great to be here. I’m professor Buge Apampa, and I’m the Dean for the Office of Institutional Equity at the University of East London. I’ve been in my post for around 10 months now, tasked with advancing institutional equity for students and staff alike. In the broadest sense, my remit is to create an equitable and respectful culture, where everyone feels a true sense of belonging and is able to bring their whole selves to work and study.
Based on my experience, if you're going to drive real change, you have to start early.
One of the things I’m most passionate about is creating a ‘student-ready’ university. The philosophy encompasses all members of staff, from catering, cleaning, and professional services, through to the academic faculty. We all have a responsibility for student success because the culture that students experience – those everyday norms of behaviour that they experience – all influence and impact the way our students learn.
I look at it as an engine to drive change. If you look at the guiding principles of HE, it states loud and clear that racism exists, and we need to acknowledge this fact. Racism exists in society and our campuses are not immune from this fact, and the university is a microcosm of society.
People find this very difficult to hear and it makes creating a dialogue on these topics extremely challenging. We see this play out in action or should I say inaction – for instance through low attendance at our workshops and webinars on such topics.
Conversely, I feel empowered to tackle such injustices and fight for what is right as I have a strong sense of identity of who I am, derived from my love of history and my life before I came to the UK. As the author James Baldwin said – ‘know whence you came’. A person who doesn’t know who they are, or know where they came from, is like a tree without roots.
Luckily for me though, UEL was one of the first universities to be awarded the REC Bronze Award. It’s been a hugely important piece of work which has enabled us to develop an action plan – 57 deliverables off the top of my head – across a broad range of issues from staff diversity, learning teaching and assessment, to UEL’s overall governance framework. The REC serves as a guiding compass of our work – across the racial equity spectrum.
We’re now building on this work and pushing for the Silver Award. It’s important to note that ‘the REC’ is not ‘EDI’ – it’s part of the conversation but the REC is bold in its focus on promoting racial equity. For instance, I myself cannot see why there should be an awarding gap when it comes to race and the REC framework gives us an opportunity to move these conversations forward with the courage they deserve.
First up, we’re not going to solve these problems in my lifetime. I’m able to deal with race inequality because I know it’s centred on power. I know it’s not about me, or the fact that I could be inferior. Paraphrasing Cesaire, no race or ethnicity has a monopoly on intellect, discovery or achievement – there is space for all races to contribute at the foot of history.
What has freed my mind is my understanding of history and why the world is shaped the way it is. This should also be part of our work here within universities, they should be a place where you learn how to be a global citizen. It’s about who you are, who your neighbours are and how you help each other – we need to learn from each other and there is so much we can learn.
But there are challenges when it comes to engaging students on such topics, one of which is information overload. Students have a multitude of priorities to balance alongside their studies, even without the additional workload of understanding things like institutional equity – which is even broader than EDI itself.
I love the fact it’s so short – the fact that it only takes 3-4 minutes to complete each day. But it’s more than that, I love the fact it is extremely engaging and encompasses a full mix of rich media. That really makes a difference.
I also loved how students can access Report & Support from within your courses. The fact that this is embedded really encourages students to report harassment if they’ve witnessed or experienced it at university.
One of the factors that affect how students learn is identity, which impacts on their sense of belonging. If you don’t have a true sense of belonging and feel under some sort of threat, you can not succeed as a student. Belonging is crucial to success.
I try to instil this sense of belonging early. For instance, first year students could be paired with 2nd year students in a buddy system; they would be there to guide them, helping them to settle in, right from day one.
University is not just about knowledge, it’s also about becoming a global citizen. We need to reduce the content in our teaching and make more space for developmental activities that help promote people’s sense of belonging. The most important thing for me is not knowledge acquisition, but helping students learn how to learn.
Based on my experience, if you’re going to drive real change, you have to start early. People who haven’t yet fallen into bad habits – or who don’t expect things to be done a certain way – are much more open to progressive ideas and philosophies.
GoodCourse provides students with that crucial initial understanding. Many new students may not have been exposed to concepts like microaggressions before – they may not understand that such things like touching someone’s hair, or asking someone ‘where they’re really from’, can make others feel excluded – even if they’re well intentioned.
The modules we’ve chosen – like active bystander and consent training – are really important in particular for the first-year students, who are new to the university environment. Learning how to speak up and call out inappropriate behaviours is crucial to arming students with the tools they need to build a safe and inclusive campus, free from harassment and sexual misconduct.
We all did the active bystander course and we all loved it! There was only positive feedback, right from the Vice-Chancellor, the PVC for Student Experience, the Director of HR and my team and I. It’s the simplicity, the ease of access and the excellent course content and design which we liked so much. GoodCourse is incredibly well thought out.
The other big driver for us was the platform, which allows us to evaluate student responses. Analysis of objective evidence is crucial to knowing how effective such interventions are – something we don’t have the depth of insight into – when it comes to our workshops and online webinars.