We live in a time where the vast majority of universities have an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) department and multiple policies in place. However, for an institution to truly succeed in creating a place where every student feels they can belong, policy-making needs to come from a place of noticing shortcomings and truly wanting to do better.
Charlotte Croffie, Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) for EDI at Loughborough University, sat down with GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews to discuss how she came into the university’s first-ever EDI role, and the initiatives she believes can be catalysts for real change.
Loughborough is one of the top performing institutions in the country, and we hold an array of awards in performance, research, sport, and student experience facilities; in the future, I intend for us to be awarded one for EDI too.
In my role, I support the Vice-Chancellor and the executive in leading and expanding the university academically and financially, driving strategy, and implementing policy. My role is also to help create an inclusive environment within the institution.
We begin long before our students actually arrive on campus and interact with them frequently before their first semester begins. When they arrive, our welcomers show them around and make them feel included. Our Students’ Union and other student networks are very involved in this, ensuring students know this is a place where they can not only engage but really make a difference too. We encourage students to have a voice and to be culturally curious as well as academically curious. We also have students sitting on major committees, which allows students to have a say.
It’s important to me that everyone knows you don’t just ‘do’ EDI by sitting on a committee. Opportunities to engage with EDI are everywhere.
Having said that, it’s important to me that everyone knows you don’t just ‘do’ EDI by sitting on a committee. Opportunities to engage with EDI are everywhere. I’m not saying we get everything right all the time — there are still areas we are working on with our students, such as broader engagement, intersectionality and culture shock, but we are moving in the right direction.
It’s about working alongside students when we promote events and ensuring that the student voice is heard. It’s also important to acknowledge that not every student is a member of the Students’ Union — some students feel like it isn’t for them. Therefore we have other groups that those students can participate in and have their voices heard.
It’s also about expanding our viewpoints to make everything inclusion-centred. For us, this means more than labelling something as ‘Yes, we are decolonising the curriculum,’ but bringing LGBTQ+ and gender into focus as well.
We keep that focus on inclusivity and creating safe spaces. For instance, our staff network concerned with disability and ableism is called the Inclusivity Group because, within that one group, there are so many dimensions that we need to explore. As an example, our strategy has a focus on Parasports. If we take that a stage further, accessibility is also concerned with the cost associated with Parasports, which are extensive, therefore how we make this affordable is important because that affects inclusivity, health and well-being too.
I feel so excited to be the first PVC for EDI. I was attracted to the role because I felt it was refreshing to see an institution recognise the existence of structural inequality within systems, processes, practices and behaviours and recognise that more work needs to be done. The public statement from Loughborough felt authentic, and the creation of this role demonstrated that they really wanted to make a difference.
Since my arrival, I have invested time in gaining an understanding of the culture at the University. I have found there’s a will and appreciation that we must do more to become a truly anti-discriminatory institution. However, there is some nervousness around how we go about it, which isn’t an issue unique to Loughborough. People want to make a change, but they are fearful of getting it wrong, and therefore they can disengage.
The thing to remember is that inclusion is about everyone — whether you are in the majority or minority, you aren’t exempt from these effects of EDI. Everyone has a story to tell that is valuable. This is where we come to what I call strategic conversations that provide an opportunity to involve everyone to tell that story, help to shift the dial and create a more inclusive environment. Everyone’s experience is valuable, and when we all get involved, greater allyship develops.
You need to be authentic and not operate to please others — back yourself and recognise what you bring to the table. You also need to be empathetic and understand what a certain situation requires of you, because sometimes you need to be an ally, sometimes you need to be an activist, and sometimes you need to exercise diplomacy.
I have worked with many amazing people in this space — I can’t choose one! What I will say is, when you look around HE, so many trailblazers make their mark in different ways. There are a lot of Black women that I admire, and many people from other cultures as well — there are just so many people making a difference.
There is a saying that “If you want to keep something from a Black person, put it in a book — I’ve always been really offended by that saying. My family and others I know love reading. This makes it difficult for me to pick just one, because I draw from different perspectives and influences, whether for research, culture, faith or purely for recreation. Consequently, I will sit on the fence on this one!