Embracing diversity and inclusivity in education not only fosters empathy and understanding but also helps to break down social barriers and build stronger communities. No one knows this better than Veronica Moore, Head of Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity and EDI Director at Loughborough University, who has worked with others to lead the way in creating a more welcoming environment for students.
Charles Sin, Co-Host of The Interview, met with Veronica to discuss her background working in the care system, the impact of the pandemic on universities, and the challenge of fighting sexual violence and harassment on campus.
Well, I’m wearing two hats at the moment: first, leading the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Team, and second as the EDI Director. I first came to Loughborough as Head of Counselling and Disability, but it soon became apparent we needed to expand. We were noticing an increased incidence of sexual assault and discriminatory behaviour. So we restructured our department into Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity to include better support for students affected by violence and discrimination — whether racial, sexual, or disability-based. We also incorporated a new team to advise students on issues like housing, immigration, and finances. Three or four years ago, I started taking on more work in EDI, first voluntarily, before ultimately being appointed the EDI Director for the whole university.
I don’t think I was brought here: I’ve been living it my entire life. When I was at school, I decided I wanted to be a social worker — I’m not even sure I knew what a social worker was, but I knew I wanted to help people. So I chose my subjects with that in mind and went on to study for an applied degree in social sciences with an emphasis on social work. I was particularly interested in supporting Black children in the British care system. Through my studies, I learned that Black children were being marginalised. So after my first degree, I went straight into a role supporting foster carers and adopters for Black children — finding them, assessing them, and providing them with ongoing training and support.
Like everyone else, we were hit hard by Covid. We needed to address some foundational problems: increasing access to online classes and ensuring students could continue their education from home. But we were also very mindful that Covid was having a huge impact on mental health — especially for students already struggling. So my service ran support groups for those students, taking care not to label or pathologise. We kept running our other support resources and extended them over the holiday periods when people are most vulnerable. Here in Leicestershire, we had more days of lockdown than anywhere else in the country, so we made sure to provide online social events to bring students together. It was a difficult time, and everyone had a different struggle: the most crucial thing was reminding students that they were not alone.
Just before Covid, we were really getting a hold of EDI issues, and then we all saw the awful news from America — George Floyd murdered by a police officer in front of our eyes. It ignited something here, and I was proud to be a part of it. It started a discussion about allyship; before, people empathised with marginalised groups, but they didn’t know how to help.
The Halo Code is about protecting people’s natural hair and their right to wear it. It’s particularly to support people from African backgrounds, as their hair types meet the most discrimination. Now, it’s been a huge topic in America, but people don’t always realise it’s an issue in the UK, too — students being sent home, being told their hair is unprofessional, having to change their natural hair to apply for certain jobs. I hope the Halo Code sends out the message that we are an inclusive culture and that everyone can be themselves here.
All universities are different, but Loughborough has an especially unique student body. We put a lot of emphasis on sports and STEM subjects, and that’s traditionally resulted in a more male-oriented environment. So we’re working hard to make sure women have a voice — particularly when coming forward about sexual violence and harassment. We have a dedicated sexual violence task force that works closely with the Students’ Union to raise understanding and awareness. We’ve seen a lot of engagement, which is making a real difference. We’ve just finished a review of our online reporting process to make it more user-friendly. It’s a difficult subject, and a better reporting process can help students who are reluctant to come forwards to speak out about their experiences.
I think it’s a hugely important issue. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re working hard to change things. For example, we have an awarding gap — I prefer that term to attainment gap — especially among our Black male students. The students who come here have good grades, so we know it’s not an issue of competence. Something is happening to create that gap. In the past, there might have been a tendency to see students as the problem, but we’ve gradually come to recognise that it’s wider than that.
Now, we are working on a new EDI core plan, which we hope to implement by the next academic year. We want to find those hidden barriers which discriminate against marginalised students so we can establish a more supportive and inclusive environment. We’re also forming an anti-racism partnership with the Race Equality Center in Leicester — they are experts in supporting BAME students and are helping us improve our policies and practices.
It’s about being honest, authentic, and passionate. When you’re talking about these issues, you have to be real about why it’s important and what the benefits are. It’s not just about marginalised students — EDI can benefit everybody.