In this episode I talk to Tinashe Verhaeghe, who founded the BME Network at the University of Exeter. We discuss activisim, advocacy, emotional labour, freedom of speech - and fundamentally what it is like to be black in HE. If you are interested in black experiences of HE, you might want to listen to the previous epsiode Being a BAME Researcher with Victoria Omotoso.

 

You can find out more about the University of Exeter BME Network on the university website and twitter. 

If you are interested in learning more about structural inequalities in HE, you may find the AdvanceHE Equality in higher education: statistical report 2019 useful.

 

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) 
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License 
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ 

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome, R, D And The Inbetweens, I'm your host, Kelly Preece,

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and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of R, D and the In Betweens.

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It's Kelly Preece here. And I'm delighted to be bringing you a follow up episode to my discussion about being a BAME researcher in higher education.

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So following the events in America over the summer,

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I actually made the second episode of this podcast as a special episode where I wanted to talk to one of our BAME researchers about the

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reality of higher education for someone that is black and therefore working in a structurally and institutionally racist environment.

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I'm really pleased today to be able to follow up that conversation by talking to one of my wonderful colleagues, Tina,

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who started the BME network at the University of Exeter and is playing a crucial role in fighting structural racism at our university and beyond,

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prioritising and amplifying the voice of Black and BAME staff, students, researchers and is generally being a role model, I think,

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for all of us in how we can challenge power structures and work to make our community a better and more inclusive place.

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So, like with my episode with Victoria, I'm going to do minimal to no editing of this conversation.

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So it's another longer episode.

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But I think it's important that I don't assert my white privilege and perspective onto this conversation and that I let Tinas words and.

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Do the fantastic work that they and Tina do.

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So my name is Tinashe Verhaeghe and I am currently the college EDI manager for  for the College of Social Sciences at the University of Exeter.

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And I'm also a project manager on a GCRF if funded project called Imagining Futures, which is so cool.

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I am one of the founders of the BME network and the current chair of the BME network as well.

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And I run a number of really cool initiatives around race in higher education at the University of Exeter.

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Brilliant. So the BME network is relatively new

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The university, if I'm remembering my timeline's right, is at two years old.

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Yep, exactly. We started last year, 2019, January.

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So. Can you tell me a little bit about about how the network got started on?

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And I guess the why from your perspective? Hopefully it would seem relatively straightforward about why.

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So I've worked at the university. I studied at the university, first of all.

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And I was a student in the business school. And I've worked there since I graduated.

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So that's that would have been since 2011. And it was it was always kind of uneventful, really,

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until in 2018 I had a series of personal experiences around that, you know, around race and racism at university.

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And I realised that the debilitating nature of those experiences was in the fact that I just had no one to talk to about it.

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No one who understood. No one who could kind of, you know, have that reaction of they said what or or laugh about it together.

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You know, it was just lonely and it was crushing. And I realised that I've got I've got such a strong support system anyway.

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In terms of family and friends. But I think that, you know,

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the lacking was having another black woman or another woman of colour or a person of colour to talk to about specific things.

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That was what I didn't have at the time. And I know, as I was saying, I was aware of the fact that I have a strong support system.

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I've been at I've been in Exeter for so long and I think my heart broke for people who didn't have what I had.

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So people who had were going through these experiences that were alone,

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you know, if you're an international student, for example, your family's abroad.

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I was an international student, so I get it. I didn't go home for five years at one point.

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So I. I get it. And I just let you know this is it.

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Let's just fix this one thing. At least if I do anything,

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it's to fix this one thing where we have community and we can all come together and dissect these experiences and make a difference.

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So I start having conversations with people. And the network officially launched in January 2019.

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And certainly, from my perspective, as an ally this has just been going from strength to strength in terms of its.

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Voice and position in the university, and particularly in latter months, kind of.

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Really leading the way.

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For the university start having some really important conversations about race and black attainment and the black attainment gap, amongst other things.

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Yeah, I was quite interested by what you said about kind of everything kind of being pootling along with everything.

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Fine. And then you had a couple of instances in 2018 that were really challenging.

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We've we've talked before, and I think one of the things that really has been much more part of the conversation of

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late has been about the about structural racism and the ways in which our systems are.

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Inherently racist in the way that they're built and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about from your perspective,

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what the what those issues are in higher education, what we know, what aspects of the system are structurally racist.

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So looking back, one of the things that's that's kind of spurred on this awakening in me was a.

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Sighs I was trying to get a new job, and I just realised I had a realisation that I am capable,

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I'm competent and educated andI'm ambitious and I should progress my career and I'd apply for jobs and get interviews,

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but constantly be told you're completely, you know, completely appointable

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But and this isn't just, you know, one or two or five interviews. I might have gone for 15 interviews in one year and kept getting the same response.

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And that's when I realised that this environment seems to be happy when I'm at a certain level.

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But when I when I'm wanting to go up that step, it feels harder than it should be.

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And I think that's an example of how, um, structural racism manifests is in, you know, how difficult it is to progress for people of colour.

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And, you know, that's evidenced by how thin the number, the numbers get as you go up the organisation,

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the number of black professors we have or BAME professors, whatever it is,

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there is evidence that shows that there is that there's a barrier to progression.

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And we talk about, you know, the attainment gap and how and all of this goes to show that there's a problem.

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You know, there's a problem with that around the experience of students of colour,

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because evidentially they are likely to perform less than their white counterparts.

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And the only thing I can see, only difference I can see is the fact that they are you know, they're people of colour.

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And I know that it's a societal problem as well.

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But what can we do to challenge that and address that as the university?

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And I think Exeter has unique issues in that the city within is predominantly white.

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Devon is predominantly white. And, you know, even I know I've had I talk to students who told me and staff I you know,

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I've had members of staff told me that experiencing racism in the city is the norm.

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I'm lucky that this isn't the norm for me. If anyone ever expressed overt racism, I'd take note.

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I have experienced it in the city, but it's not at the stage where they call it the norm.

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But I've heard that when black students are in town at arts clubbing or whatever, it's the norm to have racist insults thrown at them.

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So, you know, Exeter, Devon, Cornwall, especially, you have that issue.

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And I think. Which is, I think, you know, looking at the evidence of the experiences of people of colour in Exeter.

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That is an issue. It's not even just about listening to people's stories. You can't deny it.

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I'd I'd almost say show me an area where.

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People of colour are don't seem to be on the back end of of being able to succeed or progress.

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I'd almost say. Let's look at it that way, it would be a shorter conversation.

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Yes, and I think it's the the thing you're saying about the local areas is really interesting for me.

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I grew up in this area and certainly my kind of when I went to university and I lived to you know, I lived out of Devon for 10, 15 years.

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And when I would describe multiculturalism in Devon, my sort of explanation was we don't have it.

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It hasn't gotten that yet.

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And certainly since I started working at at the University of Exeter and I've been meeting kind of research students when they start.

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You know, I've had a couple of BAME researchers say to me very early on kind of that, you know,

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they go into Exeter and it's it's not necessarily that they're talking about experiences of.

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Overt racism or racist remarks? Obviously, that does happen. But more the kind of being struck by how.

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Undiversified. And how overwhelmingly white.

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And then you kind of come up to this university on the Hill and it's slightly more diverse than the city that surrounds it.

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But not hugely. I'm.

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You know, I remember going to Birmingham once. It must have been Birmingham. And I'd never been and stepping off the station.

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I was like, am I still in England? Where am I? It's so it's so diverse.

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I didn't stick. I didn't stick out at all. I didn't. You know, like in Exeter

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you're walking down the street and you see people of colour, you. They just pop out at you because they're so few of us.

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You're like, I see you, you know. And you do that.

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The acknowledgement that says I see you. Many of us here today and in Birmingham, I remember just it was overwhelming.

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I'm like, I don't nod because there's just too many of you.

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I can't just be nodding at everyone to say hi. That's just how different it was.

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And I think that's when I realised I, I, I think that's when I realised that.

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How how different the situation here is. Does that does that make you behave differently?

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I mean, I appreciate for certain that it makes other people behave differently.

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But does it make you behave differently? Do you feel more comfortable? Do you feel more relaxed?

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I definitely felt more relaxed. I don't know. It's just it felt nice to not stick out.

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It felt nice to not feel like an awareness of I don't know what people who are around

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me think because so few of them would look like me and some of them might be racist.

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I guess that's my reality. You know, it is a reality that some of the people you walk past in town are thinking,

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I wish she'd go back where she came from without even knowing me. So I definitely felt relaxed.

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And I think that's something that, you know, as.

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White people, we don't. It's so far from our.

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Experience, this is something we don't think about. About that sense of.

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I didn't quite mean belonging, but comfort in your surroundings, because, you know, you're always surrounded by.

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People that look like you and you do blend in. Exactly.

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So you mentioned about there being a particular kind of particular issues, at Exeter and what I would like to get into that.

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But in terms of so you mentioned the issue of where Exter is located, being a kind of contributing factor.

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But what...we kind of recognise structural is structural racism is a.

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Global problem. And, you know, it's it's for sure.

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I mean, and we've got so much data to prove it a problem in higher education.

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What is it about? Exeter. That gives us a particular problem.

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I I think we've alwaysk, Exeter is, kind of, you know, this elite university, we're very it's very middle class.

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It's very. I've heard it referred to historically as the green welly attracting the green welly brigades.

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And, you know, I'm I think I recognise that I have privilege and that, you know, my parents worked so hard to be able to give me the best education.

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And there's an extent to which I can come into this environment.

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And I know how to be a black woman in this environment.

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I know how to sound like I fit in. And all of that.

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But there is something about being being from that kind of middle class background, especially like middle class white.

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That means that you don't. You might you're less likely maybe to understand what it's like to be unheard.

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And I do think that the combination of, you know, being having this academic community that is very middle class,

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white in themselves and then the student body that is similar,

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but not not complete 100 percent like I'm not but I'm saying to an extent,

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just has led to the conversation around the experiences of minority communities or marginalised communities being stinted.

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Yeah. And the progression and development of a more inclusive community being affected by that.

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And I actually also think that we compartmentalise so as people we've learnt that what I discuss with my

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friends outside of work or outside of the university is very different to what I discuss when I'm in work.

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So I might actually be an activist outside of work, but I'm not bringing that into my office and not bringing that into my classroom.

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And again, there's reasons behind that, you know. What what do we feel like?

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There's repercussions for speaking out. And I think historically there probably have been because of where the conversation has been at the time.

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But that also is another reason that I'd say the conversation is stinted

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But I mean, it's good to see that this change around that as well on that kind of theme about about kind of conversations about race.

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One of the things that I was interested to talk about was and this notion of academic freedom of speech.

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There've been several instances nationwide, but I'm thinking of a couple in particular at

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Exeter, where comments have been made about trans people and also about

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BAME people are, and in particular in recent months about colonialism

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that have been. Viewed as problematic, but have been defended.

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Perhaps not defended, but dismissed on the basis of. Well, we have academic freedom of speech and we have a right to be critical,

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and that's our job and that's what we do as an institution, even if what's being said is.

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Quite obviously problematic to some of us. And.

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And I wondered what you will what your thoughts were about that, about this nation of academic freedom of speech.

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Yeah, no, I don't come at this from an academic background cause I'm not an academic.

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It's from what I've seen and what I understand today.

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I have an appreciation for academic freedom of speech and what it allows people to explore and what it could do for future generations.

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I think for me, it's a problem when it seems to allow people to behave in a way that lacks integrity, when it allows people to.

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I don't know. Not not act out of good character or.

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Yeah, it just removes common decency. Cause there's a you know, when when we're talking about these issues,

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I don't talk about racism out of kind of a ideology and it's academic research or whatever.

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I talk about it from wanting a better experience, a better lived experience for people.

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And if and if someone is more if someone's finding that their academic freedom of speech is more important

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than actually listening to what the individual is saying about the about how they're being oppressed.

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Yeah. Then what's what are you going to do with that

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I just I feel like, you know, when people when those kinds of people exist and they can all go about doing their life

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until something hopefully makes them see that there are people behind these stories.

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And hopefully they'll come out from behind the academic freedom of speech banner that they're able to hide behind.

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And I think part for me as sort of, you know, an academic and a researcher,

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that is there's something in there about hiding behind the objectivity of research that is kind of fantasy that we have that,

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you know, research is objective. We're not looking at it. You know, our personal experiences and our viewpoints and the lived experience.

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People don't come into it. We're just looking at this. We're stepping back and we're looking at it objectively as if that's in any way possible.

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And actually, you know, there were a lot of research traditions that in sort of the past couple of decades that have moved beyond that and said,

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well, a, you can't do that if it involves human beings, it's inherently subjective and biased.

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What would that be? Why would we want to in that way? Why would we want to look at experiences of race and colonialism objectively?

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Because they aren't objective. They're subjective.

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And I'm you're saying that we're talking about people's lived experience or why would we want to talk about it in a way that's disconnected from that?

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Exactly. That's so true. And on an academic level, it's it's one of my frustrations on an on a purely academic level.

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It makes no sense to me because of that, let alone the kind of more kind of moral kind of,

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you know, kind common decency of angle to which, of course, is more important.

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And I think inside, you know, I think about how academia is built on the basis of white supremacy and how.

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Until we understand that this notion of academic freedom of speech is built on the ideology of white supremacy, there's power dynamics involved in it.

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And it's never going to be something that allows society to move on an inclusive way.

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Absolutely. And that and that academic freedom of speech is not academic freedom of speech for all.

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Exactly. It's for people with identities that we find most comfortable or palatable.

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Exactly. And that that's a really important because I think there is like.

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You know, it does. I often hear the argument, you know, for lots of different and minority groups that will, you know, will.

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But. But, you know, you can't overtly decide to pay someone less or because they're a woman or not promote them

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because they're black or not hire them because they're disabled and all that sort of thing. You know, if you can't do that, it doesn't happen.

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We have we have processes against it. And you go, but. But but.

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So then why do we not have more of these people represented in senior management?

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And it's not the. Those.

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It's not that the decisions are necessarily overtly racist, but if you got a system that's based on white supremacy and, you know,

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privileges, white, male, cis, middle class, straight voices, then inevitably you're going to be making decisions that are based on.

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That history. Exactly. Exactly.

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It's it's inherently. It's inherently racist and oppressive and you which to you know, when it's not thinking outside the box,

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being innovative in approaching these issues and not do what we've always done, because, look, we're what we've always done has left us, you know.

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Yeah. Absolutely. And I think, you know, in that in terms of my own.

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Journey to understand this as a white person.

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I think, you know, one of the things that it was challenging.

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To get my head round was the ways in which things are, you know, systems are structurally racist and,

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you know, systems, academia are built on white supremacy because I don't see it.

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Because it doesn't it. I was gonna say it doesn't affect me.

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It does affect me. It affects me positively. And.

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You know, and I think as well in learning about race and racism, learning the.

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Learning that kind of. Racism isn't just racial slurs.

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And I think that's been quite a. A different quite quite a challenging thing to wrap my head around.

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I think over the years and has completely changed my.

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My perspective on. On systems.

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But I think it's still. You know, for instance, it's only really in recent years that when.

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I've. So I I when I walk in a room to a meeting, say particularly kind of any any kind of management meeting,

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I will always know how many women are in that room. And I will always make a mental note of, oh,

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I'm the only woman in this room or I'm one of three women in this room and two of us are taking notes or whatever it is.

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But it's only in recent years that I've. Start to walk into a room and go, hang on a minute.

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You're thinking about whether or not there were women in this room because you're a woman and because that's what you're looking for.

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And you're looking for. People like you, but realising that the majority of you know, I.

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So I worked in HE for eleven years now in a variety of different roles.

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And if I look back and think hard, I can remember very few rooms I was in that had people in them that weren't white.

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Yes, very few. But I really struggle to remember.

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Yeah, and that's and that's not from some lofty thing of I don't see right in all of that sort of stuff, it's thinking back.

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I'm like, no, I'm pretty sure the majority of meetings and rooms and events I've been involved in in H-E have been almost completely white.

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Yeah, and. It's. You know, we have we have the data.

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Know we have acres of it and it and it's completely stark.

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But that doesn't seem to be. Doesn't seem to be enough to convince people of how much of a problem this is

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Completely. There's lots of explanations that I mean,

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I don't think there are lots of explanations I've heard when you ask about the number of people who work at the university.

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But a big one is look at the context of Exeter. You know, it's difficult to to find the people.

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And, you know, I can understand that. But, you know, I think of the number of people who've kind of been interviewed for jobs who just have not been appointed here.

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And I know it might not have made the world of a difference and might not have meant that walking on on campus is like walking in Birmingham.

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But it would have made a difference if people actually stopped to examine I mean, what was happening with our hiring practises.

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And I really like what you say because I always wonder I mean, I'm often the only black woman in a room.

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I've I feel lucky that I've had a black manager in my career here.

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And I have had someone I've actually seen someone, a black woman managing and seen that you have had that role model.

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And I feel really lucky for that, about as they I actually realised that a lot of people might not ever have had that.

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And I think about the number of managers who don't have any kind of diversity around them at all,

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or the number of people who are able to make a change, who could go through months without having had a meeting that has someone who is on.

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Not that it does have to be equal footing, but has a position of responsibility in authority,

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who is a person of colour around them and how comfortable that seems to look for them,

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because they don't don't ever they don't seem to be uncomfortable with it.

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And I think, you know, I hear a lot from students as well as when people start here where am I represented.

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I have no black professors, I have no black teacher leads or whatever, where I'm not represented anywhere.

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I don't feel represented on the core set of your my course, I don't feel represented. I don't feel like I've.

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I don't have a role model. And I think it's just.

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These are the reasons that we talk about these issues because, you know, we talk about the BME attainment gap and one of the.

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Like, how can we expect people to succeed when the measures of success around them are not represented in that, you know?

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No. And and also that the reach to achievement have infinitely more blocks and hurdles and placed in in the way you know,

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it's not like everybody's everybody's walking through the same I, you know, perfectly open door.

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It's not. It's not as simple as that and I you know, I remember myself, you know, thinking when I was younger that that thing,

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you know, had a very kind of idealistic kind of meritocracy idea that we know if you work hard, you can do anything.

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Well, no, that's not that's. It's just infinitely not that simple because.

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No, if. And I think the thing about not seeing people represented is interesting is it just perpetuates.

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If you don't see yourself represented in academia, in like having black professors and role models, then you don't consider that to be a route that.

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You would go down because you don't see yourself modelled in that. And then we, you know, we continue to get it,

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getting this perpetual cycle of people that see themselves so they don't pursue those career routes or pursue those opportunities.

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And it just. All that does is reinforce.

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The status quo. Right, yeah. And it seems to me.

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And that.

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Therefore, what we need to be doing is taking a step back from that whole process and going, okay, what can we do to, you know, if we're not hiring?

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Very many black people, if we're not attractzing that many black researchers or black academics.

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What what can we do? More actively recruit.

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academics to create and to put policies and environment in place that would make black academics and students want to come here.

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If we think that's the issue, then what what can we do to to change the environment,

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to be more attractive, but also not, I think, go out and actually.

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Find people not expect kind of people to come to us.

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That's so interesting, is that what I mean?

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I think in the last 12 months especially, there've been a number of open letters written to the university about racism and race at the university.

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And I actually there's a number of commonalities around across all the letters.

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But one commonality is that not not one of them talks about increasing diversity.

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Not one of them says we need more people of colour. All of them are just talking about the current environment and watch and what needs to be changed.

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And I, I just find that I found that interesting because it is saying that it is this what

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needs to happen in this environment for people to actually kind of recommend Exeter to people,

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you know, the students and people who are looking for jobs, but also because we know that you'll come and succeed,

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not that you'll you'll come here and have to fight racism, you know?

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I think of. The student body and how some, you know, some people could go through their whole career.

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I kind of have, you know, a relatively positive experience, let's say relatively, because no one has a perfect experience.

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But. But not. But without having to kind of spend emotional or physical energy and labour towards improving the environment around them.

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But the likelihood that black students have to come here and then be students but also be activists.

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Yeah. Is, well, higher than their white counterparts.

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And I just think about the time and energy that that takes. And it breaks my heart to think that that's an experience that people have as standard just

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because you are experiencing the oppression of racism and structured racism at the university,

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you know. Yeah. And I think that's another that's another thing I wanted to pick up on, really,

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is this is this sense of labour and I mean, you know, literal physical labour,

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but it largely kind of mental and emotional labour that goes into being being black or being BAME in

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this kind of environment where you don't have the same opportunities to progress and to succeed.

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And that, you know, potentially as a student, you're thinking about coming to university.

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Like you said, you're not just thinking about coming to university to enjoy it and to work and get your degree, but making a decision of do I want.

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Do I want to be a part of this system where I have to in some shape or form?

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Fight for me right to be there. Well, I mean,

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I think that the idea that that idea of black people having to it to be the voices that

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change the system in a in a place like Exeter is only exacerbated by how few of us they are.

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So I'm really the only black person meeting who then has to say, oh, hey, you know what?

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Something horrific is happening in the black community internationally.

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And I have to tell people that I'm not coping because of this.

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And I'm not even saying this because for me, but I'm saying it because we have black students and I'm hoping that I'm not

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the only black member of staff that those people might be around that day.

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And it's good practise for us to know what's going on across the world so we can support each other and be more inclusive environment.

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But this ends up being just constant for me in the workplace.

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I'm constantly the one who will have to say in a meeting. OK.

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What are the implications of that? Or is there an awareness of what J.K. Rowling has been saying about trans people?

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And what's what's what are we. What it what message are we wanting to send as colleagues and to our students?

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Do we are we just ignoring it? I'm really not aware of it. I do.

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I know it's confusing for me, but it's my I know it's been, what,

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almost two years now that I've been working with the network and it's been a roller coaster.

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Personally, I feel like I am constantly broken into pieces by conversation, hearing what people's experiences are like on the ground.

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Yes. And it's just heartbreaking to know that that's that's happening, but also seeing how incredible these people are.

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They just, you know, there's an awareness that racism is the white people's problems.

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It's that white person's problem is not my problem. I am phenomenal and capable.

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And you, whoever it is that's perpetuating the racism, just has a lot of work to do themselves, to be better people.

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But it's still it's not easy. It's still difficult. And I think so personally.

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The person probably seen my struggles the most is my husband.

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He's seen me where I'm just completely broken because of how hard I have to work and how little the returns feel.

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And but, you know, there's also. I find that the people in the university that I can work with.

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And we do really good work. But it's the people who are not convinced.

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I don't know who don't feel that racism is worth putting effort towards.

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Who was whose response to racism seems to its feels performative because of the things they say behind closed doors.

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And I've had those experiences of things said behind closed doors where.

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And then also having that, I think that's probably what's broken me the most, is seeing how people who are performative get away with that.

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They not only get away with being performative, but they get away with with doing with saying things that are harmful behind closed doors.

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Yeah. But because there's a power dynamic at play.

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They come out smelling like roses, you know. Yeah.

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So that's one of the things that really gets me.

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And I'm I'm so big on justice. I'm so big on social justice that I want to I want to shake up the system and say this is wrong.

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But then I'm also just aware of how strong the the political dynamics are in higher education and life in general,

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but in higher education specifically. That's very hierarchical. It's incredibly political.

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And you have to pick your I. I've come to a stage where I you know, I have to pick my battles.

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And I also, you know, have to think about where I want to invest my own emotional energy.

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Yeah. There's an extent to which I actually feel that the university, there are pockets in the university where really, really good work is being done.

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I've and I I have faith and trust that there'll be really, really good outcomes out of it.

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And it is more about setting up systems where people are incentivised to think about the racism and race

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power dynamics because there isn't an incentive if if someone's not engaged.

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How do you engage people who are not engaged, basically? And I think that's where the issue will always lie.

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But, you know, I also feel a level of frustration that I can't just have I can't just build my career.

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Why do I have to be an advocate advocates alongside building a career?

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You know, I think. I just want to.

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I'm doing this because when when my kids are working,

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I'm hopeful that they will be in a position where they are more likely to be able to just

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build their careers without having to be activists because of the colour of their skin.

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They can be activists because the world will always need it,

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but not because their mom was black, that they need to do this to do things.

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In addition to what? Other people who have a level of privilege that they don't have can do.

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And that really reminds me of what you said earlier about your kind of your experience of of trying to

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progress and going in to interview for jobs and always being told you were appointable

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appointable not appointed is what I call it.

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And I suppose seeing it in that situation and feeling that frustration and all of the work that needs to be done.

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Whilst I am imagining you're watching white colleagues.

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progress up that ladder more easily. Completely.

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And I that's completely right. I think I remember looking at my credentials.

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I'm looking at the credentials of different colleagues are not. I'm not into comparing way

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I guess not having had a mentor to actually at one stage say, Tina, you are incredible.

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And you your to affirm your ambition. Having to affirm that ambition in myself because no one else is no good for you.

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First of all. And then kind of pegging where you you you should be in your career using kind of do it in a measured way,

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not just kind of finger in the sky approximation, but seeing that there are people who you operate at the same level.

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And. But it's it's just proving to be impossible for you.

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And also accepting accepting the fact that. I I don't I don't feel entitled to these jobs.

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But on the balance of probability, once you've had a certain number of interviews and you're appointable, something's got to work out right.

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All of the things that you get told it it's it's to do with the candidate pool or this, you know,

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that just happens to be somebody that's already working in that area or at that level or, you know, whatever the rationale is.

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There's got yeah. Logic tells me that at some point that's got to work in your favour.

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Exactly. At some point. And it's that point came

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But I just feel like that that point came after a hell of a lot of attempts.

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And it's also, you know, it's difficult to to to say that because you're kind of like.

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I don't know, like you imagine that people are like, oh, but maybe you weren't ready for the job or you weren't good at the job.

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That is, there's rationales reasons that people will have for that.

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And some of them might be true, but I. I do.

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So I say this because it's not just my experience.

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I have colleagues who go through similar things where I like you've got how many degrees and you're what grade and you've been trying to progress,

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but you're getting you're finding it impossible, you know. And this is in the professional services, not in academia.

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I mean, I certainly know from my from my experience as a as a woman in this environment and also trying to progress that I've got.

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I've got to the kind of level where women tend to top out.

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In H-E and so trying to progress beyond that is there is an ongoing challenge.

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And I think one of the things that.

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One of the things that I've I've struggled with, and I wondered if it it was a similar experience, is after a certain number of rejections,

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kind of even though people are saying that you're appointable going well, is is there something wrong with me?

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Why isn't it? Why is it that I keep getting rejected? I think it's very easy to then take the not the blame of it, because it's not.

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But go. Oh, there must be something wrong with me.

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And I feel really privileged to have wonderful people, particularly women in my life, to turn around, to go.

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No, it's not you. It's the system.

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But it's very difficult not to take your sense of responsibility and a sense of almost failure onto yourself.

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Even if you know logically that the issue is more about the system than it is about you.

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And I wondered if that was the same kind of. It.

376
00:48:16,000 --> 00:48:28,000
Yeah, completely, I don't know if there's a way to not take it on you in some way and without exactly

377
00:48:28,000 --> 00:48:35,000
and without that that voice that does say there's something with the system.

378
00:48:35,000 --> 00:48:41,000
You will take it on. And I think that's part of what I was trying to say before.

379
00:48:41,000 --> 00:48:52,000
But you definitely summed it up perfectly. Is that, you know, you can go after you after your nth rejection.

380
00:48:52,000 --> 00:48:57,000
What else could I have done? You know, what else could I have done? What's wrong with me?

381
00:48:57,000 --> 00:49:06,000
I am I just fooling myself to think that I should invest in this ambition that I have.

382
00:49:06,000 --> 00:49:14,000
And this. And the fact that I know I can do this job or whatever.

383
00:49:14,000 --> 00:49:24,000
But I think I I actually started to think about what this about unconscious bias and, you know,

384
00:49:24,000 --> 00:49:32,000
the training that we get in light of the fact that a lot of the interviews I'll have,

385
00:49:32,000 --> 00:49:41,000
the positions would likely to be take to be given to the successful candidate is likely to be a white woman.

386
00:49:41,000 --> 00:49:46,000
And the person who was in the position before is likely to be a white woman.

387
00:49:46,000 --> 00:49:52,000
And I think there's something to be said about unconscious bias when you're filling

388
00:49:52,000 --> 00:49:57,000
a position in a way that's like for like when it comes to these characteristics,

389
00:49:57,000 --> 00:50:08,000
because you can't see out fo the box, you can't see that there's something block stopping you from seeing someone who looks different in that position.

390
00:50:08,000 --> 00:50:16,000
So I think for me, it's something that I had to that I have to could I have to keep reminding myself that it's not me?

391
00:50:16,000 --> 00:50:26,000
I mean, I I'm always I'm someone who's into growing as a person, developing myself.

392
00:50:26,000 --> 00:50:32,000
So I I you know, would I get feedback, I will take it on board.

393
00:50:32,000 --> 00:50:39,000
But there's an extent to which I it guess there's something about the system that is blocking.

394
00:50:39,000 --> 00:50:43,000
There's nothing more difficult than it has to be.

395
00:50:43,000 --> 00:50:51,000
And I have to keep reminding myself of that because it's important it's important that I don't internalise what's going on.

396
00:50:51,000 --> 00:51:00,000
And I keep forging ahead and I keep trying to make a difference for future generations.

397
00:51:00,000 --> 00:51:09,000
And I think that really, for me, relates back to what you were saying earlier about the, you know, why you set up the network.

398
00:51:09,000 --> 00:51:14,000
And the importance of it is is having those.

399
00:51:14,000 --> 00:51:26,000
but also just people around you who share in that experience who can kind of be your voice of reason outside yourself to help you not internalise.

400
00:51:26,000 --> 00:51:31,000
Everything, actually. Exactly.

401
00:51:31,000 --> 00:51:39,000
And we do. I have colleagues that we have these conversations with about because I'm not the only one who struggled in this way.

402
00:51:39,000 --> 00:51:47,000
We talk about how how frustrating it is.

403
00:51:47,000 --> 00:51:53,000
And it's a it's a shared experience for amongst some of us.

404
00:51:53,000 --> 00:52:01,000
Yes. One of the things I'm I'm interested in hearing about from you as well is.

405
00:52:01,000 --> 00:52:11,000
What? What's changing, I'm not gonna say changed, but what's what's starting starting that process of changing as a result of.

406
00:52:11,000 --> 00:52:16,000
The BME network, I know from a sort of again, as an outsider,

407
00:52:16,000 --> 00:52:30,000
I'm seeing a lot more conversation here at university level about issues to do with race and certainly initiatives and events around race.

408
00:52:30,000 --> 00:52:36,000
But I wondered kind of what. Well, from your perspective, feels like it's changing.

409
00:52:36,000 --> 00:52:48,000
If if anything. Yeah. So I a I'd say that's the allies are definitely bringing the ship in to work more.

410
00:52:48,000 --> 00:52:52,000
I can't speak for the student community because I don't know.

411
00:52:52,000 --> 00:53:01,000
But in terms of the work environment, people who are in positions all over at different levels in the university are

412
00:53:01,000 --> 00:53:05,000
definitely bringing their allyship in to work and trying to and people

413
00:53:05,000 --> 00:53:10,000
who and people are encouraging and watching them that made it motivate themselves

414
00:53:10,000 --> 00:53:13,000
to learn more about what race and racism mean for them in a work context,

415
00:53:13,000 --> 00:53:24,000
which is phenomenal. And it's leading to a lot of these initiatives that would not have taken place before without the move.

416
00:53:24,000 --> 00:53:31,000
There's more conversations going on. And when I started.

417
00:53:31,000 --> 00:53:39,000
This whole journey in general. I remember thinking. I don't understand how we can have such white leadership and be expected to just naturally

418
00:53:39,000 --> 00:53:49,000
trust that our that my best interests are being incorporated into a decision or that may.

419
00:53:49,000 --> 00:53:55,000
That's the vantage point of being a black woman in this institution is appropriately being represented in decision making.

420
00:53:55,000 --> 00:53:58,000
I just I don't understand that.

421
00:53:58,000 --> 00:54:11,000
And I think that I'd say that there is definitely more conversation and there are there's more relationships of trust being built,

422
00:54:11,000 --> 00:54:18,000
which is important because I think actually I'd say that the university,

423
00:54:18,000 --> 00:54:24,000
as there are pockets in the university that are recognising that you don't just assume

424
00:54:24,000 --> 00:54:33,000
you have trust or that as a community we are saying we deserve to be able to trust you.

425
00:54:33,000 --> 00:54:37,000
And if you can't subscribe to that,

426
00:54:37,000 --> 00:54:42,000
then we're going to have an issue that when you talk about or we actually just that there's going to be

427
00:54:42,000 --> 00:54:48,000
something done about the fact that you don't think that you owe a duty of care to us as a community.

428
00:54:48,000 --> 00:54:57,000
and we knows that white assumptions and understanding about race and racism are massively flawed?

429
00:54:57,000 --> 00:55:08,000
So, you know, and if I can recognise that as a white person and recognise and recognise the flaws in my previous thinking as well,

430
00:55:08,000 --> 00:55:12,000
you know, how can we not realise that? Of course, if you're black,

431
00:55:12,000 --> 00:55:24,000
you don't trust white management to represent your views because you know that any guesswork they're doing about your experience is.

432
00:55:24,000 --> 00:55:30,000
A lot of the time wholly inaccurate. And that's not necessarily of a fault of theirs.

433
00:55:30,000 --> 00:55:36,000
But you've not lived it. So how how do how can you really understand the reality of that experience?

434
00:55:36,000 --> 00:55:41,000
And if you've not lived it and if you're not engaging with people's experience. Exactly.

435
00:55:41,000 --> 00:55:49,000
It's completely yet. And I think as as members of this community, I for one, was I.

436
00:55:49,000 --> 00:55:54,000
OK. So we're in a situation where our leadership is white.

437
00:55:54,000 --> 00:56:01,000
How are we going to enter a dialogue that shows that we can reach you, get you.

438
00:56:01,000 --> 00:56:07,000
I want to hear the language. What kind of language you're using? I want to know how we interact. Are you are you defensive when we're interacting?

439
00:56:07,000 --> 00:56:14,000
Or are you are you are you are you saying the right things?

440
00:56:14,000 --> 00:56:23,000
Are you say acknowledging the fact that things as they are are not ideal in any way, but we're working towards it or when we're in a meeting?

441
00:56:23,000 --> 00:56:32,000
Are you using me just as lived experience or as a professional woman in your organisation?

442
00:56:32,000 --> 00:56:39,000
So that that we've had conversations with different people in management at the university and they've

443
00:56:39,000 --> 00:56:50,000
I think that's that's been a really positive change for us and an opportunity for people to be able to be frank in conversation

444
00:56:50,000 --> 00:57:04,000
and to actually be building with when it comes to a lot of these initiatives as opposed to them being completely top down.

445
00:57:04,000 --> 00:57:09,000
And the conversation element is just crucial in general across the university.

446
00:57:09,000 --> 00:57:14,000
There's I think, you know, this is. A term like no other,

447
00:57:14,000 --> 00:57:20,000
when we look at the comms around race and racism and the university and even looking at

448
00:57:20,000 --> 00:57:26,000
Sir Steve Smith acknowledging certain things about race and racism at the university.

449
00:57:26,000 --> 00:57:33,000
In his last address to the staff shows that there is.

450
00:57:33,000 --> 00:57:41,000
There is something different about how things are now, and I think they even completely different how things were at the beginning of last year.

451
00:57:41,000 --> 00:57:47,000
Completely different. And the network has we've been so busy.

452
00:57:47,000 --> 00:57:51,000
We've worked so hard as a community.  Yeah.

453
00:57:51,000 --> 00:58:02,000
We've worked so hard as a community to make sure that we are seen and that we're not only seen as people with lived experience,

454
00:58:02,000 --> 00:58:06,000
but we are professionals. We are capable, we're competent.

455
00:58:06,000 --> 00:58:12,000
And in ourselves, where I think there's there's an extent to which I'm like, OK, you know what?

456
00:58:12,000 --> 00:58:22,000
You might be more senior than me, but don't don't be fooled to think that you are more capable than me in any way.

457
00:58:22,000 --> 00:58:29,000
I have the fact that I'm a black woman that I work with every day.

458
00:58:29,000 --> 00:58:34,000
Things would have been things would be different if we were in we were switched places.

459
00:58:34,000 --> 00:58:39,000
So I think in me, it's that understanding that I might not have that position.

460
00:58:39,000 --> 00:58:44,000
But there are reasons for that. It's not because I am incapable or incompetent.

461
00:58:44,000 --> 00:58:49,000
So I'm going to act like that person has that position, because that's what I think.

462
00:58:49,000 --> 00:58:59,000
That's what needs to happen for things to get done. And whoever it is that I'm talking to can can kind of process how they want for themselves.

463
00:58:59,000 --> 00:59:06,000
But you can't deny the fact that what we're saying makes sense and things need to change.

464
00:59:06,000 --> 00:59:12,000
So you can you know, we can process it together. We're going to be available to process things with you.

465
00:59:12,000 --> 00:59:17,000
But not. But not when you're looking down on us in any way.

466
00:59:17,000 --> 00:59:22,000
Then we're just gonna go round you over your head or whatever, because things need to get done.

467
00:59:22,000 --> 00:59:28,000
So in all of this, we've talked about all of the issues and all of the work that you're doing and some

468
00:59:28,000 --> 00:59:33,000
of the really positive changes that are happening in our university community,

469
00:59:33,000 --> 00:59:41,000
certainly. And so I wanted to finish by asking you, what do you hope for?

470
00:59:41,000 --> 00:59:49,000
If I was going to hope for anything out of this conversation, it would be that, you know,

471
00:59:49,000 --> 00:59:57,000
we need to expand our horizons, expand our perspectives and think about the different experiences around us.

472
00:59:57,000 --> 01:00:03,000
Not, not Think that everyone sees life through our lenses and be open to that.

473
01:00:03,000 --> 01:00:13,000
And also be vocal in creating an environment in which more more people can succeed.

474
01:00:13,000 --> 01:00:18,000
And the voices of more people are are included.

475
01:00:18,000 --> 01:00:22,000
Thank you so much to Tina for taking the time to talk to me.

476
01:00:22,000 --> 01:00:31,000
I found our conversation really challenging and humbling and moving in equal measure,

477
01:00:31,000 --> 01:00:40,000
particularly around discussions of the importance of community, the importance of seeing people who look like you to being part of a community,

478
01:00:40,000 --> 01:00:47,000
but also having a support network where you are encountering racism, whether that be through overt racism,

479
01:00:47,000 --> 01:00:58,000
racism or micro aggressions or structural racism that say you've got people to share those experience with experiences with that you can relate to.

480
01:00:58,000 --> 01:01:03,000
I'm hoping that this discussion will be the start of a series of episodes of this podcast

481
01:01:03,000 --> 01:01:07,000
throughout the next few months on discriminated groups and their experiences of H-E.

482
01:01:07,000 --> 01:01:16,000
I think it's really important to open up the discussion and to be honest about what it's like to

483
01:01:16,000 --> 01:01:21,000
have a protected characteristic or be part of a minority group and operate in our environment.

484
01:01:21,000 --> 01:01:53,570
And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, ratre and subscribe and join me next time where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers, development, and everything in between.

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