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Addressing racial inequality and inclusion in the Department of Earth Sciences

last modified Jun 10, 2020 02:45 PM
This post is a response on behalf of the Department of Earth Sciences to an open letter sent by undergraduates, postgraduates and post-docs prompted by the current vocalisation around racial injustice, and in particular the Black Lives Matter movement. The letter raises concerns about the Department and wider Earth science sector’s track records on diversity and inclusion, and urges a substantial and comprehensive shift in the approaches taken to addressing this. To date, more than 120 people have signed the letter.

Thank you all for taking the time and energy to contribute to this letter.  We understand that for many of you this has been a challenging and upsetting time, and value the huge amount of thought and consideration that has gone into the preparation of this very constructive document.  We fully acknowledge that the Department has not previously addressed diversity effectively, and that this will have had considerable impacts on many people over many years.  We are optimistic that this is now time to move forward in effecting real, sustainable change across our Department, and across the international Earth sciences community.

As part of the conversation around last week’s tweet, it was recognised that a strategic approach to addressing diversity was urgently needed.  Your support and ideas will help us make that strategy a reality.  We can then develop an action plan to guide our activities in the short, medium and long term.  This is a substantial undertaking, and we want to work carefully and thoroughly to ensure that it is a sustainable and meaningful process. 

This strategy will involve us having a good understanding of the current situation, and this relates to both quantitative and qualitative information, including actively listening to the experiences of individuals.  The University collates and analyses diversity data for staff and students (for example: 2018-2019 Equality and Diversity Information Report) which we can baseline our progress against.  We will also gather comparator information for other Earth science departments, and understand successful initiatives that have been implemented elsewhere.  The Department is actively participating in discussions on diversity and related matters within both the Geological Society and by University Geoscience UK (UGUK),  and will use our position to call for, and contribute to, wider action across the sector. We can draw on extensive expertise from within the University’s Equality and Diversity team to support us in this work, and to ensure that our strategy is aligned with wider initiatives across the University. 

As a community, the Department is supported by a wide range of professional services staff (often referred to as ‘assistant’ staff): cleaners, admin, teaching support, museum staff, lab support.  We are committed to ensuring that our diversity strategy is inclusive and can respond to the particular context of professional services staff as well as those of students and academics. 

The Sedgwick Museum is an integral part of our Department, and over the last year has been working on decolonising approaches to interpreting and presenting Earth sciences, and to increasing the diversity of geoscientist role models that are presented to the public.  Over the coming months there will be opportunities for you to get involved and contribute to this aspect of the Museum’s work.  

The development and implementation of the Diversity Strategy will be led by the E&D committee.  This group will recruit new members to ensure it is fully representative across the range of protected characteristics and roles within the Department. 

We invite anyone who would like to contribute or get involved in this work in any way to get in touch with .

Yours sincerely

Rich Harrison
Head of Department

Andy Woods
Chair, Department Equality and Diversity Committee

Liz Hide
Director, Sedgwick Museum

10 June 2020