The ‘male and pale’ University Equality Champions


Champions of Equality University of Glasgow

Credit: Rowan Dayton-Oxland

Amy Shimmin

Amy Shimmin highlights the significance of diversity in relation to the University’s Equality Champions

Whenever representation is discussed, I can’t help but remember Whoopi Goldberg recounting the moment she first saw Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek. Her elation has since been quoted many times: “‘Come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’” Goldberg went on to explain the formative influence of Nichol’s role, inspiring in her a belief that she could be anything she wanted to be.

Regardless of the quote’s authenticity, it rings true for people of any marginalised identity. It mattered to me the first time I heard a woman commentating a football match. It matters to young LGBTQ+ youth when they see a positive story about them on screen. It mattered to Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters, when she saw Goldberg on screen as a child. This is why it matters that our University’s Equality Champions directly champion diversity, starting with a panel as diverse as its aim.

Of course, actions speak louder than mere existence. It’s imperative that the Champions promote their cause, as I’m sure they do, and arguably this matters more than a token appointment. Despite this, it raises greater questions about the diversity of the University’s management as a whole if only one woman holds a position – of course, representing Gender Equality – and if not one person of colour can represent the Race Equality constituency. A quick browse of the “Who’s Who” page on the University’s website suggests but four women occupy some of the superior positions at the University, at a disproportionate rate of over 1:3. The only named person of colour under these categories is, perhaps significantly, student-elected rector, Aamer Anwar.

Its critiques are not arguing that a diverse panel is unfit for the job – not in terms of ability nor empathy. It is also not my place to assume identity around invisible oppressions, such as disability and sexual orientation. However, the “male and pale” group is a red flag in terms of equality at all levels of the University. We wouldn’t be raising this question were the panel all non-male or non-white, as these are groups historically underrepresented in the academic sphere. With inequality still alive and well, it’s not about playing to sympathies around equality: action must be loud and clear in delivering a truly equal campus.

As aforementioned, tokenism is not the solution to this problem. It would not benefit anybody to appoint any random staff member to the Race Equality position just because they were not white: rather, it insinuates an institutional problem, at the University of Glasgow and beyond. As recently as 2016, there were only 85 black professo rs in the UK, and only 17 of them were women: this has led to an initiative at select UK institutions to link promising academics of colour with senior academics, in an aim to address these disproportionate figures. Furthermore, we could even look lower down the ladder to address these concerns: in a University of Glasgow report from 2013, fewer female students achieve first class degrees, and fewer black students receive 2:1s or higher than other ethnicities. As almost everybody would attest, this is not at all due to an inherent lack of intelligence.

Senior Management cannot be diverse while issues exist lower down the ladder, but employing well-meaning advocates won’t solve it either. Discussing the diversity of the Equality Champions scheme is an equality issue itself; rather than detracting from the issue at hand, it is the issue itself. The promising scheme falls short of achieving the emotive yet powerful impact of representation, which in turn allows people to see themselves in those positions, too. That’s something no older white man – no matter how well-intentioned – can inspire in a young black woman, for example.

True, universal equality cannot be siphoned into a university-by-university matter, it affects us all. Yet, in this case, equality starts at home, and it’s the University’s job to fully commit to that.