Is unconscious bias training effective?

Ellie Highwood

Largely a summary of….

Unconscious Bias training: An assessment of the evidence for effectiveness , Equality and Human Rights Commission, Research Report 113, by Doyin Atewologun, Tinu Cornish and Fatima Tresh

 

Premise and Reading context:

 

Unconscious Bias training is frequently cited as a solution to reducing bias with respect to protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 in selection processes. Indeed no self-respecting Athena SWAN application would be without it. At Reading some form of unconscious bias training is mandatory for chairs of interview panels across the University and some Schools have trained larger teams as part of their Athena SWAN bids. Currently our unconscious bias training is delivered in a number of ways:

 

  • Embedded within face-to-face recruitment and selection panel and chair training
  • Specific online Unconscious bias module
  • Some historic bespoke training at school or function level.
  • PGR student training developed from undergraduate training work in the School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Science
  • Some coverage in modules for trainee teachers within Institute of Education

 

We are in the process of evaluating and updating our approach and delivery of unconscious bias training as one of the Institutional Athena SWAN actions. We have several academics with experience of designing and delivering Unconscious Bias Training, however this recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report provides a broad evaluation, highlighting where evidence exists for the effectiveness of this type of training. Here I summarise points from that report which reviewed many published articles and grey literature annual reports of studies into the effectiveness of unconscious bias training (UBT). The studies used varied in terms of robustness.

What can UBT do?

  • Can be effective for awareness raising.
  • Can reduce implicit bias but is unlikely to eliminate it. Most UBT is not designed to reduce explicit bias.
  • The evidence for UBT being effective in changing behaviour is limited – but most of these studies did not use valid measures of behaviour change.
  • More successful in reducing implicit bias relating to gender, than race and ethnicity.

What does the most effective UBT look like?

  • Uses an IAT (Implicit Association Test), followed by a debrief, incorporating theory about unconscious bias rather than detail about impact.
  • The most successful interventions include bias reduction strategies and bias mitigation strategies so that participants feel empowered to do something.
  • There appears little difference in effectiveness between on-line and face-to-face training.
  • However, there is evidence that increasing the sophistication of the UBT (e.g. an interactive workshop) can increase awareness and concern about wider discrimination and that this awareness continues to increase over time.
  • The report emphasises that UBT should be only one part of a programme designed to achieve organisational change.

Who should be trained?

Training teams together resulted in positive group behaviour change despite the evidence for effectiveness in changing individual’s behaviour being weak. However, there is too little UBT specific research to judge whether mandatory or voluntary training has a different effectiveness.

 

What can go wrong? If UBT participants are exposed to information that suggests stereotypes and biases are unchangeable, this can back-fire and result in more entrenched bias.

 

Considering Reading’s approach in the light of this review

 

Our current online offering clearly states that it is intending to raise awareness.

  • It includes a heavier emphasis on theory about unconscious bias compared to statistics about impact.
  • It covers many types of diversity.
  • Although an IAT is not used in this online course directly, they are explained and a link is provided as follow on work.

 

What we may be able to improve –

• More training of teams together – to result in effective group behaviour change.

• Make sure a resource that covers a debrief after the IAT test is available if people take that up as part of the online course

• There is a reference in the start of the training to implicit bias being “hard-wired” and it is a fine line between normalising implicit bias to encourage reflection, and making it “ok” to be biased.

• Provide some specific bias reduction or mitigation strategies

• Better evaluation of implicit bias reduction and behaviour change, if we provided follow up resources for these.

 

Finally – there is a need for more research in this area, specifically UK based (as many studies currently US focused and the race issues in particular can be quite different between the US and the UK).

 

European Court of Justice rules that EU Member States must recognise same-sex marriages concluded in other EU Member States when Union citizens who move between Member States claim family reunification rights

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou, Associate Professor, School of Law and Co-Chair of our LGBT Plus Staff Network

With its landmark ruling yesterday 5 June 2018 in the case of Coman, the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) has taken the historic step of requiring all EU Member States to recognise same-sex marriages contracted in other EU Member States in situations where the spouse of a Union citizen who moves to their territory claims the right to join the latter there.

The case was referred to the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) from the Romanian Constitutional Court. The Romanian Civil Code prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex and provides that such marriages entered into or contracted abroad shall not be recognised in Romania. This has proved problematic for Mr Adrian Coman, a dual Romanian and US national, and his spouse – Mr Hamilton – a US citizen (the couple in the picture). The couple have been together since 2002 and married in Brussels – where Mr Coman lived at the time – in 2010. In 2012, they contacted the Romanian General Inspectorate for Immigration to request information on the procedure and conditions under which Mr Hamilton, in his capacity as member of Mr Coman’s family, could enforce his right to reside lawfully in Romania for more than three months, only to be informed that the latter could not be granted such a right as he was not recognised as the spouse of Mr Coman given that the marriage was between two persons of the same sex. The couple together with the Romanian LGBT NGO Asociatia Accept brought an action against the decision of the Inspectorate before the Court of First Instance in Bucharest, raising a plea of unconstitutionality against the Romanian Civil Code. The First Instance court subsequently requested the Romanian Constitutional Court to rule on that plea of unconstitutionality, which, in its turn, decided that the matter raised issues involving EU law and thus stayed the proceedings and made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice asking, in essence, if the term ‘spouse’ in EU legislation which grants family reunification rights to Union citizens who move between Member States (namely, Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2004/38) includes a same-sex spouse.

The ECJ noted that the term ‘spouse’ should be read to include the same-sex spouse of a Union citizen who exercises EU free movement rights: although EU Member States remain free to decide whether or not to allow marriage for persons of the same sex in their territory, in situations involving a Union citizen who returns to his State of nationality after having exercised free movement rights, the marriage contracted in another Member State by that person to a person of the same sex during his period of genuine residence in another Member State must be recognised, as otherwise an obstacle to the exercise of free movement rights will arise. The Court then proceeded to explain why a refusal by a Member State to recognise a same-sex marriage contracted in another Member State could not be justified on grounds of public policy and nationality identity, concluding that an obligation for such a recognition does not undermine the institution of marriage in Member States which have not opened marriage to same-sex couples as it is merely an obligation to recognise same-sex marriages concluded abroad for the sole purpose of enabling Union citizens to exercise the free movement rights they enjoy under EU law. The Court also added that, in any event, national measures which amount to restrictions on free movement may be justified only if they are consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (EUCFR), the relevant right here being the right to respect for private and family life guaranteed by Article 7 EUCFR, which – read in line with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – covers the relationship between a same-sex couple. Hence, a measure – like the one contested in Coman – which impedes the exercise of EU free movement rights and breaches the right to private and family life of a married same-sex couple, cannot be justified on the grounds of public policy and national identity.

The ruling is hugely important not merely from a symbolic point of view, in that the EU’s supreme court has ruled explicitly that marriage for the purposes of EU law includes both same-sex and opposite-sex marriage, but also for a number of practical reasons.

The judgment provides much-needed clarity and legal certainty for same-sex couples who conclude a marriage in an EU Member State and who wish to exercise EU free movement rights. The case makes it clear that wherever they wish to move to the EU, their marriage should be recognised as a marriage, and that both spouses should be allowed to reside on the territory of the Member State of destination, irrespective of whether that State allows same-sex couples to formalise their relationship in its territory. In fact, by requiring the couple to be recognised as ‘spouses’, the ECJ seems to have gone further than its Strasbourg counterpart – the European Court of Human Rights – which in its judgment in Orlandi last December, it interpreted Article 8 ECHR as merely requiring ECHR signatory States to provide some form of legal recognition to married same-sex couples from abroad, without, nonetheless, there being a requirement that they recognise them as ‘spouses’.

Although the ruling offers an interpretation of the term ‘spouse’ for the purposes solely of family reunification in situations when a Union citizen moves between Member States, it is likely to have (much) wider implications: once a Member State accepts – for the purposes of EU family reunification – that a same-sex married couple are ‘spouses’ and are, thus, as such entitled to a right of residence in its territory, it would appear anomalous to strip them of this status for other legal purposes (e.g. taxation, pensions, inheritance, hospital visitation rights, childbearing and childrearing), whether this relates to situations that fall within the scope of EU law or not. Accordingly, and despite the Court’s comforting words for each Member State that has not opened marriage to same-sex couples that the obligation imposed by its judgment ‘does not require that Member State to provide, in its national law, for the institution of marriage between persons of the same sex’, the judgment appears capable of having wider implications than it seems to have at first glance, with the potential of initiating a process of ‘voluntary harmonisation’ whereby all Member States will have to recognise – and make provision – for same-sex spouses, even when this is not required by EU law.

At the same time, it should be highlighted that, as the Court repeatedly stressed in its judgment, it is only when a Union citizen has taken-up genuine residence in the territory of another Member State and during that period of genuine residence has established and strengthened family life, that he can claim family reunification rights on his return to his Member State of nationality. In previous case-law (O. and B.), the Court clarified that such genuine residence can only exist when the Union citizen has settled in another Member State for more than three months. This, exactly, can put to rest fears that the ruling can lead to ‘marriage tourism’, as the above safeguard ensures that Union citizens cannot simply side-step the law of their Member State of residence, by moving to another Member State to marry and then return to that State claiming the right to be recognised as a married couple.

Finally, the Court should be applauded for its audacious approach, in a case which involved an admittedly delicate matter. Unlike in other cases involving matters where there is a wide divergence in opinion among (and within) the Member States (e.g. cases involving pornography, abortion, gambling), the Court has not washed its hands by leaving it to the national court to perform the balancing exercise when considering the arguments put forward by Romania to justify the contested decision (see here for my comments on this approach); instead, the Court was bold enough to make it clear that the contested measure amounted to a restriction contrary to EU free movement law which cannot be justified under any circumstances.

The ruling, nonetheless, leaves us with a question mark. The Court in its judgment repeatedly emphasises that the obligation imposed on Member States is to recognise same-sex marriages lawfully concluded in an EU Member State. The marriage of Mr Coman and Mr Hamilton satisfied this requirement as it was entered into in Belgium. Would they be in the same position, nonetheless, if their marriage was concluded in, say, the US? This is a question that will have to wait for another EU ruling.

Jessica Lynn’s Transgender Journey at the University of Reading

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou (School of Law) for Trans Day of Visibility, 31 March 2018

On 9 March 2018, the University of Reading had the great pleasure of hosting Ms Jessica Lynn, an international speaker and outspoken advocate for transgender issues and a Global Ambassador to the Kinsey Institute. Jessica has been on a tour series in the UK during February and March and has visited Reading to give a talk about her experience as a transgender woman, testifying to the hardships as well as the ultimate fulfilment of gender transition in legal standing and in her personal life. Jessica’s excellent talk was followed by a Q&A session, whilst members of the audience subsequently had the chance to speak to Jessica during the drinks reception that followed the event. The event was supported by the University’s LGBT Plus staff network and the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Simon Chandler-Wilde.

For about one hour and a half, Jessica shared her life journey with us all, by vividly describing all its brutal twists and turns and challenges, but also the joys and victories and the kindness of people who had the courage to stand by her side. It was particularly moving to hear Jessica speaking about how much she loves her three sons and how painful it has been for her to have her parental rights (for her youngest son) redacted by a Texas court, simply because she is a transgender woman. This has reminded us how important the socio-legal sphere has always been in determining patterns of parent-child relationships and how this has deprived many members of the LGBT community of their parental rights. Jessica told her life story with openness, warmth and wit and the Q&A session produced well-informed questions from our mixed audience of academics, students, and visitors from outside the University – for many, it was their first opportunity to have an open dialogue with a transgender person.

This was a thoroughly interesting and thought-provoking talk which had as its aim to educate the audience – and initiate a conversation – about the transgender experience: it was eye-opening and deeply moving as it showed how even today, powerful institutions and social norms restrict trans people’s opportunities for self-development and full interaction with the world around them. Jessica’s talk has led to reflection on how society and the law has changed through the years and how that change is in small steps forward but, also – and, recently, quite often – small steps backwards. It is painful to realise that there is still widespread transphobia but this also reminds us that it is important that we all act as strong and outspoken allies for the trans community and that we must fight to make the world a better, fairer, place for all.

International Women’s Day Talks and Debate

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

The School of Literature and Languages (SLL) International Women’s Day Talk and Debate has become established as an annual celebration. I first organised this student-facing event with RUSU FemSoc in 2010, and I have led it with the help of DEL students and staff from around the university since then.

Our celebration of IWD takes the form of a series of short talks followed by a student-led debate on the issues we’ve raised and on other issues that matter to the attendees. What is so positive about this event is that it involves joining our students in conversations about equality, diversity, and social justice: it involves not only talking but, more importantly, listening to each other’s views.

In 2018, IWD assumed particular resonance because February marked the centenary of the extension of the franchise in the UK to include (some) women. It would be another 2 years before women could graduate from Oxford University, and women would have to wait until 1948 to graduate from Cambridge University, but female householders over the age of 30 could vote for an all-male parliament from 1918 (though the first female MP was elected in 1918, as a member of Sinn Fein she did not take up her seat). Despite the limitations of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, it undoubtedly gave women a ‘foot in the door’ and, as such, International Women’s Day 2018 linked with an important historical landmark.

Our IWD celebration this year was the culmination of the ‘Feminism 100’ series (see my previous Diversity and Inclusion blog-posts here and here) and was generously supported by the Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund. Dr Carol Fuller (IoE) joined me in delivering the talks and presented a fascinating discussion of the intersection between gender and class focused through her work on the ‘Whitley Mums’ Programme. The talk was a crucial reminder that issues of ‘privilege’ have to be factored in to all discussions of feminism and equality: race, gender and class are core determinants of disempowerment and IWD encourages us to remain mindful that ‘us’ must mean ‘us all’.

My talk raised some of the noteworthy and notorious news stories of the year and included Trump’s attacks on the Planned Parenthood Programme in the U.S. and his re-imposition of the ‘global gag rule’, sexual abuse scandals, and Carrie Gracie’s campaign against systemic, sexist pay disparity at the BBC. Plenty of positive stories were included as well, including progress (if limited) in Saudi women’s campaigns for human rights. I led a toast to all the women of the world who work so hard to make a difference to other women’s lives; included in this was Jess Phillips MP who visited us at the university in November 2017 and who reminded us that brave, clever women are fighting on our behalf every day.

The second half of the event was given over to a student-led debate. Professor Simon Chandler-Wilde, one of our Diversity and Inclusion Deans, attended and engaged with students’ contributions (several emailed me afterwards to say how much they appreciated his attendance). The RUSU Diversity Officer Leen Al Najjab also joined us and connected with the ‘Feminism 100’ students, offering her help and support for the re-formation of FemSoc. The generous contribution of £200 from the Endowment Fund allowed us to conclude the ‘Feminism 100’ series, on International Women’s Day, in style:  the money was spent on a party where our students could strengthen relationships with staff in a ‘feel good’ event.

‘Feminism 100’ has had clear demonstrable outcomes: RUSU FemSoc is going to be re-formed after two dormant years, and new events and campaigns are being planned. Inter-disciplinary collaborative relationships have been forged between Humanities and SLL, and the RUSU Diversity Officer and the Diversity and Inclusion Dean are in contact with our students – productive, exciting conversations and actions will be produced by this network.

SLL students and I are extremely grateful for the support of the Endowment Fund for this event: the positives generated from the evening, and from the ‘Feminism 100’ series as a whole, speak to the value of extra-curricular staff-student collaborations. The funding we received to celebrate in this important centenary year was particularly welcome: the conversations triggered by the three ‘Feminism 100’ events, and the networks arising from them, suggest that, at UoR, ‘we will persist’ via deeds and words.

Celebrating Forgotten Women

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies, School of Literature and Languages

Thursday February 8th 1918 marked the Royal Assent to the Bill that gave the vote to property-owning women aged 30 and over: on the evening of the same date, 100 years later, staff and students gathered in the Edith Morley Building to hear a series of talks and to enjoy an exhibition and a party, ‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’.

The evening was the second in a series of three events organised from the Department of English Literature and the Department of History and supported by the Diversity and Inclusion Fund. We called the series, ‘Feminism 100’, and the first event, ‘Debates and Doughnuts: Is Feminism Dead?’ involved a rigorous student-led debate which achieved the revival of RUSU FemSoc, inactive for two years.

‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’ was also student-led: Part 2 English Literature student Imi Snell contacted Dr Jacqui Turner and myself in relation to an idea she had for a work placement on the SLL module, ‘Literature and Education’. Imi wanted this placement to be informed by Vote100 and to celebrate the centenary of the extension of the franchise. Because the placement required an emphasis on both ‘literature’ and ‘education’, Imi’s idea involved an exhibition of Suffrage material and a series of talks in which the forgotten women of literature, history, science, and culture could be discussed and celebrated.

Up to 100 staff and students, including the D&I Deans, braved the discouraging February night to join us for the celebration. Colleagues from English Literature and History contributed fascinating talks on a variety of ‘forgotten women’. Dr Mary Morrissey (Lit) spoke with great wit about the first known published English female poet, Isabella Whitney; Professor David Stack (History) discussed the work of palaeontologist Mary Anning; Dr Natalie Thomlinson (History) discussed Jayaben Desai; Dr Jacqui Turner (History) introduced the evening and spoke of the suffrage movement, and I discussed the neglected significance of the work of translator Constance Garnett. Part 2, Part 3, and PhD students from English Literature, History and Classics delivered confident, reflective and inspiring talks on Harriet Tubman, Cloelia, Emma Gifford, Libby Lane, and Ching Shih, and the Q&A session produced well-informed questions from our largely UG student audience. WSPU-Coloured lanyards and commemorative postcards were given to our guests, a badge-making operation in the exhibition space produced highly professional badges of our ‘forgotten women’, and an exhibition managed by Guy Baxter from Special Collections displayed the Cliveden House visitor’s book and a Suffragette ring amongst other exhibits. WSPU-coloured balloons festooned the Edith Morley First Floor Foyer, Blackwells ran a book-stall, and the wine flowed. The event ran for three hours in and outside the Van Emden Lecture Theatre.

A Twitter feed commented on and responded to the talks, and Facebook live streaming of the Q&A section was managed by Part 3 English Literature student, Victoria Matthews, who had led ‘Debates and Doughnuts’. The Twitter feed produced a steady stream of very positive feedback, Imi was interviewed by Radio Berkshire, ‘Spark’ is writing about the evening, a Press release was produced with Pete Bryant’s help, and Jacqui Turner took three samples of our lanyards to the Vote100 Project Team at the Houses of Parliament where they will be on permanent display. In terms of ‘impact’, the event exceeded all expectations.

Perhaps the most positive impact of the 2018 celebrations at UoR is the close partnership that has developed between the staff and students of English Literature, Classics and History, all of whom are working together to revive feminist debates on campus. ‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’ showcased the benefits to learning of work placements, and demonstrated the strength of the staff-student partnerships and inter-School collaborations at Reading. Above all, it has showcased that of which we are most proud at Reading – our students.

Our sincere thanks to the Diversity and Inclusion Fund for making ‘Feminism 100’ possible. The celebrations are not yet at an end and we hope that students and colleagues will join us at more events and discussions as this important centenary year unfolds.

Launching a project to recognise diverse role models in STEM for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science

Guest post by Dr Joy Singarayer (Associate Professor of Paleaoclimatology and Equality and Diversity School Champion in the School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences), marking the International Day for Women and Girls in Science (11 Feb 2018).

Link to the STEMsational Figures website (http://stemsational-figures.co.uk).

Visibility of role models is an important aspect of inspiring student achievement, sense of belonging, and career choices. Students may find aspiration from role models in a variety of places, for example in the teaching staff, other students, public figures, or key scientists featured in their courses. There is a diverse student population in SMPCS (School of Mathematical, Physical, and Computational Sciences) in terms of gender, ethnicity and other characteristics (see the figure) and ideally our curricula should also be designed to recognise the contributions made by a diverse range of scientists. There are national movements to introduce more inclusive and diverse curricula within higher education, following campaigns started at other universities, including ‘why is my curriculum White’ and ‘decolonise our Uni’. I believe this move for change is not just of benefit to underrepresented students but to raise awareness of diverse role models for everyone, as a life enhancing opportunity, and because we are educating future leaders and employers.

Our school successfully renewed its Athena SWAN silver award in 2017. We have made significant progress in gender parity in many areas of staff and student recruitment, inclusive work environment, and career progression. However, our recent data analysis and focus groups did also bring to light some previously unexamined issues, such as an intersectional gender-ethnicity attainment gap as well as concerns of gender differences in numbers going on to postgraduate studies. In response, among other actions in the SMPCS Athena SWAN Action Plan 2017, we have included an action to explore how we can raise attainment and career aspirations through the development of a web resource highlighting diverse role models within subjects studied by SMPCS students. This is especially relevant here as the staff currently delivering our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are somewhat less diverse than our students (we are also working towards rectifying this within our action plan).

Our Head of School provided a budget for us to employ three undergraduate research experience students over summer 2017 for six weeks to initiate and develop a website for SMPCS to enable students and staff to explore the contributions of diverse scientists and mathematicians relevant to their programmes. The undergraduate research students who developed the webpage gained experience of independent research, web design, interview techniques, writing for public online media, and project management. The results of their hard work can be found at the STEMsational Figures webpage (http://stemsational-figures.co.uk), which we are launching to correspond with International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11th 2018). The webpage currently features figures such as Maryam Mirzakhani – mathematician and first woman to win the Fields Medal, Grace Hopper – computer scientist and inventor of the compiler, and Susan Soloman – climate scientist who worked out the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole.

Having completed the initial phase of webpage development, hopefully, this is only the beginning of this project. The question is how to maintain, publicise, and develop the webpages so they will be of on-going benefit to future students. Our plan is to explore the potential to incorporate further development within the graduate skills modules that undergraduate students in all of our departments undertake. We can use this framework to discuss unconscious bias and diversity, raise awareness of the broader history of their subjects, enhance their skills in writing for a public science audience and using social media in research, and at the same time develop the webpage content year by year. We hope to coordinate with module conveners to assess this opportunity in practical terms in time for the 2018-19 academic year. In the meantime we would welcome any feedback on the webpage or suggestions for more role models to Joy Singarayer (j.s.singarayer@reading.ac.uk) or Calvin Smith (calvin.smith@reading.ac.uk).

Remembering local LGBTQ+ history in LGBT History Month

Guest blog by Film & Theatre student Bradley Greening and LGBT Plus staff network Co-Chair Deb Heighes, to mark the start of LGBT History Month 2018

We are delighted to have a joint staff-student blog today to mark the beginning of LGBT History Month 2018. Bradley and Deb talk about their involvement in a Heritage-Lottery funded project, led by local LGBT+ support and resource organisation Support U in collaboration with Reading Museum and the University. This project, Wolfenden60: Living Wolfenden’s Legacy, kicked off last year, the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Wolfenden Report (chaired by our then Vice Chancellor Sir John Wolfenden).

To learn more see the events coming up at Reading Museum this month or our own UoR programme for LGBT History Month.

Bradley writes:

My university experience has been such an unexpected, hugely rewarding period of my life so far. It has opened up opportunities that I never anticipated, it is as if I have been transformed by the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of meeting whilst studying in Reading. Two of these people are truly incredible women who work for local LGBTQ+ charity Support U – Jessica Stevens-Taylor and Kath Tuthill. Jess and Kath have been working on a major project, aided by the financial support of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the publication of the Wolfenden Report. Exploring the legacy left by the report through a 20 to 30-minute documentary, Jess writes: “We felt that showcasing real LGBT people’s life stories was the most appropriate way to do this. We wanted to capture the thoughts and feelings of people of varying ages who could share how they felt living as an LGBT person.”
The project not only involved the making of a documentary, but also several other aspects which I have been fortunate to be involved. This included a series of thoroughly interesting debates discussing representation of LGBTQ+ in the media, the state of unity within the community, and finally, one addressing the important question: who benefited from the Wolfenden Report?
The documentary, in particular, has been such a fun experience. As a student of Film & Theatre who specialises in Theatre practice, I don’t have many opportunities to engage with filmmaking anymore, so to be able to participate in the filmmaking side – setting up the equipment, recording the sound etc. – was very exciting for me. Additionally, I spent a lot of time liaising with Kath, Jess, and the other volunteers around the content of the script, adjusting and editing it to make it accessible and coherent. I am a little sad that the documentary is almost finished because it has been fun working on it with everyone, and meeting all the friendly faces who got in front of the camera.
That is not to say that the project hasn’t come with its challenges, especially with testimonies and finding people willing to share their stories on film. As Kath points out, “Many seemed unwilling to travel back emotionally to these difficult times,” but Jess notes that “We were still keen that we should share real life stories and experiences so we ultimately hit on the idea of asking for written submissions and have actors read these.” Even I read some of these testimonies for the camera, and though I had flicked through them previously, it wasn’t until I read them aloud, without any rehearsal, that the words really resonated with me on an emotional level.
There was also a lack of testimonies from school age people and, to remedy this, Kath and Jess created some questionnaires for the members of the Affinity Youth group, one of multiple groups run by Support U, to offer a safe space for those who may have questions about their sexuality, who may not feel 100% comfortable with their sexuality, or anyone who just wants to form new friendships with people who identify as LGBTQ+. In the making of the documentary, we have had many individuals help us in the process: veteran activists Andrew Lumsden and Netty Pollard, our wonderful narrator Dan from 1stNature, the talented Jess Tuthill who recorded some original music and covers to accompany the documentary, and finally, Vicky from Lesbian And Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA).
It has been great working with Support U on this project, and it doesn’t end with just the documentary and the debates. During LGBT History Month, Reading Museum will be hosting ‘tea time talks’ on Saturday afternoons, and Jess and Kath will be taking an education pack on the Wolfenden Report into local schools, and I expect interesting discussions will take place in both cases. To end on a few words from Kath: “We have been so lucky with our volunteers. They are truly amazing, each and every one. They are the true shape of the project!”

Deb adds:
I have also been able to be involved in the Wolfenden Project over recent months. Like Bradley, the experience has been transformative. To give some context, my ‘long’ working life included working as a school teacher at the time when Section 28 was put on the statute books and also when the infamous tombstone AIDS information campaign was on the TV and dropping through our letter boxes in the form of leaflets. These memories were revived when Caroline Crolla and I were working with Jess and Kath to develop educational resources about the ‘Legacy of Wolfenden’; we included a timeline of key historical LGBT+ landmarks alongside sessions on transgender identity that can be used in secondary schools. Other sessions draw on historical artefacts including Wolfenden’s interviews with Peter Wildeblood and a letter written by Jeremy Corbyn in the 80’s. These educational resources show how there is a real positive legacy of Wolfenden, one that is continuing to develop and progress. For me, it has led to reflection on how society has changed over the course of my working life and how that change is in small steps forward and sometimes small steps back. However, the fact that I am an LGBT+ workplace role-model and a Face of Reading is something that I would not have believed possible when, in 1988, guidance was received in school on the implications of Section 28 on our work with children.

Like Bradley, I became involved in the filming of testimonies for the documentary; it was lovely to work with students from FTT and see them work with confidence and expertise to get the best out of me – sat on the biggest pile of cushions I have ever seen! I read some testimonies of young people and it was striking that the pain and fear of coming out has not changed much; the individual journey can still be difficult despite society apparently being more accepting. There is still transphobia and homophobia and it is important not to assume that now we have gay marriage it is all OK. To tell your Mum and Dad, your grandparents and those you are at school or at work with is not an easy task. A voice in your head will be telling you that things will never be the same again and potentially will be ruined. This is why it is important we have strong and outspoken allies who are willing to speak out and not be bystanders particularly for the youngest and most vulnerable in our communities.

‘Debates and Doughnuts: Is Feminism Dead?’

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

Students in the Department of English Literature last week organised an event titled ‘Debates and Doughnuts’ designed to reignite conversations about gender equality on campus. One of their aims was to gather the necessary 54 signatures to re-form RUSU FemSoc which has been dormant for two years. The ‘Diversity and Inclusion Fund’ supported the event, and I helped the students to set it up.

Our students hoped that they would be able to attract enough students to the session to largely complete the RUSU Society ‘petition’ – on the day, well over sixty students and colleagues attended and the petition gathered more than enough signatures to revive FemSoc.

The debate asked the question, ‘Is Feminism Dead?’, as the decline of FemSoc suggested that it might be. The two-hour debate, full of strong, well-articulated opinions, clearly suggested that it was far from ‘dead’ and that it was, in fact, on the edge of an exciting new life.

Attending the debate were students drawn from all over the university, and colleagues from English Literature, History, SPIER and IoE. We were pleased to see such a high attendance from male students, and we appreciated their thoughtful contributions to the debate: in response to a question, ‘what can feminism do for men?’, a male student argued that feminism implicitly works to support men as well as women and that it does not need to concoct an artificial ‘masculinist’ agenda to announce what it already does.

I was particularly pleased by the way in which contributions that contested feminism as a body of ideas, and that advocated ‘International Men’s Day’ and other Men’s Rights activities as a ‘counter-balance’ to feminist action, were listened to with respect by other students. The ideas raised by attendees less sold on feminism than others were debated in a reflective and sensitive way. I was struck also by the range of issues that were raised, from concerns about ‘language’ and ‘lad culture’, to the ‘#Me Too’ movement, through to media constructions of sexual assault victims.

The debate was managed with admirable skill by the Part 3 English Literature students who organised the debate, Vicky Matthews and Jack Champion. Their manner was welcoming, inclusive, and confident, and the skill with which they drew in all voices and opinions was truly impressive. I am so often struck by the quality of our students when they manage events of this kind: their eloquence and their ability to negotiate complex arguments with tact and intellectual rigour is a tribute to them.

‘Debates and Doughnuts’ was the first in a series of three events grouped under the ‘Feminism 100’ banner which celebrates the centenary of the extension of the franchise to include (some) women. On February 8th, ‘Inspired by Vote 100: Celebrating Forgotten Women’, presents another student-led event involving an exhibition organised with MERL and Special Collections, and an evening of talks and contributions from staff and students. Imogen Snell, a Part 2 English Literature student on a work placement module, has organised the evening with a History student, Sophie Crossfield, and has drawn on the practical support and subject expertise of Dr Jacqui Turner from the Department of History, and myself; Professor David Stack, Dr Mary Morrissey, Dr Jacqui Turner, Dr Natalie Thomlinson and I are contributing to the event by delivering mini-lectures on forgotten women, and students are presenting talks on ‘why this forgotten woman matters to me’. Supported by the Diversity and Inclusion Fund, we are able to hold a full celebration of the franchise centenary, even offering lanyards in WSPU colours and badges with the images of the women we are discussing. Taking place in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre and foyer (Thursday 8th February, 6-9pm), the event will combine the voices of colleagues and students, working collaboratively as partners. We would be delighted to see as many staff as possible at the event, not least to express their support for our students’ commendable initiative.

The series of events will conclude on March 8th with our annual International Women’s Day Talk and Debate (Edith Morley, G25, 5-7pm) where Professor Roberta Gilchrist, Dr Carol Fuller, Dr Jacqui Turner and I will deliver presentations on issues continuing to affect women, and will debate the implications of them with our students. Again, we would be delighted to see our colleagues at the event: this has traditionally been a lively, affirming evening where issues are debated with warmth, mutual respect and good humour. This year, we are supported by the Vice Chancellor’s Endowment Fund so we can fully mark the annual IWD celebration in this important year.

 

Please contact Dr Madeleine Davies (m.k.davies@reading.ac.uk) or Dr Jacqui Turner (e.j.turner@reading.ac.uk) if you would like any further details or if you would like to contribute to either of the upcoming events. The series as a whole provides clear evidence that, at the University of Reading, feminism and issues of diversity, inclusion and equality are well and truly alive and kicking.

 

Cross-border recognition of same-sex marriages in the EU

Guest post by Dr Alina Tryfonidou, Associate Professor in EU Law, University of Reading

Since 2001, when the Netherlands opened marriage to same-sex couples, a number of other countries have taken the same step. At the moment of writing, marriage is open to same-sex couples in 24 countries around the world, with 15 of those being in Europe, and 13 in the European Union (EU).

Photo: Mr Adrian Coman (right) with his spouse, Mr Claibourn Robert Hamilton (left)

As more and more countries have opened marriage to same-sex couples, the number of same-sex couples who are married is increasing every year. What happens, however, when a married same-sex couple moves from a country that recognises same-sex marriages to a country that does not? Is the latter obliged to recognise a same-sex marriage contracted elsewhere? This question has been answered affirmatively in the US context: in 2015, in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, the US Supreme Court held that marriages lawfully performed in one US State must be fully recognised in all other US States.

Although the above question has been lingering in the EU context for almost two decades now, the EU’s highest court (the European Court of Justice ‘ECJ’) has only recently been called to adjudicate on this matter, in a case (C-673/16 Coman) where a same-sex couple that married in an EU Member State (Belgium) was faced with a refusal by the EU Member State to which they wished to move (Romania) to recognise their marriage. Mr Coman (a Romanian national and thus EU citizen, who had left Romania and was living abroad for a number of years) married his same-sex partner (a US national) in Belgium in 2010. The couple wished to move to Romania and when they contacted the Romanian authorities for this purpose, they were told that Mr Coman’s spouse could not join him in Romania, as same-sex marriages are not valid in that state. The couple brought an action before a Romanian court arguing that this refusal amounted to a breach of EU law. The Romanian court referred a number of questions for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ, asking it, in essence, whether EU law requires Romania to recognise the same-sex marriage of an EU citizen who has exercised his EU free movement rights.

EU law provides nationals of EU Member States (i.e. EU citizens) with the right to move freely between EU Member States. In order to ensure that this right can be exercised without any restrictions, EU law requires the State to which an EU citizen moves to accept within its territory certain family members of the latter; these family members include ‘the spouse’ of the EU citizen. This is laid down in secondary EU legislation, namely Directive 2004/38.

Given that the word ‘spouse’ is sex- and sexual orientation-neutral, one of the main questions that the ECJ has been called to answer in Coman, is whether this term (as used in the above Directive) includes both the opposite-sex and the same-sex spouse of an EU citizen who has exercised his/her EU right to move freely between Member States.

As argued elsewhere, it is clear that this should be answered in the affirmative, and this is so for the following reasons.

  1. Directive 2004/38 provides (Recital 31) that it ‘respects the fundamental rights and freedoms and observes the principles recognised in particular by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union’. Accordingly, the provisions of the Directive, including the provision stating that the ‘spouse’ of an EU national must be allowed to join the latter in the host Member State, must be read in a way which does not violate fundamental human rights, including the right not to be discriminated against on the ground of sexual orientation, as this is laid down in Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This means that the term ‘spouse’ in this instrument, must be interpreted in a way which does not discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation and, thus, it should not exclude same-sex spouses from its scope.
  2. Directive 2004/38 requires Member States to implement it without any discrimination on, inter alia, the ground of sexual orientation (Recital 31). Therefore, national legislation which provides for the family reunification rights of EU citizens must include the ‘spouse’ of EU citizens within the category of family members that can automatically accompany them in its territory, and must make it clear that this includes both opposite-sex and same-sex spouses.
  3. The refusal of an EU Member State to recognise the same-sex marriage of an EU citizen who wishes to move to its territory and the consequent refusal to accept within its territory the spouse of that national, can clearly discourage EU citizens from exercising their right to free movement and residence in any EU Member State, which is a right that is bestowed on them by the EU free movement provisions . Accordingly, such a refusal can constitute a breach of the EU free movement provisions.
  4. The failure of an EU Member State to recognise the same-sex marriage of an EU citizen who moves to its territory may, also, amount to a breach of a number of fundamental human rights, as these are protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, namely, the right to family life (Article 7 of the Charter) and the right to human dignity (Article 1 of the Charter).

The hearing of the Coman case was scheduled for November 2017, and it is expected that the Opinion of the Advocate General and the Court’s judgment will be delivered in 2018. The case has attracted extensive media coverage and a number of LGBT NGOs have intervened. The judgment is, therefore, awaited with great interest as the question at issue involves a delicate matter with huge constitutional implications

An Inspiring Voice: Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading (16th November 2017)

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

Meeting heroes is a dangerous enterprise but hosting Jess Phillips MP proved that this is by no means always the case. At her talk at the university on 16th November, organised by the Department of English Literature (Dr Madeleine Davies) and the Department of Politics and Internal Relations (Dr Mark Shanahan), the MP showed us all that she is not only a razor-sharp thinker but also a warm, generous and inspiring human being.

Jess Phillips’ talk included her childhood experiences as a campaigner with parents who were both committed to socialist causes: she remembered attending a day-care centre run by activists and helping to produce the banners that would be used on the drive-way to Greenham Common. She also discussed a brief period of political apathy when, in the early years of the Blair governments, many situations improved and the need for constant campaigning declined (she noted that she was more a fan of Blair’s ‘early work’ than of his later concepts). The election of David Cameron reignited her political activism and her years of experience with ‘Women’s Aid’, a refuge charity, finally galvanised her entry into Parliament. Her speech also included issues of class and privilege, questions of fairness and responsibility, and all her comment was laced with wit, humanity, and a deep-seated commitment to social justice.

In the speech and in the Q&A session that followed it, it was clear that Jess’s passion is for equality, not in the highly theorised sense of ‘academic’ feminism, but in the ‘lived’ sense of fairness, human rights and plain decency. The audience was largely comprised of students and I was extremely encouraged to see their interest in Jess’s comments about gender equality. I have taught women’s writing and literary feminisms for many, many years and it can be an uphill struggle to persuade students that, contrary to their beliefs, the battles have not yet been won. Jess noted that she would not see equal pay in her life-time, and she discussed ways in which women are silenced, abused, and devalued. A lively Twitter feed from the event demonstrates that the statements with which the students most connected were those that spoke to issues of gender equality: ‘women pay the price [of government cuts] while men reap the benefits’ was one re-tweeted comment. It was also encouraging to see how many people were following her talk: 185 attended the event, 3,465 viewed on the university’s Facebook stream, and one tweet alone was viewed by over 1,300 people (and ‘liked’ by 47).

Jess’s generosity in allowing us to live-stream the Q&A, in taking time and care to sign copies of her book Everywoman (posing for photographs whenever she was asked), and in taking such an interest in conversations with students and colleagues restores all faith in politicians. Jess Phillips is the warm, witty and intensely clever person that she seems to be in her book and in her media appearances. She also defines honesty and integrity – never has a reminder that these qualities can exist in politicians seemed so timely.

The effect of her visit was galvanising: the day after the talk, two students emailed me because they want to start a feminist society, and another student emailed to ask for help organising a ‘Vote 100’ event in February (working with Dr Jacqui Turner in History, and involving the Department of Literature as well). The event and the results of it remind me of the value of university education, of involving students in ‘public’ talks so that they can hear for themselves a range of ideas, and so that they have the opportunity to engage as citizens in debates of national and international significance.

In terms of the university and its work with Athena Swan, the talk reminds us all of what can be done to achieve the equality that this recognition indicates. The final question, from one of our excellent Student Ambassadors, asked the MP what three things could be done to campaign for gender equality: Jess’s answer suggested that making voices heard, never letting go of the struggle for women’s recognition, and being prepared to fight to make real difference is key for us all.

Jess Phillips MP is a hero who I am delighted to have met. I’m delighted also that the audience connected with her ideas so strongly and that so many students came along and engaged with the MP’s belief in equality and social justice. Many will, I’m sure, follow Jess Phillips’ invaluable advice in Everywoman: ‘Tell the world what you care about, because it makes them care too, and we need people like you to speak up.’