Dear Women of Colour…

Dear Women of Colour…

a poem by Apatsa Rose, Contracts Associate, Research and Enterprise Services

 

Dear Colour,

It took a while for me to notice you
Though I would stand in a room with a sea of individuals with faces that looked nothing like mine
They were always kind
Hence I was always blind to you
Until year two.
When I came in with a little fro and lo and behold I was…
different.
My nose was
wider, My lips
were larger, My hair was
coarser
And I never knew until she pointed it out at school.
Running to the bathroom with
tears streaming down my face, then all I
wanted was my mother.
Looking in the mirror
I contemplated her abrasive statements
Was she right?

Did I look just
like
poo?
Was I ugly for being different?
Was I still that sweet, precious girl that my family said I was or was I now
Disposable?
Being the only non-white child in school had never been so apparent until this pivotal moment
Suddenly,
I saw you.
You brought with you a divide,
A fight with self to discover the wealth that my colour brought
To find the light we hold inside
To manipulate perceptions, yet stay true to who I am
I can’t say much good has come from knowing you
But I’m aware
And though I’m not sure how to deal with you yet
I still walk on. I still stand strong.
To Colour, I say Hello…

 

 

Dear Woman,

Did God curse just you
Or he cursed man too?
Though sometimes you are seen as less than
You’ve been shown that you still can
Be the queen of the home
Of the road
Of the show
Though we speak of girl power
Is it a myth that really exists
Or do we aim to empower one another?
Woman, he says to you
Mother, Sister, Girlfriend, Wife
At times these terms connote strife
From the time the period arrives
Expectation is created,
Though you knew not
Because you were silently elated.
Long nails
Tight curls

Rouged lips
Thick hips
Shaved legs
Full edges
Are supposedly what make you, you.
Yet to you there is no structure
Too varied, intricate and positively complex to categorise
Men are mesmerised by your diversity.
Dear woman, to you I say
When in doubt
Question a world without your touch.

 

 

Dear Women of Colour,

We salute you
We salute that you tore your enemies in two
Because some of us in your shoes
Wouldn’t be able to do the things you do
Downtrodden by society
Their men, our men

The beauty of your boldness always stand strong
In a world where sometimes it’s hard to belong
Dear woman of colour
This appears to be wrong
Oprah, Archie,
Michelle, Mum
When you stop to think of what you’ve become
An inspiration, a ray of sun
Though you are of colour
Though you are a woman
Though anyone who beholds you can clearly see this
May you not be purely defined by the beauty of your physique
Or subject to pre-conceived ideas about who and what you should be
May your spirit be seen
Your heart keen
To illuminate generations to come along
Show us that we can do,
Be, Anything.
That one day, we won’t have to work thrice as hard to get where we need to
And will only depend on our man if we want to

Break free from any chains that will ever seek to bind you
Mental rains should fail to surround you
Fear cease to drown you
Dear women of colour, bright as day
I proudly say,
You are the future.

 

 

 

Anti.

Anti.

a poem by Apatsa Rose, Contracts Associate, Research and Enterprise Services

This fight has been happening for centuries.
The fight to be equal
Equally free
Equally paid
Equally perceived
Equally likely to stay alive.

The police have been crushing the bones and skulls of victims for years
Shooting the bodies of our peers
Then being promoted after this,
Whilst the testimonies of the dead
Fall on deaf ears.
The courts have ignored
Industries have soared
Churches have adored Jesus…but not the ones he came to save
Society has scored
On the backs of those who roared
And never stopped shouting.

But you
The worst of all
The one who makes up these institutions
Individuals
Beings
Humankind
Have bathed in apathy
Have laid in passivity
Have sprayed the cologne of accidie
So why ​now have you joined the fight?
Has lockdown given you a reason to think of others
Outside of yourself?
Outside of your circle?
Outside of anything that affects your existence?
Why is it that ​now
You have seen the light?
Who can blame you?
It’s in our nature…

Well done though

Clap for yourself
Honestly, go-ahead!
Congratulations for getting up and out of your complacent bed!
Splendid job
For climbing of
out the pit of
torpor
And posting a
picture on the trendy
bandwagon of “#blackouttuesday” because
Everybody’s doing it, so
why not you?
Take 2 minutes out of your
day to show you’re down with the culture
When this has never even crossed your mind!
It’s something I struggle to get behind
Because there’ll never be true equality
If mindsets stay sleeping
So why did it take George Floyd to make you see that there’s a problem?
Why now?


This is for all those who died at the hands of brutal force just for the colour of their skin, including George Floyd…

What Matters Most

by Rory Williams-Burrell, Trainee Technician, School of Archaeology, Geography, and Environmental Science (SAGES) 

 

The Year 2020 has been a challenging one for our staff and students here at the University. Significant changes had to be made regarding the way we work and the way that we live. The world stage has not only highlighted the stresses surrounding Covid-19, but also that deep change is needed in our thinking around ‘race and gender’. This need for change was clearly highlighted in May this year due to the abhorrent behaviour and murderous act that led to the death of George Floyd. This act of racial hatred sparked rallies and marches across the world to show how racism is still prevalent today and that it needs to stop.

The extent to which racism and sexism is present in our everyday lives needs to be addressed, as well as the detrimental effect discrimination can have on our wellbeing. The term ‘race’ is often misunderstood. It derives from France and Italy in the 15th century, and the meaning behind the term translates as kind, breed, and lineage. This also incorporates the physical characteristics of skin colour, eye colour and facial form. This crosses over when we look at ‘gender’ which can be defined as having three aspects, each with an association spectrum. These three aspects are ‘gender identity’, which is how a person identifies themselves, ‘gender expression’, which relates to their behaviour, dress and how others perceive their gender, and ‘biological sex’, which depends on a person’s mostly physical characteristics, for example, these include a person’s genitalia, body shape, body shape, voice, body / facial hair, hormone balance etc.

Deep change is also needed in the ‘disability’ sector, surrounding physical and mental health. One definition could be that being disabled takes away the elements from you that make you able. For example, this could relate to a wheelchair user who requires more space for social distancing purposes than others. In another instance someone may not be able to wear a mask due to asthma and therefore keeping more than two meters away is important for their health and well-being.

 

I am a member of the Well-being Peer Support team here at the University of Reading. Our members consist of staff volunteers (not counsellors or mental-health advisors) who are trained to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, whatever the cause, and can guide you to the right support. The Well-being Peer Support network is primarily geared towards staff members where we provide a space for listening and conversation with strict confidentiality in place. You can contact the network through: https://www.reading.ac.uk/human-resources/policies-and-procedures/health-and-wellbeing/wellbeing-peer-support#. Through the link above you will be able to see a list of our volunteers and be able to choose who to approach and speak to.

If you are a student at the university, there is a wide range of support and guidance available for you including being able to access links to professional counsellors and mental health advisors who can be reached 24/7: https://www.reading.ac.uk/essentials/Support-And-Wellbeing

There is also an excellent Wellbeing Toolkit produced by Student Services, with lots of useful advice and helpful links: https://www.reading.ac.uk/essentials/-/media/essentials/files/wellbeing-toolkit-nov.pdf

A particularly helpful resource presents five steps to well-being and shows how making small changes in our daily lives can result in a range of positive outcomes: https://www.reading.ac.uk/human-resources/working-at-reading/health-and-wellbeing/5-steps-to-wellbeing

 

There are of course many more steps to maintaining one’s wellbeing, particularly at this challenging time, and I have tried to focus my attention on implementing changes in my own life. Over the years I have been researching and finding ways to help myself through episodes of depression that started during childhood. When I was a toddler, I suffered a head injury when I was hit by a car and I was placed in intensive care for over three months. I was lucky to survive and I am forever grateful to have had the support over the years that have got me to where I am today. I would never have imagined that I would get through, school, college and then a university degree. So, I urge you, please, not suffer in silence but to seek support when needed. It is important that our University looks out for everyone, especially at this time of uncertainty.

 

There is a great podcast I recommend hosted by a British physician, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, entitled ‘Feel better live more’. Dr. Chatterjee talks of four pillars of health; these pillars are nutrition, exercise, sleep, and meditation. I have tried and am still trying to create habits surrounding these four pillars. These actions have helped me reflect and change my perspective and outlook on life and I hope that they will be able to help others too.

Is That You? A Bystander, Walking By Racism…

Dr Billy Wong, Associate Professor, Institute of Education

 

Calling out racist behaviour, especially to strangers in public, take courage because you never know how others would react. Understandably, you might be concerned about your own safety. You might even doubt and question your judgement. Was that really racism? Or just a misunderstanding? Or just banters between friends? If you interfere, the situation could go out of hand, or even violent. In the end, you decided it is probably best to carry on walking, minding your own business.

Later, you reflected, and thought you could have done something, but assured yourself in that moment, you were unprepared, with little options but to walk. You promised yourself to do better next time, and you know there will be.

With your family, friends and colleagues, you witnessed another episode of racist behaviour. This time, it was more implicit, nuanced and subtle. It was racial microaggression. You were unsure if it was intentional. It was a short comment in a conversation, which was flowing and before long, moved onto another topic. You did not think it was necessary to interrupt the conversation to revisit an earlier remark. So, you decided it is probably best to carry on listening.

Later, you reflected, and thought you could have done something, but assured yourself in that moment, you were unsure and no one else seemed troubled by it, so it was probably nothing. You promised yourself to do better next time, and you know there will be.

Being a bystander may be our default position on issues we feel unfamiliar, unprepared and unsure, but we must not get too comfortable in this role. If silence is complicity, then we must actively retrain our passive mindsets. We have activists who are challenging the inequalities of the status quo, but we need more, a lot more. Are you ready?

 

P.S. We can easily substitute racist behaviour and racism with other social inequalities, such as sexist behaviour and sexism, or more broadly, just unacceptable behaviours.

 

 

 

Inspired by our recent article: Wong, B., ElMorally, R., Copsey-Blake, M., Highwood, E., & Singarayer, J. (2020). Is race still relevant? Student perceptions and experiences of racism in higher education. Cambridge Journal of Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2020.1831441

 

Raising undergraduate aspirations through career mentoring?

Tania Lyden, Career Consultancy Lead: curriculum and academic engagement, July 2020

The Thrive Career Mentoring evaluation reports for undergraduates at the University of Reading showed that mentoring had raised 41% of mentees career aspirations: convincing given the potential mentoring seems to have for influencing social mobility. To harness these findings to influence the University’s Graduate Outcomes, we needed to better understand the processes involved. We needed to know which of our mentees had raised career aspirations and examine whether particular widening participation (WP) students were benefitting or not  How had this change in aspiration happened? What processes were involved and how could we enhance the scheme?

From previous career mentoring research, certain theories and studies had come to the fore to help understand how mentoring worked, particularly in relation to WP students. These included: Bourdieu’s work on social reproduction and subsequent theories such as Hodkinson’s ‘horizons for action’; career identity theories (Meijers & Lengelle, 2012) and employability models  (Dacre-Pool & Sewell, 2007), (Tomlinson, 2017), including self-efficacy, (Bandura, 1977) alongside theories on mentoring processes ( (Kram, 1983), (Bouquillon, Sosik, & Lee, 2005), (Ragins, 1997)).

What emerged were several questions. Did mentoring provide students with a changed view of the labour market (field[1]), whether more detailed, broader or simply different and what was the impact of this: greater self-efficacy in relation to a specific career and a shift in career identity? Did mentees experience changes in their ‘habitus’[2]  or get a better sense of the tactics necessary, or ‘feel for the game’, for those roles? Did this also impact on their self-efficacy about securing a more aspirational role? Did mentoring processes such as cognitive overlap between mentor and mentee, recognition, identification, integration and trust feature and were their aspirational shifts consequences to this?

The current before and after surveys for career mentoring were adjusted to ask about student perceptions around career aspiration before and after mentoring, with analysis around why mentee’s perceived it had happened and also some analysis of the shift in occupations sought. This would reveal which students had raised aspirations. Focus groups would deliver a better understanding of the processes involved. However, this approach became challenging and interviews were opted for instead. Importantly, survey analysis revealed that what mentees viewed as raised aspirations, for the most part, did not seem to be. The researcher used the interviews to explore this misunderstanding about raised aspirations and why mentees answered yes, when their reasoning behind the answer suggested otherwise and what this meant for the mentoring programme. Unfortunately, only two WP students volunteered to take part in deeper qualitative research so each was undertaken as a case study.  The research revealed some interesting results. Firstly, a higher percentage of mentees from BAME groups and/or NSSEC category 4, 5, 6 and 7 reported raised aspirations compared to non BAME mentees and mentees from NSSEC categories 1, 2 and 3. Conversely, mentees reporting disabilities and/or who had lived in low participation neighbourhoods (Polar Q 1 and 2) had a lower percentage reporting raised aspirations. After analysing any association between these characteristics and raised aspirations using Chi Square tests, it was revealed that none of these results were statistically significant. The tests relied on small numbers of participants for the WP categories particularly, but the Chi Squared tests were valid.

Secondly, our qualitative survey analysis revealed only a handful of students had actually adjusted their career goals. What the others reported was feeling more focused regarding their career options (31%), having chosen a specific career path (24%), feeling more ambitious (7%), broadening their outlook (5%), feeling more certain about their career choice (5%) and having higher self-belief about their chosen career option (5%). The pie chart shows this breakdown. What this reveals is that for the vast majority of mentees their journey seemed to be more about making career choice progress and/or feeling more committed and ready to apply for the roles they aspired to do, rather than aspiring to ‘higher level’ roles. Without career mentoring, they may not have made a choice, not been committed enough, have lacked self-belief and potentially reverted to non-graduate level applications.

In terms of shedding light on the processes involved, the two interviews provided rich, useful data. The participant names have been changed to ensure privacy.

Jack was a male, part two, BAME mentee and a mature student. He clearly displayed higher self-efficacy due to achieving a more realistic, up close view of the career he aspired to, and the lifestyle that accompanied it, through his relationship with his mentor. This seemed to show symbolic modelling (Bandura, 1977). 

I feel it’s been less about raising my goals as about specifying them. Again, making them more realistic, actually making them a reality. It’s become a lotless nebulous now. It looks a lot more concrete now.

He received reassurance from a likeminded, yet demographically different, role model and this seemed key to him feeling like the career was right for him and that he had a good chance of success. This relationship showed clear cognitive overlap and some integration of identities, and although only this case seemed to support the idea that similarity enabled trust and identification to occur, this led to successful outcomes for Jack.

As much as this sounds attractive, and I think it’s the right call, I’m not really certain that may be once I get into it, it may be will kill me a little bit on the inside or something. Um, after the mentoring scheme I feel very definitely, no I’ve made the right call here.

Suhanna was a female BAME mentee who had almost no cognitive overlap with her mentor and was re-exploring her career identity having strongly identified with one of her parent’s careers and since rejected it. There was little bonding and no identification and only limited progress for her in terms of career direction. Both Jack and Suhanna gained a new view of the labour market ‘field’ and this resulted in a highly evolved understanding of the role and employability tactics for Jack and a huge opening up of career options for Suhanna. Neither raised their aspirations, but Jack ended up certain about his career identity and how to realise it and Suhanna realised that the answer to her career journey was to explore further career options and could see a way forward. It seems that Suhanna’s self-efficacy in her ability to navigate the career decision making process had increased, perhaps as a result of performance exposure (Bandura, 1977), in the form of exploring many new career options. She had another placement planned to explore a subsequent career option.

I wanted to aspire to be like my Dad, I want to be successful, I wanted to be in finance and the more I’ve grown up, the more I’ve realised I was, not naïve, but I just didn’t realise what else was out there. So I guess that’s what mentoring has made me realise.

A clearer career identity seemed to accelerate mentoring benefits, but progress can still be made if mentees are early in the career choice process and that building self-efficacy around applying the career decision making process is fruitful. Having mentor/mentee common ground helps and that with a well formed mentee career identity that common ground can include career interests. Cognitive overlap seemed to enable identification and comparisons between the mentee and the mentor such that the mentee saw their future self in the mentor’s current self via ‘symbolic modelling’ (Bandura, 1977). However: firstly, that cognitive overlap did not seem to need to be based on demographics. Interestingly Jack and his mentor were very different demographically but had very similar career interests, academic background, personality and work ethic. Secondly, this presented a paradox in that for mentoring outcomes to truly accelerate and reach fruition, students seemed to need better-formed career identities, something which mentoring ideally should help to achieve, but that for those with limited career identities at the outset, building self-efficacy in the career decision making process would help them move forward. Those with poorly formed professional career identities, logically, would be those who have had least exposure to professional graduate roles through their families, friends and communities, making mentoring vital for social mobility.

Several recommendations are made as a result of this research:

•            Matching processes should focus on multi-facetted mentor/mentee cognitive overlap.

•            Mentors should know how well-formed their mentee’s career identities are and encourage mentees to apply the career decision making process and reflect to build self efficacy in it.

•            Mentors and mentees need training and exercises to reflect on common ground, discuss differences and recognise the importance of relationship quality on career mentoring.

•            Mentors should provide mentee’s with mastery experiences as per Bandura’s self-efficacy concept, including providing experiences, if possible, occupational information, vicarious insights into job roles and reassurance as well as honest reflection about a mentee’s emotional reactions to what they learn and the process. This will broaden mentee horizons, deepen knowledge from new vantage points previously unavailable to them plus support about how they feel about it.

•            Scheme organisers need to encourage mentors and mentees to invest in the relationship.

•            Stakeholders need to better understand mentoring processes and how to support them.

To conclude, what originated as a study of career aspiration, evolved into a study of how career mentoring ensures mentees create, develop certainty around and ultimately secure their career aspirations and how schemes can support this to improve graduate outcomes. Aspects of the mechanisms of recognition and identification, habitus and field and self-efficacy all seemed at play.

 

[1] ‘Field’ is a place where agents are based with their positions of power dependent upon the interaction between; the rules of the field, the habitus of the agent and the capital (social, cultural, symbolic) of the agent.

[2] ‘Habitus’ is a repeated set of behaviours, assumptions and judgements that have developed over time due to family socialisation and that particular position in ‘the field’ and scaffolds decisions as a loose framework (Bourdieu, 1990)

 

References

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Bouquillon, E. A., Sosik, J. J., & Lee, D. (2005). It’s only a phase: examining trust, identification and mentoring functions received across the mentoring phases. Mentoring and Tutoring Partnership Learning, (13): 1-20.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Dacre-Pool, L., & Sewell, P. (2007). The key to employability: developing a practical model of graduate employability. . Education and Training, 49(4):277-289.

Kram, K. (1983). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. Academy of Management Journal, (26): 608-625.

Meijers, F., & Lengelle, R. (2012). Narratives at work: the development of career identity. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 1-20.

Ragins, B. R. (1997). Diversified mentoring relationships in organizations: a power perspective. Academy of Management Review, 22(2): 482-521.

Tomlinson, M. (2017). Forms of graduate capital and their relationship to employability. Education and Training, 59(4): 338-352.

 

Making space: Connecting BAME students in the Department of English Literature

In this post, Part 3 students (and now 2020 graduates!) Georgia Courtney-Cox and Yinka Olaniyan and Lecturer Dr Nicola Abram discuss the BAME English Literature students’ network launched in 2019/20.

Photo of 2020 graduate Georgia Courtney-Cox, supplied by subject

Photo of 2020 graduate Yinka Olaniyan, supplied by subject

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yinka: The BAME student network was created for English Literature students to discuss their university experiences as BAME students. It was founded by Georgia Courtney-Cox, Nicola Abram and myself to act as a safe space for BAME students, who are often few and far between in the English department. For example, in 2018, only 14.4% of UK/EU entrants to undergraduate English Literature programmes identified as BAME, compared to 25% across the University as a whole.

Nicola: Georgia and Yinka were among seven students who participated in a project in 2018/19 which sought to explore the experiences of BAME students in the School of Literature and Languages. Project participants took photographs illustrating aspects of university life, which we discussed in our group and then shared publicly in a Library exhibition and online. For me, what stood out in these images was the dialogue between cultural and ethnic identity (for example, black British, or British Asian) and institutional and disciplinary identity (that is, being a student of a certain subject at the University of Reading). Participants wanted to be able to identify themselves – and be seen by others – as both. So, with some funding from the UoR Diversity & Inclusion fund and the Teaching & Learning Dean, Georgia, Yinka and I designed a schedule of events for 2019/20 where black, Asian, and ‘minority’ ethnic students of English Literature could get together, resourcing each other and building a supportive community.

Georgia: During the year I advertised the BAME network on the UoR ‘Student Life’ blog.

Yinka: Across the academic year, we have had various sessions and speakers. These have ranged from myself and Georgia facilitating informal discussions whilst we ate pizza, to Creative Writing lecturer Shelley Harris discussing how we can use our experiences to benefit our academic work. The Autumn Term session with three University of Reading graduates was a particularly encouraging experience for me. It was the first term of my final year at university and I was rather unsure of what lay ahead. The pressure of my dissertation and the impending uncertainty of graduation loomed over me. The graduates, however, reassured me that it was okay to feel overwhelmed about my dissertation and the fear of the unknown. After hearing about the various routes the graduates went down after university, I realised that my life did not have to follow a linear pattern. This allowed me to let go of anxiety about the future and focus on the present. It was because of this session that I feel like I got the most out of my final year.

Georgia: The Autumn Term graduate talks showed me that studying English Literature can provide transferable skills after university. The idea of life after university has always been a daunting thought at the back of my mind however after speaking to the graduates I felt reassured that I could enter the job market confident in my skills.

Yinka: My favourite session of the year was with Shirley Anstis, a local author and counsellor. In her interactive workshop, we used writing therapy to celebrate our successes since A-Levels. No one was required to read their writing out, so it was very much a personal exercise. We also did a visualisation activity of what we wanted our ideal future to look like. The exercise allowed me to reframe my goals and work out what truly mattered to me. Sessions like these every few weeks gave students a small period of calm in what is usually a hectic university schedule. It was also great to have BAME English Literature students from other years attend. We exchanged advice about modules we had taken and navigating university life as a BAME student generally. It was great to be able to relax and talk to other students about our oftentimes shared experiences.

Georgia: I noticed how impactful the network had become during the teaching strikes. Many students who attended the sessions would join because they were already on campus. I had anticipated that because there were fewer contact hours during the strikes not many students would attend, however, I was surprised that students still attended the session because they wanted to converse. We talked about staying motivated, dealing with anxieties within and outside of university, and formulated strategies to meet upcoming deadlines. Having an open discussion for 40 minutes helped me to de-stress. The time flew by and it made a massive difference to the rest of my day.

Nicola: As a member of staff sitting in on all but the student-led discussion sessions, I’ve learned so much this year. I’ve heard what a lonely and alienating experience it can be finding yourself the only person of colour in a classroom, and how frustrating it is when the curriculum doesn’t acknowledge the contributions of people like you. I’ve also seen how resourceful students have been in making a place for themselves at University, and their resilience in staying true to themselves despite various institutional and peer pressures. In our final, reflective session it was incredibly moving to see and celebrate how much the network participants have achieved this year, both academically and personally. Staff at the University have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the ways in which our systems – including our teaching methods and curricula – centre some students at the expense of others, and to make a change. I will be working with colleagues in the Department of English Literature and more widely to feed this forward.

Yinka: Being part of the BAME network has helped me in a multitude of ways. When I first started university, I felt that there were not many people I could relate to or who could relate to me. By the end of it, there is a network of people with whom I can discuss anything. The network has made me feel more comfortable about who I am and how I express myself to non-BAME students. I am now confident enough to speak about my experiences and have done so at various talks alongside Georgia, including a School of Literature and Languages meeting in November 2019 and a University-wide event in January 2020. It has been amazing to be part of such a great network and I would highly encourage anyone who has thought of attending to come along when future sessions are advertised. You can just drop into sessions that suit you – you don’t have to attend every session. Whether you would like to speak up or just listen in, the network is for everyone who wants to hear and reflect on the experiences of BAME students. The student-led sessions will be reserved for students of colour, but sessions led by UoR staff or with external speakers will be open to all students. BAME students have often been ignored in academic settings, but the network has allowed me and others to have a voice. My advice would be to use the BAME network as an empowering tool, to define your place at university.

 

Photo of Lecturer in Literatures in English, Dr Nicola Abram, taken by Laura Bennetto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAME network end of year poster

Typographic representation of BAME students’ English Literature meet-up 2019/20, designed by Georgia Courtney-Cox