Beginners guide to…. Christianity

We are a diverse community here at Reading, all focussed on learning, both academically, professionally and about others. This is the first in a series of blogs introducing the key features of different religions.

(Guest post by Beth Rice, studying philosophy and religion at A-level, who wrote this while on work experience at the University of Reading)

Some key aspects of the Christian faith

The main Christian beliefs are that:

  • God created the Universe,
  • God exists in three persons known as the Holy Trinity,
  • There is an Afterlife.

The Creation Stories: There are two Creation Stories found in the beginning of the bible. These are known as Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In both accounts, God is the creator. God has three main characteristics; he is omnibenevolent (all-loving), omniscient (all- knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful)

The Holy Trinity: The belief in the Holy Trinity is that God exists in three persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father created the Universe and sent Jesus to earth as a sacrifice for human sin where he died on the cross. Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary and Joseph and experienced human suffering and temptation however lived a perfect life. The Holy Spirit however is more complicated. The Holy Spirit lives inside those people that believe in God

Afterlife: Although all Christians believe in an afterlife, there are many different denominations of Christianity (including Protestants and Catholics) and often different groups have different views on life after death and other aspects of the Christian faith or religious practices.

Major  Christian events

Shrove Tuesday: the last day of feasting before Lent (40 days of fasting) is now most commonly know as Pancake Day. Shrove Tuesday for Christians is traditionally a preparation for Lent (see below). It is a way of using up ingredients such as milk, eggs, flour etc.

Ash Wednesday: marks the first day of Lent when some Christians begin to fast and pray in order to replicate Jesus’s 40 days of fasting in the desert.

Lent: 46 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) to replicate the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. During Lent some denominations of Christianity choose to fast and pray in order to reconcile with God whilst others try to give up items such as chocolate, alcohol smoking etc.

Holy Week: the week before Easter remembering the last of Jesus’s life on Earth. Palm Sunday commemorates the beginning of Holy Week. Often churches hand out crosses made of palm leaves to remember Jesus riding on a donkey when entering Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday marks the Last Supper Jesus had with his Apostles. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus.

Easter: Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Christmas: Christmas Day is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Often the Nativity of Jesus is shared in churches during the lead up to Christmas to remember Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem.

Being a Christian at the University

The University, like the rest of the UK, predominantly follows the traditional ‘Christian’ calendar  and thus the main vacations coincide with Christmas and Easter periods.

At the University of Reading there is a close-knit community of Christian students that participate in many social events such as the Bible Study Society https://www.rusu.co.uk/societies/biblestudysociety/ and Christian Union https://www.rusu.co.uk/societies/rucu/.

The Chaplaincy Centre (open from 8.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday) welcomes students and staff. They are available to contact by email chaplaincy@reading.ac.uk or phone 0118 378 8797 and have a wide range of weekly chaplaincy events for anyone to join. The chaplaincy offers a place for prayer as well as more general support for staff and students of all faiths and none.

 

 

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).

 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

By Ellie Highwood

Equality, diversion and inclusion are three terms used frequently and often interchangeably, but are importantly different. Diversity and inclusion can be thought of in terms of cooking. Most recipes require a many different (diverse) ingredients, but the quality of the end dish depends on all the ingredients being mixed together in the right way so that each one contributes to make something better than the sum of the parts (inclusion).

salad

Or, as coined by Verna Myers, “diversity is being invited to the party – inclusion is being asked to dance”.

In terms of our, or other organisations, diversity can be measured in terms of numbers, for example number of women professors, or black senior staff. It is relatively straightforward to set targets to improve diversity. Inclusion is more difficult to measure and manifests itself as “feeling included”, “being part of the team”, “feeling valued”. Also note that a diverse team does not necessarily behave more inclusively.

Equality is the term that has been used for the longest in this area. But what is equality? Equality of treatment? Equality of opportunity? Equality of treatment can be misleading. Yes we want everyone to be treated fairly, but this does not mean treating everyone the same. Equality of opportunity is the most popular term – this recognises that in order to give everyone the same opportunities, we might need to treat different groups differently because of past experiences (i.e. lack of access to information about university) or processes and structures that put a particular group at a disadvantage.

The potential confusion surrounding “equality” is the reason we are a “Diversity and Inclusion” team. However, by focussing on recognising and celebrating diversity, and encouraging and facilitating inclusion, we aim to provide equality of opportunity for all our staff and students.