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 (

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 (, 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 ( or Calvin Smith (

‘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 ( or Dr Jacqui Turner ( 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.


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.’

Athena SWAN Training: Thinking like a Charter Panellist

Thoughts from an attendee – Guest post by Eva Van Herel, Executive Administration Officer, Department of Humanities

 Having decided, before Summer, that our School is to put in an Athena SWAN Bronze submission, a small core group was formed to get things started and to make sure our application runs well through to the end. The Chair of our group attended some meetings, researched the application process and seemed quite at home in the material already, but for me, the whole process was mostly still a black box.

 To familiarise ourselves with the expected outcomes, our Chair recommended we all attend the ‘Thinking Like a Charter Panellist’ training. Nothing like a clear vision of the required outcome to focus the mind.

 And so we attended. Materials were provided by email beforehand. I browsed through them but was really quite unsure what I was supposed to be looking out for. There were exerpts from applications to serve as ‘mock panel examples’, a workbook with lots of charts and graphs, the panellist role description and the Athena SWAN Charter Awards Handbook. If that sounds like a lot, it looked like a lot too and I felt out of my depth going into the workshop.

About 20 people turned up and it was led by James Lush from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) which runs the panels, providing administrative support and the knowledge to ensure that panellists are using the criteria correctly. They also write up feedback for the applicants. He took us through the basics of what the applications are all about, how panels work and the mind-set you need to take on a panellist role. The way to learning is done by doing so we studied and discussed the workbook case in groups which resulted in a clear view of how important it is to structure and label the data in your reports so that it makes sense and contributes to your school’s story. So many ways to be unclear were identified it was almost as though it was our job to find mistakes in other people’s work. Come to think of it, lecturers do spend a lot of time marking…

 After a short break for lunch we continued with the practise panels: half the people form a panel and the other half observe. 20 minutes of panel discussion on the case studies and then feedback from the observers. Each panel had a Chair (with prior experience) and they structured the conversation. By now, we had picked up enough knowledge to have a lively discussion on points in the application considered strong or weak. Time flew by and being an observer proved useful too.

 2 things particularly stuck out for me from this session.

  •  The panellists go through one application an hour and this means they have little time to spend on each part of an application – it will be very important to ensure we catch their attention by creating an application that is easy to read and presents its information in a clear and coherent way. The best way to do this is to have a common thread of story running through the whole and binding it together, resulting in the action plan. Pictures and graphs or tables must be to the point and pertinent to the conversation, but can enliven the document and make it more user-friendly.
  • It also became clear that there is a risk of getting so involved with the project that it becomes impossible to see the end result in the same way panellists will look at it – I understand now why it is recommended that you get a ‘trusted friend’ to look at the material critically before finalising it. Perhaps someone who had just followed the ‘Thinking like a Panellist’ training for the first time?

 I left the session feeling my time had been well spent. With a better understanding of what the end result is supposed to be, and how it will be assessed, the end goal is clear. Now for the real work – sitting down and doing the work needed to get there.



Reflections on the Aurora Women’s Leadership Development Programme

Updated 13 July.

Guest blog from Katherine O’Sullivan (Marketing, Communication and Engagement & Henley Business School) and Helen Bilton (Institute of Education) with intro by Simon Chandler-Wilde (Dean for D&I)

Yesterday we had a reception, hosted by the Vice-Chancellor David Bell (and by Susan Thornton (Leadership and Talent Development Manager) who organises our engagement with this national programme, and by the UEB Gender Champion PVC Robert Van der Noort),  to celebrate the staff  that have been part of the Aurora Women’s Leadership Programme over the last year, and the line managers and mentors who have supported them.

This was a great celebratory and networking event. We finished with some words from David Bell, and also (for the second year running) with reflections on the programme from two of our staff who were part of the Aurora cohort from the year before, namely Katherine O’Sullivan (MCE & HBS) and Helen Bilton (Institute of Education). Below we share via this blog both of these reflections, kicking off with those from Katherine.

To give a little context to Katherine’s participation in the programme let me introduce Katherine briefly.  She is the Recruitment Manager for Europe and Americas at Henley Business School. Currently, Katherine is on a one-year secondment to the Global Recruitment Team in MCE as Country Manager for Central and South Asia. She’s from Boston, Massachusetts, and before moving to the UK nearly three years ago to work at the University she lived and worked for five years in Amsterdam as a lecturer in Cultural Studies.

Here are Katherine’s words from yesterday’s Aurora celebration:

“Hello everyone. Firstly, to the 2016/17 Aurora cohort, I hope that your experience has been challenging, eye-opening and profoundly rewarding as my experience was when I participated in Aurora in 2015/16. When Susan sent around an email asking if any of us would like to say a few words to this year’s group, I jumped at the chance, because it was yet another way I could thank Reading for its support and continued participation in this vital initiative.

When I participated in Aurora in 2015/16, I had only moved to the UK to start working at Reading in 2014; I was also in a non-teaching role. I was completely surprised to have been selected for Aurora because of this. However, I think it speaks volumes that Reading was willing to invest in someone new to the UK, new to the University, and someone in professional services (student recruitment), and sees all of these criteria as a vital part of the community here and worth developing. But being new to the UK, new to Reading, and a former academic who left a teaching role to take on a new career in student recruitment, I was extremely nervous about participating in Aurora. I feared I would be an outsider at the sessions, and that I would be seen as an imposter.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Aurora was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I was able to grow my professional network in the UK by leaps and bounds. I was able to gain insight into other women’s experiences (both British and non-British) in Higher Education in the UK. I was assured by other participants that I had unique and meaningful contributions to add to their conversations—to our conversations!—, and that I too had a place in the conversation about the direction of UK higher education, and that my voice, as both a woman and an immigrant, had an important place in shaping the future.

I found myself growing more confident at work because of this, willing to champion certain initiatives within my team, participate meaningfully in university-wide working groups, and it also gave me the self-assurance to take on a new challenge in a secondment role for a year in another department. Without the support from Reading, from Aurora and from the amazing women I met on the programme, I know I wouldn’t be in the position I am today or have a multitude of options in terms of career development and career progression that I do. The critical thinking skills I learned from the Action Learning Set still inform any professional problem I come across; and from time to time, you may catch me power posing in bathrooms around campus before I have an important meeting or presentation.

To this year’s cohort: although women still have a long way to go where we are equally represented at all levels in business, in academia and in society, you have become another ‘generation’ of Aurora leaders, and I truly hope we can become a critical mass, not only at Reading, but across higher education and beyond. Reading’s 2026 vision is to have ‘a vibrant, thriving, sustainable, global and broad-based institution, responsive to, stimulated by and informing changes in the world around us’. I can truly say that the University’s commitment to programmes like Aurora will certainly give many of us across the university the confidence and voice to help contribute to this vision.”

Our 2nd speaker from the cohort of 15/16 was Helen Bilton. Helen is currently Associate Professor in the Institute of Education – but one follow-on from her participation in the 15/16 Aurora programme was a successful application for promotion to Professor which comes into force over the summer! She holds various roles within the IoE, across the University and beyond, including as a National Teaching Fellow. Here is an extract from her words from yesterday’s event:

“The Aurora leadership programme that I was very lucky to attend, much like any learning did a number of things. It added lots of new light, affirmed things I knew and reminded me of things I had forgotten. It was good to find that the University believed in supporting someone who was at the time 59, and Aurora isn’t all about young things! It offered the most amazing strategies to analyse issues, and ask questions to help others find their own solutions. These strategies I use with staff and find they work every time. It taught me to give it a go and apply for things with no doubting Tom in my head. But also accepting that failure and mistakes are just part of the journey and are okay and to help others to see errors are a necessary part of the learning journey.

Einstein said you can’t make changes if you think in the same way you always have and Aurora has changed me as it has helped me to think differently. I would advise anyone with a desire to think differently to apply.”

Lesbian Visibility Day

by Simon Chandler-Wilde

Today, April 26th, is internationally celebrated in the LGBT+ community and beyond as Lesbian Visibility Day. Stonewall, the UK’s leading representational, campaigning, and support organisation for LGBT+ people and their allies – the University is a Stonewall Diversity Champion – has used today to launch a new video with many lesbian voices advocating the importance of lesbian visibility – and visibility of a variety of lesbian voices and backgrounds and intersectionalities. Here are a couple of stills from the video. These show first Stonewall and mental health advocate Yvonne Stewart-Williams, and then Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s Chief Executive. We’re really excited that Ruth will give our inaugural Wolfenden Lecture next week 4 May at 7pm – booking is still open here.

The voices on this video advocate powerfully for the importance of visible role models across society – and this message is taken up in Stonewall’s publication ‘The Double-Glazed Glass Ceiling: Lesbians in the Workplace‘, with a key recommendation that: ‘Having visible, open lesbian and bisexual female leaders in the organisation reassures lesbian employees that they won’t be discriminated against and encourages them to be out at work.’ The report also advocates strong support for role models, which is why we are so keen to support our LGBT staff financially and otherwise on Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models Programme. Watch the Staff Portal and the LGBT Plus network’s Twitter feed next week for details of funding for 8 more places, or talk for more info to my favourite lesbian and gay role models Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith, the co-chairs of LGBT Plus, who are both graduates of this one-day programme.

Talking this over this evening, my teenage daughter has emphasised to me the importance of visibility of younger role models. She means here role models at School and University  – RUSU and its LGBT+ Society do a great job locally at Reading of providing many role models, not least Nikki Ray our RUSU LGBT+ Part-Time Officer – but, equally, visible role models in the media and in the programmes that teens watch – a great example is Emily in Pretty Little Liars – that make clear that lesbian identities are normal, everyday, and across our diverse society.

‘Using your Voice to Make a Difference’: Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading on June 1st

Guest post by Madeleine Davies (English Literature): update 20th April 2017, due to the 8th June General Election this talk will be postponed until some time in October to be confirmed.

In Jess Phillips’ recently published book, Everywoman (Hutchinson, 2017), the Labour MP discusses the ways in which female voices are silenced. She declares that this problem has deep historical roots as she observes the male and female gargoyles decorating the central lobby and the committee rooms in the House of Commons: Phillips notes that the men are depicted open mouthed in speech while the women are gagged, their mouths literally covered with stone muzzles (p.56).

The silencing of women’s voices is by no means a recent phenomenon but it has assumed a disturbing new manifestation in the digital age. In a particularly compelling section of her book, Phillips discusses online trolling and abuse and she explains ‘dog-piling’ which is a technique used by online trolls to shut down someone (often a woman) who speaks out. ‘Dog-piling’ involves hundreds or even thousands of people bombarding a Twitter account with messages over a short space of time. It is designed to drown out other voices, to intimidate the tweeter, and to effectively ‘block’ the voice.

Phillips recalls a horrifying example of this being used against her when a men’s rights activist made a comment about how ‘he wouldn’t even rape me’. As a statement, this is shocking enough, but what followed is even worse. As soon as the initial comment had been made, Phillips recalls the ‘dog-piling’ attack it initiated:

‘A glance at my twitter feed that day was a bit like reading a sinister Dr Seuss:

I will not rape her on a plane

I will not rape her on a train

I will not rape her in the car

I will not rape her on a star

I will not rape her HERE or THERE

I will not rape her anywhere

I will not rape her on a tram

I will not rape her, MAN-I-AM (pp.215-6)

That sufficient numbers of people required for a ‘dog-pile’ can find this abuse either funny or acceptable in the C21st staggered me. I am not a regular user of Twitter or Facebook, and reading Phillips’ book seemed to confirm my instinct that it might be a good idea to retain this policy.

But as Phillips notes, ‘dog-piling’ and other tactics (including ‘isolating’) are designed to coerce women into silence and she forges a connection between witch-hunts and the contemporary digital world when she notes that the feeling of being the victim of dog-piling is ‘akin to being stood in front of an enormous angry mob waving burning torches and pitchforks’ (p.215).

When women give in to the bullying and absent themselves from social media, the bullies win, so Phillips is firm in her argument that such tactics must not deter women from asserting their voices online, painful though the consequences can be. For this reason, Phillips was involved in the launch of Recl@im, an Internet campaign looking at laws and regulations that could be better used to stop abuse.  She is also involved in #NotTheCost, a campaign led by Madeleine Albright to combat the violence inflicted against politically active women around the world. Phillips’ engagement with this issue is clear – Jo Cox was one of her closest friends.

Phillips does not whine – she takes action and she asks all of us to do the same. She is, I think, an inspiring woman and it does not matter whether you agree with her politics or not. That she is willing to become the voice for all people who have no access to platforms from which to speak, positions her as a woman to be admired.

Jess Phillips is giving a talk at the University of Reading on June 1st. The Vice-Chancellor will introduce her at 6pm, and there will be a Q & A session and a book signing (for Everywoman) following the session. The talk takes place in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre and the book signing will be in the First Floor Foyer (both are in the Edith Morley Building, entrance 1a).

I have invited Jess to the University because I believe that she has a voice that needs to be heard by us all. Our students need fearless role models like her (though Phillips says she feels anything but ‘fearless’).  I hope that colleagues and students from across the University will come and hear Jess and contribute to the debate afterwards. After all, as she states:

‘By demanding to be heard, by dealing with our

imposter syndrome, by being cheerleaders,

doers not sayers, creating our own networks

and by daring to believe that we can make a

difference, we can.’