I had the absolute pleasure of chairing the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Panel at this year’s ALT Conference. The speakers – Dr Miriam Mbah, Dr Caroline Derry, Dr Lucy Floyd & Dr Foluke Adebisi – were incredible.
I learned a lot. We covered the ‘awarding gap’ as opposed to the ‘attainment gap’ (Mbah & Derry) – something I should have been much more aware of, but wasn’t. Professional identity & gender (Floyd) – how gender plays a part in hiring/firing, of course, but also in how we interact in the classroom, and how little some people are aware of this issue. And teaching law and race in UKHE (Adebisi). I am part of the Decolonisation of the Curriculum Working Group at Aston University and so this is a topic I passionately engaged with during the session and, moving forward, by looking up some of the readings, podcasts, etc. mentioned in the presentation and subsequent discussion.
These are obviously topics/discussions we can and should all integrate into our teaching! Themes emerged during the panel which were meant to help guide us in the integration journey: be disruptive (of course); do work that is student-led; inform and support the development of intersectional humans; contribute to transformative change… slowly…
But, as I said during the panel, I am already on board – I was (and continue to be) looking for the fine tuning, how to continue on my EDI integration journey. So, I asked the question – how do we get others on board? My guess is that many of the panel attendees were already passionate or interested in improving EDI in Legal Education and needed little persuading.
The response: that it is about slowly bringing people on board. That it is often not disapproval of the topics to be integrated but concerns about one’s own expertise, the amount of time it will take to do the work, etc. It’s humbling to remember this. That the integration process has to move slowly, carefully and with compassion.
I worry, though, that with more of us working and teaching online, this ‘slow’ process will start to grind to a halt or even move backwards. I expect that those of us who are already working on EDI initiatives have access to more and more podcasts, conferences, journal articles, tweets, etc. as a result of more independent and online working. And our resolve becomes stronger. But if you aren’t in that loop – if you already feel out of your depth – what is your impetus for engaging with a process of integrating decolonised curricula and gender equality? How do we get the EDI initiative to those who are only accessible through official channels now that we are mainly online?
I was talking to a colleague of mine who is in her early 70s. She and I are both taking musical instrument lessons. We discussed how wonderful it is to have a music teacher. We learn nuance and technique that we couldn’t possibly have learned on our own. (I can confidently say that neither of us is a virtuoso.) It is of course harder to learn things as we get older, but having a teacher makes this all possible. And, because we want to learn and improve our playing, we accept the slow process…
My anecdote is meant as a metaphor not for how we teach students, but rather how we learn as adults. ‘Slow’ is fine, but we won’t make progress without a teacher. If those just scratching the surface of EDI initiatives in HE Legal Education don’t have ‘teachers’ (colleagues working on these initiatives) around them, how will they start to learn the nuance of equality, diversity and inclusion? How will they be encouraged in their efforts and supported through difficult situations, lessons, topics?
I write this, I think, as a request for thoughts and suggestions. How do we help colleagues integrate things like gender equality, decolonisation, etc. into their teaching if working online means they have limited interactions with those working on the initiatives? Forcing interactions would contradict a slow, careful and compassionate integration, wouldn’t it? But if we don’t ‘force’ interactions – catch-ups, meetings, initiatives, pushes from management – how will we interact with each other? We don’t just ‘bump into each other’ anymore or ‘overhear a conversation’ in a shared office. What is/are the best way(s) of keeping things moving forward and bring everyone with us whilst online? ‘Slow’ integration is fine but non- or backward-integration is not something I can accept.
Dr Lauren Traczykowski, Aston University
Blog Post | ALT2021