Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Centre for Equity & Inclusion launches as a hub for postgraduates of colour

Partnering with racial justice organisations to carry out anti-racist work, the initiative aims to "build a community amongst people that may be going through similar experiences" at the University of Sheffield. Project manager Dr Alex Mason told us more.

Daniel smyth 38 W8r94j P Uc unsplash2
Daniel Smyth on Unsplash.

The newly-launched Centre for Equity & Inclusion at the University of Sheffield is a research hub which looks to provide a connection point for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) of colour.

The centre, which is focussed on "systemic and culture change" at the university, aims to intervene in and challenge racism by:

  1. providing a range of funding, training and wellbeing opportunities;
  2. developing an expert network of PGRs of colour, University of Sheffield academics, racial justice organisations and local community hubs;
  3. creating, experimenting with and embedding new university processes and practices, particularly in its postgraduate programme and partnership work.

The Centre has a number of partners to help it do its work, many of which will be familiar to anti-racists in Sheffield, including Adoptee Futures, African Voices Platform, Eelyn Lee, MA Consultancy, Migration Matters Festival, RosaSenCis, SADACCA, SHARE, The Lit Collective and WOC Azadi Collective.

African Voices Platform managing director and Opus member Tchiyiwe Chihana said:

African Voices Platform welcomes the establishment of the Centre for Equity and Inclusion as a positive intervention towards creating conditions that enable students of colour and the University of Sheffield to participate actively in each other’s worlds by tackling systemic barriers that perpetuate racial injustice.

The partnership between the University and organisations such as African Voices Platform create a real chance at collaboration that is aimed at achieving mutually beneficial knowledge while addressing social change.

I spoke to the project manager of the centre, Dr Alex Mason, about his hopes for the new venture.

You studied at the University of Sheffield for quite a while as a student. Did you ever think that there would be a centre like this at the university?

No, I did not! I think it was only during my postgraduate degree that I realised the need for one.

My racial consciousness came during my PhD programme. Before that, I was aware of race and I'm of mixed heritage myself. But it was only during the PhD that I started to think about the structural mechanics of race and racism, its ideological and historical components. And that's what made me realise that the university I was in actually wasn't functioning to support people of colour.

The university has its race strategy, which means that at the very least, there is more accountability, to some extent.

The university is doing a lot of promotion about 'decolonising' the curriculum and its racial strategy, which of course sets expectations for students. How does the centre fit into that?

We want to be useful and beneficial to postgraduates, and part of that is that I want the postgraduates to take a very active hand in shaping the centre.

We have an initial programme that was co-produced with postgraduates and our centre partners. But now that we've launched more broadly, I really do want the postgraduates to feel like they have the agency to dictate what they need so that we can evolve.

We’re trying to affect some proper material and structural change at the university. It’s not lip service, not EDI, tickboxing. I want it to actually mean something to those who engage with it, and to be open, I suppose.

And then beyond that, we’re trying to build a community amongst people that may be going through similar experiences. I think that's really key. So we're offering support, but I think we're also offering opportunity.

In your introductory blog post you say: “It is so easy for once subversive anti-racist work to be subsumed by the university machine and used to sustain the status quo.” Projects like this centre are few and far between, which on the one hand is a lot of pressure, but on the other hand gives you freedom to be more creative. Has that figured into your thinking?

I think because we were externally funded, and we co-produced the application with our partners and the students, I felt comfortable with the programme that we had put in for funding applications. I think the daily battle will be negotiating, at some point with the university, how the lessons that we’ve learned during this funded project will be implemented by the university at large. At some point, the two will need to intersect.

Having the partners on board has been really helpful for me personally, because between them and the co-directors they’ve been sounding boards from people who are invested in racial justice work in whatever field that they're in.

I feel like I'm not alone implementing the ideas or fighting that battle with the institution because I have that team of people around me. I think the partners are especially important because they give you a greater sense of perspective, because they're doing stuff on the ground in Sheffield.

The purpose of the centre is not even really to benefit the university – it is to ultimately benefit racial justice work. That means wrestling with the university as an institution, but it also means engaging responsibly and ethically.

More Equality & Social Justice

Can Sheffield end new HIV transmissions by 2030?

In anticipation of next week’s Festival of Debate panel, Rei Takver speaks with Sheffield doctor and HIV specialist Dr Claire Dewsnap about what the city still needs to do to tackle the virus.

More Equality & Social Justice