It has now been six months since I am Co-Chair of the Antiracism & Learning Technologies SIG under ALT. It is high time that I review what I have achieved personally and also as part of the committee.
This sums up, to the best of my knowledge, what the group, later SIG, has been up to since November 2020.
While I have been active as a facilitator since Jan 2021, this post is focused on what ensued when the group was finally approved as a SIG and a review of my personal thoughts and challenges.
What is antiracism?
The biggest challenge I faced was obviously debunking racist and non-racist beliefs and practices. For anyone actively working on antiracism, you would know that this is a challenge with no end, but definitely with hope.
A personal initiative has been for me to encourage antiracist practices via my Celebrating Small Steps in HE video series, videos; additional information in blog posts is available at: https://teeroumaneenadan.com/tag/celebrating-small-steps-in-he/. However, these efforts to educate the sector can only be successful if people reflect on their practices and commit to changing their practices, in effect committing to being uncomfortable for some time around the topic of racism.
Sadly, in ARLT SIG, we saw two subgroups collapse in March 2022, mostly due to members not having the time to turn up to meetings. I was personally not surprised, as most people tend to jump onto the antiracism (even EDI in general) bandwagon, purely because it is the buzzing theme but not willing to commit their time, a common non-racist mindset. Beyond that, there was also the fact that the ARLT SIG was made up of volunteers, so if there was something at work, well that took priority – a mix of challenges of voluntary groups and non-racist mindsets really. At a personal level, what surprised me though, was not actually racist or non-racist, but simply unprofessionalism. I sat on several meetings on my own or with just one fellow member, because others, who confirmed, did not bother to inform their change of plans. Should White people make time to engage? Is antiracism only a people of colour issue? Should POC make time to engage? Why would anyone register for an event or accept a calendar invite only to not turn up without apologies?
Structuring for responsibility and accountability
The challenge above obviously led to the next big challenge, that of creating operating principles for the committee that would be of an antiracist nature. That one was the hardest, but much needed, with only two examples highlighted here.
- At the point of writing, there had been six committee meetings, but only one was in full attendance, including a meeting of the committee members with ALT team which did not have full attendance either. If many people are too busy with work, what do you do if there is less than half of the committee present in a meeting? What decisions can the few people in attendance make? This is simple – less than half of the committee does not represent diverse perspectives enough to make antiracist decisions, and that is FULL STOP. I personally would like to see this approach in all of ALT’s groups, SIGs, and activities, so that diversity is given importance at all meetings, and not just something we talk about for tokenisation purposes. Let’s do a reality check here, tokenisation is a dehumanising and non-racist measure.
- How do you form the next committee? What if there are more White people interested to volunteer and on the other hand fewer people of colour willing to be part of the committee? How do I, as a Co-Chair, mentor members of colour, to be confident and willing to actively volunteer for an antiracist committee? How do I create the space for me to do so? How do to do so without challenges from others?
While it took months to have a basic antiracist set of operating principles for the SIG to be agreed upon, which so far has not been agreed upon yet, ALT’s team came as a saviour with the consultation and revision of the SIG handbook. That for me, was a big relief, because having a structure undoubtedly provides responsibility and accountability to the committee, but also at a personal level, to not continuously be seen as the African-Asian woman who is asking for well-defined responsibility and accountability to keep a check on racism.
Along with the antiracist operating principles, there was also the need to revisit the ARLT SIG principles. Concerns have been raised by a few members around the wording of allies, in particular, that is not a self-proclaimed label. You can check my Twitter thread at: https://twitter.com/Tee_Nadan/status/1528669439650328576. Personal concerns have been that, that I received private messages from a few members and only few responses from the Tweet, which perhaps shows a lack of understanding of antiracist concepts and/or the fear of publicly commenting on racism matters. Despite, messages being sent on Slack and emails sent out, thus far, the initial six responses did not increase in number. Here are the current principles:
- Use welcoming and inclusive language
- Be respectful of different viewpoints and experiences
- Be allies to each other and beyond
- Be active listeners
- Be conscious and respectful of the difficulty of sharing personal or sensitive stories
In the Twitter thread, I have made my thoughts on the principles clear and they can be summed up as:
- Is antiracism mixed up with non-racism? Are the principles shying away from actions and taking a more passive approach?
- One can be respectful by listening only, but yet not be open and accepting of views and the change needed.
- What does being an ally ‘beyond’ mean? I am personally not looking into policing people’s actions/behaviours in a non-professional setting e.g. their own house, their social media views, or who they share a pint with. However, there is a need for allyship within a professional setting that extends beyond the workplace, like the ARLT SIG for example, which is run on a voluntary basis, and is not covered by workplace policies. Should ALT be setting up a detailed policy around racism, bullying, and discrimination in general?
Prevention is better than cure
For the 2021 Learning Technologist Award judging panel, retrospective measures had to be taken for representation on the panel. I recall final panel members were published, and the ARLT Group facilitators had to discuss the representation, and obviously, the burden fell on the group to find a person of colour who was willing to change plans and make time to be on the panel and Santanu Vasant stepped in.
As both Co-chair of the ARLT SIG and a committee member on the ALT conference 2022, I seized the opportunity during the first ALTc 2022 committee members’ meeting, to raise this concern. It was important for me to voice this out, with the hope that in the future, people of colour will not have to keep flagging diversity issues.
I had two ARLT SIG members reaching out to volunteer and I volunteered too, for the simple reason that I know that I will not be quiet if I spot illegal practices in the process. YES! Racism is illegal and if you have racist practices, it makes you a criminal.
Looking into my future in ARLT SIG
I undoubtedly think a lot can be done in one year, so planning for the Academic year 2022-23 should be fun, as long as I can zigzag in between any non-racist blocks.
- I cannot wait for the ALT SIG Handbook to be finalised and for ARLT SIG to finally be structured. That will be helpful in many ways for the SIG committee and members, but at a personal level will help me finally find my place as Co-Chair and feel respected and trusted for being an African-Asian woman in a leadership role within an ALT SIG.
- In September 2021, I captured the ARLT members’ wish list (https://padlet.com/teeroumaneenadan/lhr541ktpmeslb9d). I am looking forward to focusing on the community’s needs so that people can feel they belong to this SIG. While doing so, I also will need to be careful of racist narratives which get pushed by White people or even anyone who is not racially literate; I know these narratives are all made with “good” intentions, but nonetheless, they are not excusable and have no place in this 21st century.
- Most importantly though, as Co-chair, a few people had shared their personal challenges with me, which are, well again, very much criminal. Although I cannot put an end to bullying and victimisation due to racism in every single UK HEI, I plan to sensitise members of all ALT Groups and SIGs about racism by meeting with each group one by one. Within the last 6 months, a few members have raised concerns about the predominantly White committees in various ALT groups and SIGs. This has been a personal concern for me too since it is a clear indication that these committees are not nurturing diversity, but I am also quite concerned with how the different geographical groups deal with and understand racism differently. So, meeting the various groups separately would, fingers crossed, help educate a few.
That ends my personal reflection for the last 6 months and also a bit of planning for the future. I am happy with my progress because I have given my 100% despite personal challenges and being the target of microaggressions.