ALT, Conferences, HigherEd

ARLT SIG – ALTc 2022 pre-conference session – my notes

Thought of writing some notes on my blog space about the presentation, as it was not recorded. So this blog covers the Q&A and has some more information from me.

Slides available here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1vKPXFSremrIoYJoF-DosXgNds7KQvIj9CSJ8kZXJI8Y/edit?usp=sharing

Q1 from attendee – Just out of interest, what is the line-up of the committee, I am a little confused, like who is the main contact?

I am the main contact as the Chair; we have a mailbox that we are discouraging to use at the moment because there is limited access to the mailbox. The main point of access, if you want to contact the whole SIG members, would be the JISC mailing list (Subscribe by clicking on this link https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=ALT-ARLTSIG).

If you want to contact me as Chair, I am available on Twitter, and LinkedIn. I cannot access the group mailbox, so will request for my personal email ID to be added to the ARLT SIG page. I am hoping that ALT will work towards a solution soon for the SIG email ID.

Q2 from attendee – More Qs about this SIG – What are the challenges faced so far? In terms of operations and attracting the “right” people? Like how do you ensure it’s a safe space?

I am going to answer this in two parts – one for the SIG and then my personal experience as well.  I realise that during the presentation I had missed the part of the question about “Like how do you ensure it’s a safe space?“, so I have created Section D to address this part.

A. SIG’s Challenges

  • We have just had our JISC mailing list up and coming and accepting subscribers. We have kind of stalled with our mailbox which has been a long pending issue and I am hoping to have a solution for that so that we can then just bypass and phase out Slack, which we have been mostly using as a communication platform. This will also create a much more inclusive environment for all the officers to engage with the whole community and of course, for all the members to engage with the whole community and have discussions around what antiracism in learning technologies is about to the benefit of students and staff.
  • One of the issues we have had – I would say this has been a challenge because we are still kind of sorting it out – is the set of principles that were created before officially becoming an ALT SIG. Being community-driven there has been challenging questions around the status quo of the wordings of the principles. We are looking into that and we have opened the discussion around what allyship means. Here is a public Twitter thread on the subject with a few community members. https://twitter.com/Tee_Nadan/status/1528669439650328576 (Please just be mindful that not every comment to this Thread may be projecting the correct understanding/perspectives around allyship. It was simply a thread to engage with some of the ARLT SIG members who are on Twitter.) The more that we hear about views of allyship, it is important, not only for members of the community but also in the wider sector, both for POC and White people to understand the different perspectives and understanding of what allyship means to different people.
  • We have been moving from a non-ALT group into a SIG, but we have to bear in mind that the SIG is very different from the other existing ALT groups and SIGs. There are things that we have got to consider. I have been attempting to set up an SOP to guide the committee, however, it was more challenging than I thought. Hopefully, now I am finding light at the end of the tunnel; ALT has come up with an updated version of their Groups and SIGs Handbook, which I personally can say I was very keen to see being updated. It was a huge relief for me, it takes the burden off a black woman having to argue about why certain parameters are important when talking about antiracism.
  • However, in my opinion, the biggest challenge for the SIG has been and still remains the understanding of what antiracism is and what it means, what it means in terms of actions, behaviours, and perspectives, and so on.

B. My own challenges as Co-Chair

Whenever I have faced challenges I have kind of answered in a more generic manner, I have started to do a Celebrating Small Steps in HE interview series (https://teeroumaneenadan.com/tag/celebrating-small-steps-in-he/) and there are two videos that you might find useful.

I think as a Co-Chair I am going through the hurdles that all black female leaders have to go through, these should not be there, but they are there. I do what I can given that this is a voluntary role, and in addition to my role as Co-chair and carrying the emotional burden of issues, I have to also look after my psychological safety and the psychological safety of members who reach out privately to share their challenges and seek support.

C. Attracting the right people

At the moment, the committee has not discussed the specifics of the officer who will fill in additional roles or even that of the vacant Co-Chair. My personal opinion here – I am personally against simply having someone for the sake of filling the role. I think what is important is an honest conversation with anyone interested in the role as to what their interest is in the group, why they would like to join as an officer, is it because work expects them to do some social activism type of things, or they are genuinely vested in antiracism and to what extent they understand antiracism? Are they already aware of what racism is about? Are they there to just sit back and not do much? What are their willingness and committment? While I am personally happy to mentor some officers in what racism and antiracism is about, I do not think this is what I should be constantly doing.

Going back to the question, it does not matter to me if that is another white male or POC, because you have white people who are doing everything properly to be considered an ally and on the other side you also have POC who avoid talking about racism and bullying. We need to have a team that can work together on antiracism to meet the objectives of the SIG and align with the principles of the SIG and of ALT and most importantly can achieve this in an antiracist manner.

I personally would like to see some more diversity and get officers from outside London, the group is very London-heavy at the moment and this may not necessarily be the required dynamics we need for this SIG to be successful. Fostering young ALT members to join the committee would also be great for diverse perspectives.

D. How do you ensure it’s a safe space?

I think this is where we talk with honesty and learn to accept differences in opinions. For instance, if there are microaggressions and bullying in the sector, and even within the SIG, we should talk about it. Let us not brush these under the carpet.

Currently, I am also working on a piece on bullying within the learning tech sector and hopefully will release this as part of the “Celebrating Small Steps in HE” series.

Within ARLT SIG, we planned to have a webinar and one general meeting every quarter, however, upon members’ requests and also based on the various chats that individual members had with me, I have felt the need to have safe spaces every quarter. These are termed open forums, where members can bring up any topic of discussion. I will personally chair those events, to ensure that the session remains a safe space.

Q4 from attendee – Have we approached a Dir / Head of L&T or Associate PVC to join this group, to be a champion of this work?

I would personally like to encourage line managers to join this group and champion work from this group. We cannot talk of antiracism and learning technologies and supporting online Ed for our students if our students are themselves victims of racism and bullying. I have had several members of the community who had chats with me, and have shared their workplace experiences with me; this was not easy for them to share and nor was it easy to hear. These are existent, I have myself gone through this, and I think we need to address the bullying and racism. This is definitely a paper to go through “Surviving institutional racism as a Chinese female in UK higher education” https://stel.pubpub.org/pub/02-03-wong-2022/release/1

Although I did not mention this during the presentation, it is worth pointing out that some of the issues that have been discussed with me include and are NOT limited to:

  • POC Staff not being given time to engage with ALT CPD activities e.g. CPDs, meetings
  • Lack of support to engage in ALT conference even attending the conference or even undertaking CMALT is an issue for many POC staff.
  • Lack of opportunities for promotion and lack of opportunities for internal vacancies for POC
  • POC staff being gaslighted and forced to move to another job
  • Pay gap
  • Negative impact on mental health of POC staff because of repeated bullying

Sadly, the Learning Tech sector is no different from the other types of roles within HE, but there are institutions like ALT that can help hopefully, of course not to tackle individual workplace racism and bullying, but at least to set up frameworks like FELT and pledges. I personally would love to see more activism like if needed boycotting institutions where there are repeated cases of discrimination. I think if we are all attentive to what is said and done, we will spot the racism behind some decisions and actions.

Staff who are victims of racism at the workplace potentially is not having their voice heard in projects that have got to do with antiracism. This means that a large section of our students is then left without the proper support.

Having HoD/LMs involved in an active manner within ARLT SIG, and engaging actively e.g. with blogs, webinars, and events (e.g. pre-conference presentations), or in-person or even engaging with the JISC mailing list conversation, would help a lot in improving the situation. However, this will need to be done carefully, because having the wrong people at the table may simply not help us meet our antiracism agenda and may result more in tone policing before we can even realise what is happening. One thing that is worth exploiting is reverse mentoring for HoD/LMs and two things that I would personally like to see are (A) a raised awareness that POC staff are as competent and some even more competent and qualified than their White peers – POC staff are educated too, you do not need to be told that; and (B) raised awareness and an active interest in the faith and culture of POC culture, understanding their challenges and hindrances better – see the person as a person and not as a job title.

I wrote a post last year about how non-inclusive and unwelcoming job adverts are to various sections of the workforce (https://tinyurl.com/2nyhh7pv). Having HoDs/LMs involved, I am hoping will be able to revive the ‘Recruitment and Staff Development’ group within ARLT SIG and we could see some change in the coming years.

My final words

Antiracism is not for everyone – it is not a topic that everyone is comfortable working on, but what I would like to see is that it becomes a topic that everyone is at least comfortable hearing about and staying in the room when racism is being discussed.

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