Back in July 2019, Dr Catherine McNamara (Head of School of Art, Design & Performance) arranged a 3-day staff development experience for up to 25 staff in ADP to take place in the 2019/2020 academic year.
Originally this was to be three days in real-time and space, spent thinking, listening and discussing race, racism, systemic disadvantage, white privilege and more with leading organisation Shades of Noir (SoN). Catherine and the staff in ADP had been talking about, for example, ethnicity attainment gaps and the active steps we could take to scrutinise our own work in reducing that inequality.
The training was opened up to staff from the Schools of Film, Media & Communication (FMC), Creative Technologies (CT) and Architecture, and working on anti-racism cross-Faculty has been one of the joys of this training. The training was scheduled to start in the Spring with some changes to format, has gone ahead despite the pandemic.
“As a relatively new member of staff I have been delighted at the commitment that the University of Portsmouth gives to equality. However, I have been astounded at the national figures Shades of Noir have presented regarding low attainment and retention of students who are People of Colour within University Arts courses.
The course has enabled us personal reflection as well as space to reflect on the curriculum and its delivery. Shades of Noir have adapted the course to be online which has strengthened the intimacy of the experience. This is down to Melodie and Dr Kwame’s ability to sit with us, coaching us to make sometimes difficult realisations about our own practice as well as what we have experienced.
I feel this powerful learning experience enables us as staff to take an active anti-racism stance, and use our power as a University community to affect real improvement.”
When face-to-face teaching was suspended, so too was in-person training but SoN converted the training to enable us to continue online. With more pre and post session materials provided and less time together (to minimise ‘zoom fatigue’) the mode is different but the experience is still profoundly important. The SoN team curate the range of materials for participants and direct us to engage with a rich set of ideas. We then discuss these when we come together in our groups, facilitated by the SoN team members, Melodie Holliday, Dr Kwame Baah and Angie Illman.
Of the training, Kit Danowski, Lecturer in Performance says:
“The SoN training is an excellent place to begin to consider how we might challenge structural racism and widespread white supremacist assumptions by bringing them into focus. The methods of open dialogue help create a space to collectively reflect, and we need spaces for collective reflection right now. Understanding concepts like white fragility and privilege also help to centre the reflection not only on the wider work necessary for the future, but (collective and individual) work that can begin immediately.”
Lecturer in Photography, Dana Ariel reflects on the ways the sessions support staff to think about concrete steps they can take in their work: “the SoN training creates the space and support to expand the conversation on race and diversity towards a more purposeful consideration of structural racism, privilege and the extent to which segregation shapes our environment and perceptions. It has been particularly helpful in moving towards voicing these thoughts and concerns out loud and exploring meaningful actions within our roles and practices.”
Dr Catherine McNamara says: “We already know we want this training to be available for more of our CCI colleagues and it will be. Plans are afoot. The University is working towards the Race Equality Charter mark and for me as a Head of School, making a commitment to deep engagement with race studies, white studies, critical race theory as well as lived experiences of racism is a vital part of shifting the culture of the institution. Towards the end of the training, we formed the beginnings of an anti-racism framework with some specific plainly worded action that we can begin to work on immediately. I feel wherever an individual might be with their own anti-racist practice, participating in this training is a powerful experience. Dismantling structural and institutional racism and ourselves within it is a lifetime commitment.”