This summer, let’s make sure EDI initiatives aren’t just a tickbox exercise

5 Aug 2022, 11:00

Exploring the diverse history and stories in the local area around your college is a powerful way to include students, writes Ellisha Soanes

This year marks the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd. This tragic incident took place on 25 May 2020.

I feel the world was turned upside down, and time stood still at that very moment.

As an educator I noticed this was a catalyst for change and I observed how this unfolded in my hometown of Suffolk.

A tribute to social injustice ensued and resulted in changes being made at West Suffolk College where I work.

Black history is facilitated across the year to students, not just for one month.

There has been a ripple effect throughout the nation, not only in education but in other sectors too.

I saw equity being explored, recommendations being made, pledges, notable figures using their platform, and in-depth training taking place to develop a greater understanding of Black history and cultures, in the hope of removing the unconscious bias across the UK.

I wondered if this was just a tick box system at the time.

What sustainable models do we see two years on from this tragedy?

During the summer I’ve been reflecting on how we can continue to implement a steadfast awareness of diversity in education and beyond.

Here are four key points to remember:

  • 1) Invite your local communities into your sector/organisation. Talk about their experiences and understanding, they can help you fill in the gaps in areas that you aren’t aware of.
  • 2) If you’re in the education sector, take on a student-led approach. Their perspective is different and it’s worthwhile to let them teach you a thing or two.
  • 3) Self reflect. This is a worthwhile investment, in turn helping your organisation develop a strategy to implement change.
  • 4) Use inclusive language – terms like disadvantaged groups, urban areas, etc marginalise groups and are problematic.

It’s particularly important to invite and visit local communities and local history. I call this the ‘power of stories’.

As educators we don’t have all the answers. It’s important to understand this, and invite organisations and community groups to help develop our perspective.

One of the main achievements so far in my career is working closely with local museums, and interlinking this with local historical accounts.

I’m grateful to say I was involved in an incredible Power of Stories museum exhibition, inspired by the academy award-winning Marvel hit The Black Panther.

Various costumes worn by the film’s extraordinary cast including the late Chadwick Boseman, Letitia Wright, and Danai Gurira, have been exhibited across the county!

This includes Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, Moyse’s Hall in Bury St Edmunds and Food Museum in Stowmarket, in association with Suffolk Museums and Aspire Black Suffolk.

This award-winning exhibition also invited those in the local community to share their accounts and build on the theme of the Power of Stories in the local black community. 

College students were our first attendees and had the opportunity to meet celebrity stylist Lisa Farrel.

Lisa also worked as a stylist on the set of The Black Panther, and provided a phenomenal master class on Afro and curly textured hair to hair and beauty students, encouraging them to gain insight on how to care for Afro hair.

Students were also able to meet Derrick Bobbington Thomas, an untold hero from the Windrush generation that was one of the first few RAF sergeants based in Suffolk.  

This was an amazing moment for public services students. It continued with an introduction to Franstine Jones, the first female president of the black police association; novelist Alex Wheatle; and Stuart Lawerence, activist and brother of Stephen Lawrence. 

Another wow moment for me was inviting a group of 60 construction students to the Power of Stories exhibit.

About 97 per cent of those young people had never set foot into a museum.

So seeing their faces when presented with these iconic costumes from an unforgettable Marvel film was priceless.

They also designed Black Panther-inspired selfie frames, which are now being toured nationally with the costumes.

Inviting those with real stories into colleges created a catalyst effect.

Finding out local history, and taking on a student-led approach, allowed students to explore a diverse history and create a bridge to link the past and present, undoubtedly influencing the future.

The students were supportive, proactive and engaged and wanted to know more about their local diverse history.

Melody Broomfield, an EDI student ambassador, has since developed Windrush workshops for her peers.

These amazing workshops were personalised and supported by the EDI team, and explored an array of topics around the Windrush generation.

These included initial job roles, travel costs on the Tilbury Essex Windrush ship and how tight-knit ethnic communities grew and adapted to life in the UK.

Melody won the prestigious EDI award for her contribution in the Eastern College Group.

A year later Melody is now a community curator. This highlights how a student-led approach can really make a difference in encouraging change.

I invite everyone to take this time over summer to reflect on how you can continue the work in your organisation and link history and the power of working with your communities.

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