Living Black at University: 3 resources to support change
25 May 2023
The Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University is delighted to share a series of resources to support the wider Higher Education sector in achieving race equity and creating a more welcoming university community for Black students.
In the 15 months since Living Black at University was published, the findings and recommendations have been presented to hundreds of people from across the Higher Education sector, and discussed at length. We have found a real appetite to effect change and ensure that student accommodation is a place where Black students can not only belong, but thrive.
A dedicated commission, the Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University, was set up to take forward the recommendations in May 2022. Over the past year, representatives spanning universities, PBSA providers, charities, and sector and regulatory bodies have discussed the recommendations at length to establish key challenges, barriers and resource gaps for the sector, and what actions could be taken to address these.
The Commission is now proud to share three resources created as a result of agreed actions, in order to support the wider sector in effecting meaningful change. Every organisation is on a journey in this area – Unite Students included – and we hope that these outputs will prove useful in helping you to take action.
Good information, and good evaluation of information, is fundamental to understanding – and addressing – issues that exist, not just for Black students but across the wider spectrum of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). It can highlight gaps in the experiences of minoritised staff and students, be it through analysing statistics on disciplinary action, lodging complaints, or dropping out of university.
Yet many organisations have significant gaps in this data. As we found in the Commission meeting on data, many do not hold ethnicity data in relation to complaints, disciplinary action, or attrition in their accommodation. In some cases where this information is captured, the demographic data is of poor quality – for example, offering only a binary option of White or ‘BAME’ ethnicity, obscuring the different experiences of different ethnic groups within the ‘BAME’ umbrella.
The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Data Maturity Framework was created to help universities and accommodation providers address gaps such as these, in response to the Living Black at University report – in particular, Recommendation 9 (‘Accommodation providers should routinely collect, analyse and publish relevant data on the racial diversity of their residents and employees, as well as outcomes of reporting and investigation of complaints’).
Authored by Dr Nick Cartwright – Lecturer in Law at the University of Leeds, Senior Advisor to the Halpin Partnership and Visiting Fellow in Race Equality and Education at the Centre for Advancing Race Equality – the framework demonstrates how universities and accommodation providers can gradually improve how they capture and analyse data and respond to issues highlighted by demographic data of students and staff, in order to support a more inclusive and diverse environment.
The core model itself illustrates what this gradual progression looks like, across four stages of maturity; from the ‘defensive’ stage – at which data is routinely not collected, Freedom of Information requests are denied, and data indicating an EDI issue is typically explained away – all the way to the ‘innovative’ stage, at which point data is sought, monitored, and shared across all areas of the organisation, and there is a proactive response to gaps shown up by the data.
This is followed by a wide array of examples that the model can be applied to across staff experience, student journey, university departments, and data sharing. These examples span areas such as staff and student recruitment (and retention), accommodation allocations, complaints, security, Residential Life, student support, and Human Resources, making it a useful resource across a number of audiences within universities and accommodation providers – a reminder that we are all responsible for capturing, assessing and responding to data in one form or another.
The scope of the framework, and the scale of change, may seem daunting. But the framework highlights a path for incremental progress, and some of the issues that may not be considered in relation to EDI and data.
“It is not expected that many, if any, institutions, would currently score highly on the framework,” writes Cartwright in the introduction. “As a sector we are slowly coming to terms with the extent of endemic and structural inequalities whilst at the same time dealing with the new challenges of emerging from a global pandemic in a period of recession. In my experience the best institutions are those that recognise the problems, and the enormity of the task we all face, whilst the worst are still pretending that these problems do not exist or are not our responsibility.”
Download the framework here: https://www.unitegroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/EDI-Data-Maturity-Framework.pdf
Living Black at University sparked plenty of questions – and an oft-repeated one was from universities asking whether they could run the research within their own institution, to establish what their own specific, local challenges were.
The research toolkit makes it possible for universities and accommodation providers to replicate the original research at local level, and includes not only the question set, but also advice on how to involve Black students and staff in the process of running the research, how to obtain informed consent from those participating in the research, best practice for focus groups, and how to interpret the results, even with a small sample size.
Download the toolkit here: https://www.unitegroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/LBU-Research-Toolkit-1.pdf
One of the most talked-about findings within the Living Black at University report was that of the importance of cultural services: Black students feeling isolated and othered by a lack of information on arrival about where to find hairdressers who could care for Black hair, supermarkets that supplied ingredients that were important for cooking home comforts, and Black mental health services, where mental health professionals really understood the challenges faced by Black students. This had a negative impact on Black students’ sense of belonging when settling into university.
A popular idea at the first Commission meeting was the creation of guides for individual cities which signposted to culturally relevant services, with Unite Students and Newcastle University taking up the mantle to trial this for the city of Newcastle. The Newcastle cultural services guide was researched and put together in the summer of 2022 by Jessica Eve and Andrew Nartey, two of Unite Students’ interns through the 10,000 Black Interns scheme; it was important that the resource was created not just by students, but for students.
The guide was shared with students in October 2022, and student feedback to date has been resoundingly positive. For Newcastle University, it’s also been part of a wider programme of work which saw the university earn its Race Equality Charter Bronze Award in November. For the 2023/24 academic year, Unite Students will be rolling out cultural services guides across all 23 of the cities in which we operate. However, there are cities in which we don’t operate, where Black students might benefit from a similar resource.
Enter the cultural services toolkit. This toolkit lays out how universities and accommodation providers can effectively launch and embed a cultural services guide, with clear objectives, deliverables and outcomes, and a steer on what questions to ask when building the guide.
The toolkit was launched at the Living Black at University Conference in March – and its importance soon became clear from the enthusiastic response of our student panel. Gino Obaseki, MSc student in Social Innovation at Glasgow Caledonian University and International Student Ambassador for the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), cited the boost that this would deliver to Black students’ confidence when arriving at university, while Osaro Otobo – Consultant at Halpin Partnership and Trustee of the British Youth Council – added, “You don’t think in advance that you’ll struggle to find haircare when you move away to university. [The guide] will save students time, as they won’t have to figure everything out for themselves.”
If you find any of the above resources useful, do let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org – we look forward to hearing from you.