Department of Earth Sciences Releases Report of Ad Hoc Working Group on BAME Issues
Introduction to the Report
This report1 was produced in response to our own concerns and those of fellow department members that the issues of ethnic minority representation, access, and inclusion were not being sufficiently discussed or addressed within our community. We held three round-table discussions between October 2019 and February 2020, which were the basis for a report submitted to the Head of Department on 12th February 2020. An original timeline for the response to the report (8 April 2020) was extended due to the additional pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. As indicated in the detailed response document, the transition to teaching and learning from home will also impose challenges to the individual timelines for many action items.
We thank all the staff and students who contributed to the discussions and writing, including those staff who expressed their support but choose not to attend in person to allow us space for open discussion and criticism. We thank the department for their collaboration and constructive point-by-point responses. This report is one step towards building an inclusive, diverse, and exciting scientific community at Oxford Earth Sciences, and hopefully more widely within the geosciences community. We remain committed to communal organising and advocacy towards this shared future.
We expect that MPLS departments across Oxford, STEM departments across the UK, and geoscience departments across the world will find common challenges with those presented here. We hope that sharing our specific recommendations will inspire dialogue at our sister institutes and serve as a launching point for bespoke action plans.
– Ben Fernando and Gwen Antell as Co-Chairs of the The University of Oxford Department of Earth Sciences ad hoc working group on BAME issues
Response to the Report5
The Earth Sciences is one of the least diverse fields in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in terms of race and ethnicity, both nationally and internationally. An often-quoted recent study reports there has been little change in the proportion of PhDs awarded in the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences over the past 40 years to non-white ethnic groups in the US (14%)2. The situation in the UK is no better. The most recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)3 indicates that only 10.2% of UK students enrolled full-time in Geology degrees in 2018-19 identify as coming from non-white ethnic backgrounds. This significantly lags other STEM subjects such as Physics, Maths, Chemistry, and Engineering, where 16.7%, 23.8%, 24.2%, and 29.2% of full-time UK students identify as coming from non-white backgrounds.
Our Department is no different to other UK Earth Sciences departments: of our current UK students (May 2020), only 9.7% identify as coming from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. However, being ‘average’ for the subject is not good enough, and we must do significantly better in attracting and admitting BAME students to our Department. To this end, we refocussed and increased our outreach efforts in 2018 to more explicitly focus on attracting BAME students to apply to our course. Attracting students to the course is, however, only one aspect of encouraging diversity. Once admitted, it is vital that they are valued members of our community, and that we remove any barriers to their success and enable them to flourish both in the Department and the field of Earth Sciences.
It is against this background that we are grateful to our postgraduate community, who convened an Ad Hoc working group to look at BAME issues across the Department, led by Ben Fernando and Gwen Antell, with contributions from many others. We welcome their report1 in the spirit of constructive dialogue that is necessary to improve inclusivity and diversity in our Department, and in the wider Earth Sciences. This matter is of great importance to us, and the report complements efforts already underway in the Department on access and student admissions processes4. Importantly, the report also addresses issues of inclusion within the Department, as well as issues relevant to the postgraduate community.
Their report makes 30 recommendations for implementation, and 12 for consideration by the Department. Of the 30 recommendations suggested for direct implementation, 12 were already in progress prior to receipt of this report, and one had previously been implemented and abandoned (although we are happy to revisit this). We are committing to implementing 12 of the recommendations on the timescales suggested, and an additional one on an extended timescale. We will give the remaining 3 very careful consideration, in that their implementation depends on BAME volunteers stepping up to roles within the Department. Participation in such roles must be voluntary, and BAME members of the department should not feel undue pressure to commit to roles outside their normal work.
Of the twelve recommendations for consideration, nine are already in progress, and we are very happy to consider the remaining three in consultation with the broad Department.
We would like to thank our student community for their efforts in putting this report together, and especially postgraduates Gwen Antell, J.D. Dianala, Ben Fernando, Ritwika Sengupta, and Roberta Wilkinson (in alphabetical order).
Barriers to equity and inclusion are tackled best when we work together as a community. There is always more we can do to broaden participation, and we encourage the support of our undergraduates, postgraduates, postdocs, staff, and faculty in making our Department a welcoming environment to all.
Chris Ballentine, Head of Department
Conall MacNiocaill, Director of Teaching
Erin Saupe, Chair of Workplace and Equality Committee
Roger Benson, Admissions Coordinator
- “Recommendations for improving racial equality, diversity, and inclusion in Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford”.
- Bernard, R.E., Cooperdock, E.H.G. 2018. No progress on diversity in 40 years. Nature Geoscience, 11, 292–295. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0116-6
- A summary response to the report is available here and a detailed response is available here.