Earth Sciences recognised in the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Awards

Earth Sciences recognised in the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Awards

The Department of Earth Sciences last night won a diversity award in the Inclusive Culture category at the Vice Chancellor’s Diversity Awards, that celebrate exceptional work to promote equality and diversity. In addition, D-Phil student Rebecca Colquhoun received a special commendation in the Student Champion category.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Awards are an opportunity to celebrate the strength of commitment to equality and diversity at Oxford and to recognise individuals and groups who have inspired others, demonstrated leadership and made a difference to equality and diversity in the University’s working, learning and social environment.

Last night D-Phil student Hannah Sanderson and Head of Department Mike Kendall attended the Vice Chancellor’s Diversity Awards ceremony to represent both the department and Rebecca Colquhoun (who sadly couldn’t attend as they were presenting at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna). The department won the Inclusive Culture category for their work on Unlearning Racism in the Geosciences. Rebecca helped lead the 16 week project along with Tamsin Savvides and a group of other students and staff and nominated the department for the award. In addition both our Head of Administration and Finance, Louisa Bailey and a fellow D Phil student, Hannah Sanderson nominated Rebecca Colquhoun for a Student Champion award for which they were Highly Commended.

Unlearning Racism in the Geosciences:

Geoscience undeniably has a problem with the exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities. This lack of diversity in geoscience is well documented worldwide (e.g. Bernard and Cooperdock, 2018) and within the UK (Dowey et al. 2021). The 2011 census showed that 18.53% of 18-24 year olds identified as BAME, however, just 9.37% of geology undergraduate students in the period 2014—2019 (5 year mean) identified as BAME, and 8.68% of PGR students (Dowey et al. 2021). BAME as an umbrella term also masks the differences between groups. Black students are particularly disproportionately underrepresented in geology research degrees.

Earth Sciences at Oxford is not immune to this. Indeed, data released in 2019 showed that Earth Sciences had the lowest proportion of Black and non-Asian minority ethnic students in the university, out of the 25 departments for whom this data was reported. Since then there has been a steady uptick in the number of BAME students taking up the undergraduate degree but there is still significant work to be done. In particular, a 2019 report authored by students in the department proposed 42 actions to improve recruitment and retention of BAME students, of which many were in progress in 2020. While attracting and admitting more BME candidates to our department and the field of Earth Sciences represents an important goal, once admitted to the Department, it is vital BME students feel they belong. To that end, we are actively working with our student body to recognise and remove any barriers we can identify, and to seek ways in which we can be a more inclusive and diverse community.

The Unlearning Racism in Geoscience initiative (URGE) was a student-led initiative that presented members of the department with an opportunity to learn about the effects of racism on the participation and retention of BAME people in geoscience by drawing upon peer-reviewed literature, expert opinions and first-person narratives, and to develop anti-racist policies and strategies in response. The Oxford URGE group based itself on a US-focussed curriculum produced by the central URGE team, adapting it as necessary to better meet the situation and needs of the Oxford department, for example through a discussion of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and particular individuals involved in the history of the department, for example William Sollas. The curriculum began with a primer on racism from a sociological standpoint, and how individuals with white privilege interact with and perpetuate racism. It then went on to cover the intersections of racism and: history, justice, accessibility, inclusivity, self-care, and accountability.

The Oxford URGE group ran for 16 weeks and was attended by undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty. A total of 20 people engaged in the group throughout the 16 weeks. The group produced six deliverables – directly actionable or implementable resources to improve equity and inclusion in the department.

  • A guide to effective outreach
    • Different groups have different barriers to participation in geoscience, and therefore benefit from differently focussed outreach. For example, DEFRA found that Black and Asian families are least likely to visit the countryside, and so a less fieldwork focussed outreach approach may be more effective to increase participation from young people in these groups.
  • A primer on how and why to use land acknowledgments
    • Land acknowledgements are important when we do work on land which was originally inhabited by Indigenous people, and from whom this land was often forcibly taken.
  • A statement of departmental principles
    • This aimed to show the universal principles which we hope underpin our department, both for incoming students to see, and as a talking point and support for further efforts to make the department more equitable.
  • A map of resources for minoritized students
    • This highlighted resources and societies which can help support students including within colleges, student societies, division, and central university. This reduces the burden on minoritized students who are seeking support or solidarity.
  • A poster on the complaints policy
    • Making a formal complaint can be an arduous and opaque process. We aimed to clarify the process and show resources and steps which could be taken before making a formal complaint in a simple graphical flowchart.
  • A memo on sources of inequity in graduate admissions
    • Often we focus on undergraduate admissions when we talk about recruitment, however, the graduate admissions process is also inequitable. We aimed to suggest steps on both short and long timescales which could make the process fairer.

Engagement in the production of the deliverables reached 50+ members of the department, and also served to initiate further discussions around race, equity and the colonial history of geoscience within the department.  It is these broad-reaching, overarching, ongoing discussions, which are the most significant impact of the URGE Oxford program.

As time goes on these deliverables will need to be updated and extended to reflect changing circumstances and are therefore regularly discussed at the departmental EEDI meeting, and the resource map in particular is kept up to date by the communications team.

Student Champion Highly Commended – Rebecca Colquhoun:

Rebecca is deeply involved in all aspects of EDI within the Department and beyond, dating back to their Undergraduate years here. We are so pleased that Rebecca’s tireless efforts are recognised beyond the department. Many congratulations Rebecca.

Rebecca champions LGBTQ+ issues as the LGBTQ+ representative on the DTP EEDI committee and a member of the MPLS LGBTQ+ steering group. Constantly working to raise awareness, they campaigned for flying the pride flag in the department, invited LGBTQ+ speakers to the department careers fair and challenge members of the department to improve their behavior. Additionally, they convened and chaired the panel ‘LGBTQ+ Voices and Communities: Enabling Inclusivity in Environmental Research’ for the NERC DTP in Environmental Research last June.

They make their department a more inclusive space: they co-founded and run the LGBTQ+ affinity group, which holds monthly events and provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ members of the department. Building on the curriculum in the Oxford Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE) group, which they co-founded in June 2020, they co-led a group in producing anti-racism policies, white-papers and resources for the department. They persistently challenge the department on these action points to ensure they are achieved. From their efforts, one department seminar per term is now on EEDI issues. Rebecca led the way by writing and co-presenting the first of these seminars on ‘Making fieldwork more equitable’, discussing the intersection of gender, race, LGBTQ+, disability and class issues with fieldwork.

As University College MCR disabled students and accessibility officer (2021-2023) they provide support and advocacy for disabled students in their college. This includes running social events and events that communicate available resources and support. To encourage disabled students to apply to university, in March 2022 they participated on the panel ‘Life After School: Neurodiversity and Disabilities’, where they discussed experiences of being neurodiverse at university, how they accessed support, what challenges they faced and what advice they would pass on.

Beyond the university, they are the Oxford institutional liaison for the International Society of Non-binary Scientists and they co-organised the American Geophysical Union annual meeting LGBTQ+ meet-up.

Hannah who nominated Rebecca says ”Rebecca does more to advance EEDI efforts than seems possible for just one individual. They lead initiatives that tackle racism, homophobia, and ableism at the department, college and divisional level and beyond the university…. Rebecca is vocal and committed to action: ensuring change happens. They step up and take responsibility for actions far beyond most faculty members despite only being a graduate student. I believe they are more than deserving of this award.”

Louisa Bailey also nominated Rebecca and she said of Rebecca ”Rebecca is deeply involved in all aspects of EDI within the Department and acts in a very enthusiastic, diplomatic, professional and productive way…. All of this is on top of being a busy DPhil student, and the impact on the Department has been wide spread and positive”

We are committed to ensuring our department is a diverse and inclusive, welcoming place to both study and work and we appreciate the work our students and staff do to ensure we are continually improving. You can read our Statement of Values here, find out more about EEDI committee members here and find some important resources here.