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Dr Paul Thompson, Vice-Chancellor, on Black Asian & Ethnic Minorities at the RCA

Watching the murder of George Floyd filmed on a phone; remembering the anniversary of Grenfell Tower; or listening to the despair of Black British people forcibly deported during the Windrush scandal, all shock and penetrate deeply into our consciousness. At the Royal College of Art we are committed to addressing racism and the systemic barriers which marginalised communities experience. 

Last week Naren Barfield, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, John Worne, Chief Operating Officer,  and I met the SU Presidents to discuss Black Lives Matter and a number of issues affecting students and staff. Doing nothing is unconscionable; speaking out and doing nothing is ‘tokenistic’. We are already taking steps, but we know that we need to do more. We recognise that our initial small steps must grow into sustained strides forward. What we are doing includes:

  • Working to build a resource hub for anti-racism texts and literature, that everyone in our community can engage with. We will keep you updated on the development of this but parts of it are already on the way with the help of the Student’s Union. 
  • Today I am  reaffirming the mandatory requirement for all staff to complete the unconscious bias training. The SU has shared some very distressing examples of racism and microaggressions which this training is designed to alleviate. We must all commit to this training as a priority.
  • We want to build on the work on decolonising the curriculum that has involved staff, students and a former SU co-president Jazbo Gross. Jazbo  addressed Council at its awayday in 2018 on issues concerning decolonising the RCA curriculum. His talk encompassed work undertaken in 2017/18 by the Students Union; work which has been advanced by the current student union presidents, Gabi, Lucy, and Aleks. Several members of faculty are experts in Intercultural education and we will work together to continuously foster a more diverse, intercultural set of viewpoints and practices. 
  • Access and widening participation to the RCA - and of course to education at all levels of the system - is critical.  We know that the abolition of the Maintenance Grant disproportionately affects BAME sixth-form, FE, and undergraduate students in Britain.  In 2019 we launched the Tim Brown scholarship fund which is specifically aimed at supporting students from BAME backgrounds. Last year, thanks to a gift- which I personally requested - from The Spiegel Family Foundation (established by the founder of Snapchat) we established a permanent endowment fund (the GenerationRCA Fund) which focuses on widening participation. The grant is a £5m challenge grant which means we will establish the endowment with £10m and grow this further over time. The Spiegel family, who are based in LA, are particularly passionate about increasing access to education and run the Snap Design Academy each summer for young people - a very high percentage of whom have experienced the effects of poverty and are of BAME heritage. Last summer, the School of Communication taught at the academy and this summer, thanks to an additional gift from the Foundation, we will be welcoming two of the young people who took part to the RCA Graduate Diploma. We commit to continue working strenuously for scholarship support to tackle diversity within the RCA Community , including British students of colour as well as students from the Southern hemisphere. Some of you may recall the Abraaj scholarships which were offered solely to students from these regions. Sadly, since the demise of Abraaj, these scholarships are no longer on offer, but we are working hard to replace them. 
  • Over the past decade, the RCA has  increased the diversity and gender balance of its faculty and staff at senior levels, but I am very mindful of the fact that black academics in particular, are very poorly represented in all British universities, including the RCA. All senior appointments (Heads of Programme and above) are conducted using a search consultant. We always stipulate to the search consultant that we must have a shortlist of candidates which are gender balanced and comprise people of colour. For all searches and appointments, whether conducted via a search consultant or our own HR processes, we will be strengthening our commitment to diversity and building more inclusive faculty, and professional services.

I know that equality of opportunity and the values of social justice are core to the RCA community. The senior management team will work with you to start addressing the change we all want to see.

Dr Paul Thompson, Vice-Chancellor

This message was shared to students and staff on 15 June, 2020


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