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Black History Month at LSE: highlights from the events

By Javier Rombo

As Black History Month draws to a close, now is opportune to reflect on some of the events and workshops held by LSE this past October. At a glance, the LSE website shows a range of options available to students, promising everything from “Afro and Caribbean Fusion Dance Class” to “Re-imagining the Anti-Racist University”. 

I attended two events over the course of the month, the first being entitled “LSE’s Race Equity Framework – What’s Happened Since Summer of 2020?”. While the title may not have had quite the same sex appeal as “Afro and Caribbean Fusion Dance Class”, it did seem to promise information on actual policy surrounding racial issues at the LSE, which could not be said for its more rhythmically-focused competition. The turnout was modest at nine participants in virtual attendance, not counting the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)  representatives conducting the event. The turning-on of cameras revealed a group that was noticeably older than your average LSE student. The only student present seemed to be me, while the rest worked at LSE as young professionals in management positions across the university.

Most of the event took the form of a presentation, conducted by the Head of EDI, Sofia Jabeen. The first few minutes were dedicated to watching a short video showcasing the testimony of anonymous Black and minority ethnic LSE staff and students, testifying the intense discrimination and marginalisation they had experienced. The video was very emotive, often explicitly declaring what those giving testimony considered systematic prejudice against Black and minority ethnic individuals. It is this state of affairs, worsened by what EDI claims was the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on Black communities and traumatic impact of the BLM movement, that the new Race Equity Framework seeks to improve. 

So what exactly does the Race Equity Framework aim to achieve, and how does it plan to achieve it? The short answer is that EDI’s vision of the Race Equity Framework would mark a radically different approach for LSE in areas as wide-reaching as the recruitment process for both staff and students, educational methods applied, pay practices, and research focuses. At the moment EDI already offers “leadership courses” for Black and minority ethnic staff, on issues revolving around how to talk about and engage with race, complete with a booklet of approved terminology. More concretely, EDI’s main target is the underrepresentation of BAME employees earning an annual salary of over £46,000 in bands 7 and above in the LSE salary system. Their flagship proposal tailored to address this issue seems to be the “fair recruitment advisor scheme”. The “fair recruitment advisor” would be a “visible minority” trained in racial bias by HR and drawn from staff volunteers. Their role would be to oversee all parts of the recruitment and shortlisting process in order to ensure BAME applicants receive impartial treatment. Outside LSE staff, EDI is also committed to analysing and dealing with inequalities in the student body by addressing gaps in enrolment and attainment. For example, EDI data illustrates that Black, as well as Bangladeshi and Pakistani students, are less likely to earn a first or 2.1, with Jabeen drawing attention to seventeen ongoing pilots in LSE departments designed to look at how teaching and assessment methods can be modified to “close the gap”.

EDI’s goal is to create more equal “staff outcomes and student outcomes” for BAME individuals who occupy either category. Grades, salaries and proportional representation all form part of such outcomes. Those who think that the data speaks for itself, that the continuing underrepresentation of BAME staff and underperformance of BAME students is symptomatic of deeply entrenched systematic biases that discriminate against minorities, may believe more radical measures are needed. As LSE tries to take action against inequalities within its organisation, the question of the effectiveness of such efforts remains unclear. As always, informing yourself is a simple click away, with EDI objectives and initiatives available on the LSE website.

However, it wasn’t all about the intricacies of racial discrimination and solutions this Black History Month; there was time for some laughter as well. Jump-cut to last Thursday’s “Black History Month Comedy Night”, hosted at our very own Saw See Hock Centre. For over two hours some of the UK’s best Black comedic talent delivered non-stop jokes to a diverse group of LSE students. Opening the event and inhabiting a double role of comedian and hype man was Lateef Lovejoy, who drew upon his Nigerian upbringing to great comedic effect, followed by comedian Michael Akadiri’s anecdotes on working in the NHS, Dave Chapelle’s new special, and living in London. Lateef returned briefly to work the crowd in anticipation of the night’s closer, Toussaint Douglass, who covered everything from racism to relationships to veganism. By the end of the night the audience had laughed, groaned, clapped and ultimately enjoyed a great night of comedy (provided they avoided the bar) for free.

Note: This article was published in Issue #914 in October 2021.

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