The Inclusive University

Protection VS Inclusion

Posted by Anna Houghton | 0 Comments
Contributed by Sarah J. Davies, Social Work Placements Co-ordinator

Last month I found myself caught on the horns of a dilemma. I had been invited to a presentation about ‘Girl Talk/Women Talk’ in St Pauls, Bristol, both projects aimed at informing & empowering girls & women ages 11-19. Diversity and inclusion were the order of the day.

I arrived early evening and sat on the back row, excited to be acting in my new role as charity trustee. I set about tucking into my party bag of goodies and as instructed, did a spot of pre-presentation mingling.
‘you know, your face looks familiar’, said the first young professional I spoke to whose specialism was equalities and fair treatment. ‘I think I know you from UWE’, he said decisively. Sadly, my alternative identity had been blown.

The facts became clear. He had recognised me as the Social Work Placements Co-ordinator, having been a student some years before. This meant he had witnessed one of my unavoidably dull induction talks about the process of how undergraduate students would be matched to their long-term placements in Social Work offices or out in the community. 

 “At UWE,” he asked, “did you ever think about the appropriateness of placements in terms of a person’s racial background and were these considerations part of the placement matching process?”  We discussed the hypothetical situation of a car-less student, sent to a white working-class suburb for their placement and receiving racist abuse at a bus-stop. Would UWE send another student to the same placement again?

My new acquaintance made the hypothetical situation harder. What if this was the only available placement for a BME student, it matched their learning needs and there was no alternative? Conversationally, this was a tight corner, but somehow that corner seemed even tighter because the question was being asked by a black male and I, the white middle-class co-ordinator, so wanted to get it right. I fumbled my way through the answer:

‘Then that would be difficult and you’d have to balance this against your responsibilities under Duty of Care, but at the end of the day if you deprive the student of that placement then you are not giving them the same chance as any other student to pass the course. So in that situation, I’d have to talk to them about it.’

‘I’m glad you said that,’ he beamed.

“When I was in London, I was matched with a placement in Dagenham,” he said. He had gone on to do a further course in the field of Social Care.

“And I practically begged them not to send me there”, he said, “It had such a racist reputation”.

‘So what happened’? I asked.

“It was the best team I could ever have had. So I’m really glad they didn’t send me anywhere else.”

I had escaped the tight corner, but this got me thinking about the fear of losing face when it comes to inclusivity questions. We may have the best of intentions. But how do we know if we have made the right decision for a person when, by their own admission, they are capable of missing an opportunity for themselves?

Perhaps a commitment to honestly sharing experiences and ideas without fear of being reprimanded for ‘getting it wrong’ is more important than right answers. Because when it comes to inclusion, how else can we learn together?