Capturing the spirit of diversity


Arches 12, Summer 2009 

From 2–6 March 2009, the University held its first Diversity Week – a celebration of the many cultures, people and identities that make Newcastle University such a vibrant place to study, work and visit. James Johnston reflects on what diversity means and why the University is supporting difference

Over the past year, committee meetings have been abuzz with talk about public engagement and the question of what the University’s role is in both the region and the wider higher education sector. There have been many interesting answers, and not just from the realms of academia. As part of this discussion, many groups across campus have begun to look at who and what the University community is.

Newcastle has been responsible for educating thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students of different nationalities and backgrounds, and nurturing staff through their careers at academic and support levels. Without doubt, this university is a melting pot of different cultural attitudes and backgrounds.

The very nature of ‘going to university’ has been an opportunity for youngsters to stretch their wings in the real world – a rite of passage where the University has helped open-up minds and develop personalities in preparation for future careers. The Vice-Chancellor talks confidently about knowledge for life, and in our encounters with alumni it is clear that Newcastle has played an influential role for many, and continues to inspire curiosity about what it is like to study and work here.

With over 18,000 students and around 5,000 staff, Newcastle is a significant organisation. Therefore diversity defines the make up of the University’s community.  Successful organisations – the management theorists tell us – are based on understanding the detail behind this. Diversity is about recognising difference and enabling those who come to University to be themselves. And for those who work here, it is about thriving in an open culture where people have legitimacy regardless of their race, gender, age, faith, sexual orientation or disability.

Diversity Week 2009 provided an opportunity to discuss issues such as access to education for students from all sorts of backgrounds, work-life balance and parenting; and listen to key note lectures on equality issues. And of course, diversity is equally important to our alumni community, which numbers 124,861 people across the world.

For the University to embrace equality and diversity as an issue is of course a legislative necessity in terms of employment law. But Diversity Week was not about political correctness gone mad. It was a concerted effort to take stock of where we are as an organisation, and how we can celebrate successes and tackle challenges to ensure we provide a safe and open environment for students, staff and alumni alike.

In the words of Rudyard Kipling: ‘All the people like us are We, and everyone else is They.’

James Johnston is the Development Manager for the Faculty of Medical Sciences, based in the Development and Alumni Relations Office. You can e-mail him at

Diversity in words and pictures

As part of Diversity Week 2009, staff, students and alumni were invited to get creative with their thoughts on what diversity means to them.

A photo competition asked for entries that captured ‘the spirit of diversity’, with a first prize of £150 in vouchers for photographic equipment, and two runners-up prizes of £50 vouchers. The winning entry was from Dr Peter Kellett, a senior lecturer in Architecture in the University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape.

Peter said: ‘When we talk about diversity there is a danger that we dwell too much on difference, and fail to pick up on similarities. When I decided to try to represent diversity amongst our research students, I wanted to bring out their shared characteristics too – that collective sense of community and shared endeavour. I think their enjoyment and sense of fun is evident in the picture.’

The runners-up were Alexander Wilson, photo editor at The Courier and second-year Town Planning student, for his image of camaraderie in the University’s rugby team; and Adam Jones, who works in HR at the University, for his vibrant image of interwoven cultures on campus. Visit out Flickr gallery to view the photos.

There was also a creative writing competition, which asked writers to submit prose and poetry on the theme of disability. The winning entries were from students Anne Maney for her poem Nature Study, and Victoria Adams for her short story You've Got a Nerve (both available for download as PDFs).

Keep an eye on our website for details of next year’s Diversity Week, as soon as they become available.

published on: 5th May 2009

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