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Black Lives Matter, School of Psychology

8 June 2020

Please find below the statement composed by Dr Billie-Dee Moffat-Knox (as EDI Lead for the School of Psychology) and members of the School EDI Committee in response to the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter.  The statement went out to students on all Psychology programmes on 5th June 2020:-

Dear Students,

The horrific murder of George Floyd has sparked outrage across the globe.  However, our Black friends, families, students, and colleagues know only too well that his murder is the result of ongoing and systemic racism and racial inequalities.  In light of this, we have been asked how the School tackles BAME issues such as admissions, support for staff, and curriculum content. We are acutely aware that the issues of racism and racial inequalities require more than an email and cannot be rectified until more is done to erase global racial inequalities.  We hope to assure you that, as a School, we are aware that these issues are vital, we are aware that progress must be made, and we are actively working to achieve equality.

As a white queer cisgender female, I cannot speak for BAME colleagues and students, but as EDI Lead, I can guarantee that racial inequalities are a priority of the white members of staff on the EDI committee.  Below, we have provided some recent examples of the School’s activities, led by a team of dedicated staff who confront inequalities in and outside of higher education.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of the work we are doing - for example, there are ongoing BAME initiatives at postgraduate level carried out by staff and students - but we hope to illustrate the position of your School.  We unreservedly recognise that more work needs to be done. With a view to transparency, we have outlined our plans and our hopes for your involvement.

First, a brief explanation of EDI (equality, diversity, and inclusion) at Newcastle: EDI operates across the institution on many levels, and has recently undergone several structural improvements.  These changes remain ongoing, and our faculty (FMS) has recently recruited two co-directors for EDI. I have attached an image of the new structure, showing the multifaceted nature of faculty EDI. The School and wider University aim to tackle issues surrounding all the protected characteristics, and equality issues pertaining to, and often unique to, those who work and study in higher education (such as the research culture).  For faculty level questions, I would recommend speaking to Amy Reeve and Paul Britton.

Inequalities do not begin at university admissions, but it is a good place to start.  Our School’s admissions tutor, Barbara-Anne Robertson, recognises the critical importance of EDI issues and is committed to improving routes into the School for BAME applicants, and from other underrepresented groups such as mature students, applicants with disabilities, and caregivers.  She sits on the School EDI committee, and sits on our Widening Participation Working Group.  The group discusses, designs, and implements initiatives with the sole purpose of reaching students beyond the typical social systems that have traditionally benefited from access to higher education.  Over the last 5 years our intake of students from underrepresented groups has increased from less than 12% to over 23%.  However, we have not seen an equivalent rise in our BAME intake, and therefore have made it a priority to reach out to BAME communities through our outreach and engagement initiatives. Unfortunately, we cannot admit students who don’t apply, and initiatives that target students at college level, are insufficient until the educational inequalities experienced by BAME and lower SES students are tackled at the grassroots level.  To work towards this, staff and students from our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are carving out routes into higher education for young children from all underrepresented groups. We enact this through ongoing work and cooperation with local schools that educate underrepresented student populations.

As a School, we have also started to address the grassroots issue by involving students in outreach and engagement.  For example, last year a team from Psychology and Neuroscience spent a weekend in the children’s centre Seven Stories Newcastle.  Our Psychology students designed and created a series of games and tasks that celebrated diversity and cooperation.  Together, they introduced the young children (and their accompanying parents and carers) to the concepts of inclusion and diversity via the children’s book Elmer and the Rainbow. We hoped to repeat this for children of low SES this year, but lockdown has prevented it.  Once we return to campus, initiatives to tackle inequality at a grassroots level will once more be offered to our Psychology undergraduates.  A Psychology student is also working as an intern on the Faculty EDI Committee.  She has gained incredible insights into EDI activities and is keen to continue in a similar role.  Consequently, she will join the School EDI committee after her placement and we will offer all psychology students the opportunity to get involved.

Several University staff networks support members and work to tackle pertinent issues, including those of intersectionality.  Psychology staff sit on a range of networks.  For example, I sit on the steering group for the University’s LGBTQ+ staff network, and my colleague Trevor James sits on the BAME network.  Staff networks also include a disability network, women’s network, and a parenting network.  The networks meet throughout the year to celebrate our diversity and inspire and launch initiatives to push against the glass ceiling for staff and students.  Last year, visibility of intersectionality was a university-wide initiative.  The School of Psychology, in collaboration with the staff LGBTQ+ network, confronted this issue by releasing University lanyards that included rainbow and BAME colours.

Of course, visibility is only helpful when combined with education.  In 2018 Psychology staff ran EDI workshops for all University staff and students to hear from a diverse range of internal and external speakers.  The BAME speakers, which included Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah, Shahda Khan MBE, and Nadeem Ahmad from Show Racism the Red Card, gave first-hand accounts of their experiences of racism, in and outside of educational institutes.  Attendee feedback emphasised the importance of white staff and students hearing the hard truths of the dangers faced by BAME people, and we will continue to amplify BAME voices and experiences.

Our degree programme director wanted the workshops to be repeated for our Psychology students so that our students are provided with the resources to be good citizens, not just good psychologists.  We implemented this last semester for stage one Joint Honours students in their Intro to Psych module, and with stage three students in their Professional Skills module.  In these workshops we discussed what EDI means and why inequalities exist.  We discussed social injustices that occur as a result of structural racism, and students were encouraged to recognise their own privileges and recognise and confront the barriers of others in student-led activities.  These workshops will remain part of the curriculum and will be delivered to students across the programmes.

I wholeheartedly agree that as an institute of higher education, and particularly as psychologists, we should be leading the way in confronting these issues head on.  The following is a brief list of some of the actions we as a committee will be working on in the coming year:

  1. Recruiting EDI student reps that reflect diversity across the programmes.  They will sit on the School’s EDI committee and be our student liaisons for incoming and outgoing resources.  We need to amplify the voices of BAME students and those of other protected characteristics and marginalised groups.
  2. Undertaking a survey of our student population, to hear from diverse voices and help direct our ideas for future initiatives (we do not have access to personal details such as ethnic identity, disabilities and gender identities; we will depend on student responses to gather this anonymous information).
  3. Further training for staff on EDI topics.  Our staff already take part in unconscious bias training.  We hope to expand on this by discussing issues of language pertaining to the protected characteristics, such as non-binary versus gendered language, and power inequalities experienced by BAME.  Language is a core EDI issue; our use of language can serve to perpetuate and promote inequality.
  4. To continue to deliver EDI education for staff and students, via university-wide workshops for staff and students, and via the Psychology curriculum.

Learning and awareness isn’t enough.  It wasn’t enough for George Floyd.  More work needs to be done in the fight against racial inequalities and work must continue.  It will also require engagement from you, our students.  We encourage you to consider your role as allies in the struggle against social injustice.  As psychologists we teach you about prejudice and discrimination, in-groups and out-groups, cognitive biases and stereotypes.  But the content of your lectures is not merely theory in text-books.  It describes the reality of human behaviour.  As psychologically literate citizens we ask you use your knowledge of prejudice and discrimination to question your own behaviour and that of others and call out social injustice when you see it.  When we advertise for EDI student representatives, get in touch.  When we advertise EDI outreach and engagement opportunities, get in touch.  When we recruit EDI student reps, engage with them.  Let us know if you have your own ideas for outreach events to encourage younger students from all backgrounds to come and study with us.  We need to amplify the voices of oppressed groups, but the work must not be their burden.

We sincerely hope that this goes some way to addressing any of your concerns, and hope we have offered assurance that your EDI committee and your School are dedicated to addressing all inequalities.  Racism, and racial inequalities are not tolerated by your School.  We stand in solidarity with our BAME friends, families, colleagues, and students.  With that being said, we understand that no amount of learning or progress can ever make up for the grave injustices faced by the oppressed.  No matter how sorry we feel, and how much distress the murder of Black people causes us, it will never measure up to the everyday experience of BAME people.  We will not add to this by staying silent.

If any of our students have been, or continue to be affected by racism, or any kind of harassment, the report and support mechanism provided by the student union can be found below.  If you would like to speak to one of us, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

School of Psychology EDI Committee - 
Billie-Dee Moffat-Knox
Trevor James
Amy Fielden
Barbara-Anne Robertson
Sue Thorpe
Nicki Weightman
Liz Evans
Caroline Allen

If any of our students have been, or continue to be affected by racism, or any kind of harassment, the report and support mechanism provided by the student union can be accessed below:

Newcastle University Students' Union

For further information on support, please contact your personal tutor or click on this link or any of the links below to find internal services provided by the Student Union and the University, and external services and resources.

Hate Crime Support

For confidential counselling support, please contact well-being via the following email address 

The University’s Executive Board have released the following statement in which our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Julie Sanders sends a personal message to staff and students in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

published on: 8 June 2020