One of the most pressing concerns currently facing the HE sector in the UK today is how to improve and maintain records on equality and diversity. Discover how BAAS, the leading association for American Studies in the UK, is helping to develop an academic environment that prioritises equality and diversity in all its forms.
One of the most pressing concerns currently facing the HE sector in the UK today is how to improve and maintain records on equality and diversity. It is a question that is both philosophically and institutionally challenging, requiring serious consideration and active response. Within the broad, interdisciplinary field of American Studies – which continues to produce exciting scholarship on issues of class, gender, sexuality, and race – the issue of how to ensure equal opportunities and diverse representation
across the board is an important one. BAAS is initiating a series of conversations and initiatives in the coming months to work with its membership on how best to tackle inequalities in Higher Education.
Since becoming Chair of BAAS in April, Professor Brian Ward has, alongside Kate Dossett, Chair of the Development and Education Subcommittee, sought to prioritise this question of diversity. A first, and important, step has been to co-opt Nicole King as Equality & Diversity Representative on the Development Subcommittee. To ensure that this position is given the significance it is due, BAAS will move towards making it a fixed role for a member of the executive (rather than through co-opting), thereby institutionalising the need to continually monitor and act on issues of equality and diversity.
Equalities work cannot be the work of individuals and so at the Executive Committee meeting held in June at King’s College London, it was decided that each subcommittee, as well as the executive committee, will make it a priority to look into how their work can respond to and shape new initiatives in equality and diversity.
We will also be looking to amend the BAAS constitution and relevant sections of the website to reiterate our commitment to monitoring, learning about and promoting best practice regarding issues of equality and diversity. As scholars, we all recognise the power that the language we use can have when it comes to creating safe spaces, changing behaviour and challenging bad practice. In 2017 we will be launching a demographic survey of BAAS members that will consider the state and future health of American Studies but also ask members to engage in a dialogue about their experience, concerns, and priorities regarding equality and diversity. It will be adapted from the Royal Historical Society’s Report on Gender Equality to shed light on the key issues facing American Studies scholars, including questions focused on equality and diversity, in addition to sections concerned with the field’s broader development in other areas.
There are no quick fixes, nor easy answers. Institutionalised sexism and racism within HE will not be solved with a few strokes of a keyboard. It is important, however, that BAAS, as the leading association for American Studies in the UK, should help develop an academic environment that prioritises equality and diversity in all its forms. As always, we welcome the suggestions and advice of BAAS members, so please get in touch if you have any thoughts on these important matters.
Contributed by Ben Offiler. Ben is currently Lecturer in History at Sheffield Hallam University and BAAS Early Career Representative.