Addressing disparities and the shadow pandemic

As universities continue to be affected by the Covid-19 situation, colleagues are asked to redesign the curriculum for online and blended learning, as well as continue other academic duties remotely. Much of the conversation focuses on this stressful experience for staff, the time pressure to transform our curriculum, and how these changes dramatically impact the student experience. In this frayed situation, we can already see how the pandemic is causing greater societal disparities, such as a gender divide in academic publication rates (Fazackery 2020; Flaherty 2020), and disparities for BAME* staff and students (Singh 2020). 

*Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities 

The Shadow Pandemic 

A recent article from Inside Higher Ed describes a ‘Shadow Pandemic’, how Covid-19 has exacerbated xenophobia, racism and discrimination (Venkat Mani 2020). While the piece concerns the particular social context in the USA, it is worth reading as it pushes us to be active in how we respond to this Shadow Pandemic, rather than complacently relying on top level leadership.  

To address this issue, here are some inclusive teaching principles to consider in your practice drawn from an AdvanceHE presentation by Jess Moody

  • No one should be left behind – identify our most vulnerable groups 
  • Do no more harm – don’t compound existing structural inequalities in the crisis 
  • Be transparent and flexible 
  • Make sure you understand the impact of your decisions 

Further resources are listed below. 

BAME support 

When reworking your curriculum, you can support BAME inclusion and success by following guidance available on the grp-BME Success Sharepoint site. The site includes a helpful inclusion guide that features practical examples to support BAME students in all aspects of their student experience. Recommended steps that staff can take include: 

  • Read up to date materials regarding under-represented groups in Higher Education 
  • Appreciate BAME Students may have different experiences and needs 
  • Establish ways for students to interact with other students from different backgrounds 
  • Extend beyond European culture or history to include a wider view of the world 

There’s also information on the BAME Success Programme and nominated Success Advocates for each faculty who are available to support you. 

We have also produced a blog post summarising top guidance from AdvancedHE on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). The piece was written by one of the Success Advocates, Samya Sarfaraz, who notes that the eight themes of EDI is a useful framework for all disciplines. It helps us see where our practice is strongest and where more work still needs to be done. 

It’s worth noting that not everyone agrees with the use of the acronym BAME. One of our University of Bristol academics, Dr Foluke Ifejola Adebisi, writes this useful prompt on how we might consider other terminology “The Only Accurate Part of ‘BAME’ is the ‘and’…”. In the writing of this blog, I’ve chosen to include the term BAME as it is the term currently employed throughout our university systems and guidance. When engaging with contemporary issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, BAME becomes a less appropriate term that can obfuscate appropriate responses to and understandings of lived Black experiences.  

Maintaining integrity through adversary 

In March 2020, the Bristol Medical School became the first in the UK to adopt a new BAME charter to address racial harassment. In May 2020, the University of Bristol achieved Silver and Bronze Athena SWAN awards in recognition of its progress on gender equality. Many of our staff are leaders in equality and diversity, yet this progress is put at risk because of the pressures caused by the pandemic. 

It’s difficult to be asked to consider the complexities of social inequalities when we are under pressure. However, it is important that this time of stress does not further negatively impact the most vulnerable or disenfranchised in our institutions. Before, during and after the pandemic, we should have pride in our ability to ensure equitability for all.  

If you haven’t already, our Digital Design course includes a session on designing inclusively. You can take the course asynchronously in August – sign up here. Staff who would like a refresher on the session are welcome to take the course again.  

 Dr Aisling (Ash) Tierney –  


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