Monday 21st January saw the launch of Imperial College Union’s first Liberation & Community Week, with a panel discussion hosted by the Deputy President (Welfare), Becky Neil.

The launch event, which was titled, “Inclusivity Starts Here” and took place in the Union Concert Hall, featured a panel of seven speakers discussing a range of topics surrounding equality, diversity and inclusion. The speakers also touched on personal experiences of microaggressions, which are unconscious expressions of racism or sexism. Attendees at the event heard more about why diversity is important and how every member of the Imperial community can be involved in making the university more inclusive. Although underrepresented students were encouraged to be active, rather than passive, about equality, diversity and inclusion - “If you notice you’re not being represented, go out and make those events and start those projects yourself” - the importance of remembering that “the burden of making sure we’re all represented shouldn’t be left on those of us that are unrepresented” was also emphasised.

Panel members, including Richard Carruthers (Deputy Director [Careers Service]), Dr. Rahma Elmahdi (Senior Teaching Fellow in Global Health at the School of Public Health) and Dr. Vahid Shahrezaei (Senior Lecturer in Biomathematics), spoke about how they have advocated for change and championed diversity. Final year Biochemistry student and Student Trustee, Hafiza Irshad, talked about her work with the outreach department, working to fully include Muslim students attending the summer camp by accommodating their prayer times, which had a positive impact on the students’ experience. Another one of the speakers, Professor Tom Welton (Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences), spoke about his work in diversity and inclusion, which has spanned over 20 years. He also spoke about his belief that it should be perfectly normal business practice to discuss diversity and inclusion and how it has always been important to him to push the subject matter.

The speakers were asked, “what does diversity in STEM look like?”, to which panellist Dr. Jess Wade (research associate in the Department of Physics) responded, “The students at Imperial are diverse but their teachers and those in senior positions do not reflect the student make up”. Towards the end of the discussion, the topic of allyship was raised:

“Being an ally is all about trying to ensure everyone’s voice around you is being elevated and listened to.”

This topic proved to be an area of debate, with Professor Welton admitting he doesn’t “like the term, ‘ally’” because “we shouldn’t be applauded for being supportive and inclusive of everyone; it’s something we should be doing anyways.” Another panellist commented: “It’s important to remember that allyship is not about speaking over other people, but listening to their experience and making sure they’re heard.” Attendees were also advised on being an effective ally:

“Speaking up is the first challenge. If you’re not knowledgeable about other people’s challenges, you need to educate yourself and make yourself aware”, shared one panellist, later adding, “make an effort to learn about other people. From there you can help others and make progress.”

This debate led to a further question on the topic of quotas, which also proved to be an area of debate. The importance of everyone fully listening to people’s experience and not just focusing on hitting quotas when it comes to tackling diversity was stressed and one of the speakers added, “I think quotas are essential, but they don’t really address the root issue”. Another speaker noted:

“Equality and equity needs to be considered. We all need to be treated fairly.”

Following the launch event, Liberation & Community Week continued with a social media campaign.

The term “liberation” is defined as the seeking of equal status and freedom from all forms of oppression. “It’s the inclusion of everyone. Everyone’s thoughts should matter. It’s all about listening and enabling people to speak up”, commented one panel member at Monday’s event.

Imperial College Union has eight Liberation & Community Officers who each represent students within their Liberation & Community Zones. Liberation & Community Officers are volunteers elected by the student body in our Leadership Elections. Felix is looking to collaborate more with the Liberation and Community Officers to promote diversity and inclusion, ensuring the paper acts as the voice of students and that all students are heard from.