What it means to be a diverse educator

Chloe Roberts portrait

Written by Chloe Roberts

Chloe is an English trainee from Hampshire. She is currently completing her training with BASCITT.

Teaching for diversity refers to acknowledging and celebrating a range of differences in and out of the classroom. Being an inclusive practitioner who embraces difference allows transformations in the way we think, teach, learn and act. This is vital in ensuring all students feel celebrated in their learning environment. Although we have come a long way in recognising and celebrating diversity, we still have a long way to go. It is not a case of acknowledging that you are already ‘inclusive’, it is about educating yourself on key aspects of your students’ lives and the dynamics of society. This is something that I will continue in my practice as I embark on my journey to becoming an English teacher. I am quite fortunate that in my subject I can use a variety of resources within the classroom that celebrate a vast amount of different people and cultures, however, this is more limited in KS4 due to the GCSE specifications. Understandably there are more limits in other subjects but having more of an awareness of what you could do is vital. So going forward, what can you do to increase your own knowledge and understanding on diversity? 

DiverseEd:

This site is a hub of resources and knowledge on diversity and inclusion. Hannah Wilson has created a space where a variety of practitioners can come together and share thoughts and research. In addition, events and seminars are organised regularly to support teachers and equip them with a breadth of knowledge. 

I attended an online conference with Diverse Ed and the range of topics discussed were extremely informative. Hearing from a diverse number of practitioners gave me lots to think about in terms of my own practice. Inspiring teachers to be activists and encouraging a diverse number of people into the profession is a way to make waves in the education community. Jo Brassington, who discussed their own experience in the classroom as a non-binary teacher, claims that ‘to make change we need to be seen in the room’. I absolutely agree with this, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community I have always struggled with being open about my identity with others. Discussions like these have encouraged me to ‘be seen in the room’ and embrace my own differences, which some of my students can relate to. I am no way implying you must ‘come out’ to students if you do not feel comfortable, but having some transparency about your own lived experience can create a safe space for others to. 

The whole morning was incredibly thought provoking and gave me a lot to think about in my own practice. Fortunately, there are recordings of the conference on Diverse Ed alongside lots of blog posts which can inform your teaching. (see below in further resources for website).

Seminars: 

Over the past year I have attended a variety of seminars relating to diversity in education. All of which I have found on Eventbrite. I find this website incredibly useful for a range of different forms of CPD. It is accessible and the majority of seminars are free to access. This is another way to increase your knowledge on a variety of different topics, including diversity within education. 

A recent seminar I attended was on ‘Recovering Black Storytelling in Qualitative Research’. This covered how we can encourage our students to use their narrative voice alongside a discussion on Stephanie Toliver’s new book, which is being released. She discussed the literary devices she used in her novel and the origins behind them, which was really interesting. The thought process behind a writer’s writing is always incredibly fascinating! This was a celebration of black culture along with discussions that can translate into the classroom. Although curriculums are becoming more diverse, I have found there is still a lack of celebration when it comes to people of colour; the negative connotations that are presented in literature through the texts we have historically studied are not changing. Why are we continuing to study outdated ideologies? I am not discrediting the fact that it is important to have an understanding of such things, but to prioritise information presented by white cisgendered men, does limit our understanding and knowledge of other cultures. 

Overall, seminars are brilliant and can really inform your practice. Eventbrite has such a range from something subject specific or general CPD for teachers. I recommended having a look around the site and searching for seminars that spark your interest. 

What can you do in school? 

I think a good place to start is speaking to colleagues and gauge an understanding of what your school already does. In my previous school, I knew that there used to be an LGBTQ+ and ally group during lunch times. I then decided to reinvent the club and bring it back. I wanted to create a space where anyone could come and discuss their experiences and learn about the LGBTQ+ community. I was really pleased with the turnout and the maturity all students displayed when discussing their experiences. It was great to hear their ideas and what the school could do to ensure they were being more inclusive. 

Speak to your departments and see what you can bring into the curriculum. Again, as an English teacher I am fortunate to be able to bring in a range of different texts that students can learn from; however, tutor time is an excellent way to go into more detail and have discussions with students regarding diversity and what it means to them. Obviously PSHE is an excellent way to integrate these topics but get to know what your students are learning in PSHE and relate that into lessons. In addition, during LGBTQ+ History month and Black History month, there are a range of one off lessons that you can use in school which celebrate and educate those on diversity. Please don’t limit yourself to using these resources during their celebratory months, there are so many amazing things we can learn from a variety of lived experiences. 

Here below are a range of resources that I have found really useful in my learning journey: 

Books: 

  • How to transform your school into an LGBT+ friendly place by Anna Carlile and Elly Barnes 
  • Celebrating difference: A whole school approach to LGBT+ inclusion by Shaun Dellenty 
  • From Ace to Ze: The little book of LGBT terms by Harriet Dyer
  • The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching about Race and Racism to People Who Don’t Want to Know By Tema Jon Okun
  • So You Want to Talk about Race By Ijeoma Oluo
  • White Fragility By Robin D’Angelou
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race By Renni Eddo-Lodge
  • Memoirs of a Black Englishman By Paul Stephenson
  • White Privilege By Kalwant Bhopal
  • Not Light but Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom by Matthew R. Kay
  • Facilitating Conversations about Race in the Classroom by Danielle Stewart, Martha Caldwwell, and  Dietra Hawkins (comes out in March)  
  • Knowing How To Discuss Race In The Classroom: A Guide For White Teachers On How To Develop and Understand Racial Literacy by Ashlee A. Jeannot
  • A Little Guide for Teachers: Diversity in Schools by Bennie Kara

Websites:

People to follow on Twitter: 

@Dradambrett 

@LGBTedLondon 

@MrsV_MM10

@prideandprogress

@jobrassington 

@iamjerrel 

@lyftaEd

@LGBTed

@womenedengland 

@diverseed2020

@Anna_carlile 

Here are some of the things I have thought about when increasing my knowledge on diversity. It is a journey and it is important to ask yourself difficult questions and reflect on what you can do within the classroom. As teachers we can all be activists and create an environment where all of our students feel heard and validated.

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Is your DEI team an unhealthy microcosm of your school or organisation? How you can journey through and learn from the process, in order to inform your future practice.

Caroline Davis portrait

Written by Caroline Davis

Caroline Lucy Davis, International English Teacher & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advocate with a particular interest in the intersection of gender and race.

This article, which was presented at the AIELOC (Association of International Educators and Leaders of Colour) online conference 2019, discusses my experience of working on DEI initiatives where there was evidence of clearly inauthentic and tokenistic practice to achieve certain targets and tick box exercises. My journey is one of  discovery to disruption to learning and exiting one educational organisation’s version of cultural relations and DEI work. 

I became a member of my organisations DEI team and discovered a fractured, non-communicative, barely functioning group receiving very little guidance. If I examine my reasons for seeking out the team at the time I did, it is really quite simple and why others may do the same. I was struggling with certain issues surrounding gender in particular and I wanted an outlet. I would later learn that I was certainly not alone in my experiences. My experiences also resurfaced my long-term interest in social issues and experiences of marginalisation. I found the lack of initiative and direction of the DEI team very infuriating and was keen to move things forward. 

So I found other ways to impact DEI initiatives through external volunteering opportunities sometimes connected to the organisation. I joined local and expatriate women’s groups, ran International Women’s Day events and was involved in a Global Race and Culture Working group. I networked internationally and it was this extending of my circle which was very enlightening and liberating for me. After quite some time of learning and leading more these initiatives, as well as feeling frustrated by the lack of movement on issues, I became lead for the DEI team. Excited, I threw myself into my new shiny (unpaid!) role in an area that I felt passionately about. 

I researched and thought carefully about how I would establish a representative team and one that would work on the areas of EDI that mattered most, and were most pressing to the staff. My team was going to be functional and effective! I read about how to have inclusive meetings and communication, as I had been long-term recipient of the opposite at the organisation. I had become used to hearing the same old dominant voices and seeing the same old faces…those faces that were all so similar to one another.

Working conditions did not make communication, meetings, organising events or initiatives easy, and then there were the office and organisational politics. Despite the challenges and we had some successful, if with less attendance than hoped, events and initiatives. 

At the same time, the idea of a microcosm became apparent to me when discussing issues even within the EDI team. We just did not seem to have the same understanding or experience of things. Could the EDI team, as representative of the wider organisation, be part of the problem? I indeed found clearly inauthentic and tokenistic practice to achieve certain targets and tick box exercises and even found my work accredited to someone else.

After delivering a presentation on racism in the UK and the lack of people of colour at senior leadership in the organisation, a manager approached me to say they had never noticed any racism and that was why they were so proud to work for the organisation. It was alarming that evidence can be so clearly under one’s nose, but remain unseen. Do we need to see racist acts to figure out that racism must be at play if there are no people of colour at senior leadership levels?

Clearly DEI teams can be unhealthy microcosms of wider organisations, just as classrooms, offices, schools, organisations can be unhealthy microcosms of wider society. So how do we journey through and learn from the process to inform future practice.

In my experience, the learning is the work and it is as rich, as it is exhausting. Keep a record of what you learn and how you learnt it. Seek out opportunities and reach out to the wider network. Stretch your microcosm bubble, perhaps you can burst it! By expanding my network and volunteering, I came to understand that there is a bigger world out there and people who see what you see, and want to make a genuine difference. I learned a great deal and despite the apparent silence, I believe I did disrupt things. I had felt invested and at the same time captive there and in the end decided that it was best for me to exit that educational organisation’s very outdated version of cultural relations and DEI work. This is how to journey through, learn from the process in order to inform your future practice.

 

 

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The Power of the Community

Dena Eden portrait

Written by Dena Eden

English teacher and writer based in Norfolk. MA in Educational Research and currently working as an English Standards Leader.

I signed up to the recent #DiverseEd conference knowing I would hear about some brilliant examples of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work going on across education; I didn’t expect to finish the conference feeling empowered. Listening to authentic voices and lived experiences encouraged me to reflect on my own, and has given me the confidence I needed to forge ahead with necessary change. 

As a cis white person I recognise my privilege. As a woman, I have experienced the frustration of my ideas not being taken seriously until a man repeats them. My choice on how to present physically also means people have undermined my intelligence and assume I enjoy shopping and ‘partying’ – they were someone’s actual words. They are surprised when I share my achievements and professional life before teaching. They are even more surprised when they find out I’m gay. Ironically, the part of my identity which is a ‘protected characteristic’ has been met with more positive outcomes than negative. When people ‘find out’ I am gay, women treat me more warmly and men take me more seriously. But that’s a whole other blog post.

I want to share my own experience to try and explain the effect the #DiverseEd conference had on me: despite being invested in creating a truly inclusive environment for a long time, I didn’t feel ‘diverse’ enough to be the person to do that – but at the same time also felt a huge pressure from being part of the LGBTQ+ community to be a voice for those who don’t speak up. Growing up in Birmingham and then living and working in both Mexico and the USA means that I have experience of living life in the role of the ‘other’ –  but also that I have always worked in environments rich in diversity. Embarking upon a career in education in a significantly less diverse area of the UK was a shock to me.

Despite absolutely loving where I live and work for lots of reasons, it does continue to surprise me when I witness the problematic attitudes and language used when talking about diversity and inclusion. Discriminatory language is used without understanding why it is a problem and the pervasive idea that ‘real’ prejudice is overt and/or violent means many people do not recognise their privilege: Prejudice hides behind ignorance; tokenism acts as acceptance; tolerance is sufficient. 

Understanding inaction: providing solutions not problems. 

My experiences have frustrated me and as a result, I approached leadership in the Trust I currently work for to start a conversation; it was met with enthusiasm and support and has led to me setting up an Inclusive Communities group working with outstanding colleagues invested in making long lasting change. 

Up until the #DiverseEd conference, I had some idea of what I wanted us to do – but have been apprehensive. For me, a truly inclusive environment has always been about addressing the root of the issue – people’s mindsets. Until people are willing to admit both their own privilege and the importance of the work that needs to be done, nothing will change. 

Watching the conference helped me to reflect on previous conversations and helped me to understand that I had been too concerned with losing respect or upsetting others by voicing how crucial the work around diversity, equity and inclusion really is. But without action, we are conversationalists not activists; my thinking has now shifted from worrying about reactions to focusing on my own actions. 

Before the conference, I felt like the battle was in trying to get people to appreciate the importance and immediacy of the work that needs to be done – it isn’t work with immediate measurable outcomes for example. After watching the conference, I feel validated in arguing that there should be no such battle. The immediacy and importance of this work is not an opinion – it is a fact. 

So moving forward, rather than focusing on whether the changes can be made, I am focusing on how they will be made. Working with an incredible community and calling on the expertise of my colleagues, we are going to approach people with solutions rather than problems. This is where we are going to start:

  1. Looking at policy within schools and across the whole Trust. 
  2. Educating our staff to be able to challenge one another and our young people – this will be led by training from authentic voices sharing their lived experiences.
  3. Recognising multiple stakeholders in this work: parents, governors and HR should be included in our approach to EDI. 
  4. Working with our incredible curriculum team to explore ways we can include balanced and meaningful representation into our existing work. 

It was overwhelming to think about the work that needed to be done; now I’m excited to get started. We deserve genuine support, not allowances; to be comfortable as well as safe; celebration, not tolerance.  

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The British Army’s Diverse Resources for the New Term

Eleanor Brown portrait

Written by Eleanor Brown

Head of Education Marketing at Capita

The British Army has developed new resources to help students aged 11-16 build their understanding of why it is important to commemorate significant groups in the history of the British Army. Focusing on diversifying the curriculum, This resource pack features Women in the Army, LGBTQ+ Voices and Black History resources with links to PSHE, History and Citizenship. 

Each of the resources are available for key awareness days in the school calendar and include ready-to-use lesson plans, assembly presentations, case studies and films to help students understand the changing roles of service people in the British Army throughout history, reflect on who we remember as a society or individuals and explore what it’s like to serve in the Army today. The resources are part of the British Army’s dedication to addressing the inequalities within the organisation and raising awareness of the contributions of service people both historically and now.

Women in the Army Resources

An excellent resource for International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Women in the Army resources have curriculum links to PSHE / Health and Wellbeing, Citizenship and History. The lesson plan offers interactive tasks to help young people to recognise and challenge harmful stereotypes and prejudice both at work and in society as a whole. Showcasing the significant roles women have played from the 1800s to today, the resources explore key terms such as feminism, gender and intersectionality, encouraging students to consider the evolving roles of women in the Army in the context of wider society. 

The assembly slides and the film builds on these key themes, showcasing the contributions and accomplishments of women in the Army and reflecting on the stories we remember. The assembly brings a specific focus to the history of women in wartime and features empowering women including Captain Flora Sandes, who was the only woman to fight on the front line of WWI, and Adelaide Hall, a jazz singer who entertained troops in WWII and was the first Black performer to be given a long-term contract with the BBC. 

LGBTQ+ Resources

Perfect for LGBT History Month 2020 in February, The LGBTQ+ Voices lesson resources show the progress made within the Army and in wider society with activities that celebrate the contributions of historical and current LGBTQ+ Army personnel, including WWI soldier Edward Brittain and Deborah Penny, the first trans soldier in the British Army. Students can also learn how they can be supportive of all LGBTQ+ people, and other groups and communities, through the allyship video resource.

By profiling six historical LGBTQ+ figures, such as the mathematician Alan Turing and poet Wilfred Owen, the assembly resource asks students to reflect on their contributions. This is followed by a film featuring current LGBTQ+ soldiers, addressing the significance of LGBTQ+ history to them and the progress that has been made by the Army to ensure everyone feels welcome.

Black History Resources  

These Black History digital resources for Key Stages 3 and 4 include an assembly and lesson plan to help students understand the stories of Black British, African and Caribbean service people who have often been unfairly excluded from the history books and help students consider some of the reasons for and effects of these omissions.

The assembly resource profiles service people from throughout history, while the interactive lesson resources offer source materials to help students build core historical skills and explore the contributions and stories of Black Britons, West and East Africans and Caribbean service people during World War One. The resources also offer examples of the impact of the war on different Black women, documenting case studies of a Trinidadian, British and an East African (from the Tanzania-Malawi border region) woman.

Questions at the end of each resource help facilitate discussions that address the significance of Black History Month and studying Black History more broadly and how this relates to modern discussions on race and diversity, including reflections from current Black soldiers to help build student’s discussions.

All the British Army resources can be downloaded for free online at: https://apply.army.mod.uk/base/lessons 

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Do This, Not That

Jaya Hiranandani portrait

Written by Jaya Hiranandani

Jaya is an international school teacher currently based in Taipei, Taiwan. She is in awe of the unlimited potential of the learning that can happen in the classroom and, as a result, is passionate about inquiry-based learning, student and staff wellbeing, and DEI.

I am from the north of India and I believe that a combination of deeply ingrained acceptance of hierarchy and authority, assumption of best intentions and sheer luck have helped me live in a foreign country and in multiple international communities relatively unscathed from the effects of overt racism. 

However, I have spent a lot of time baffled and confused by covert racism. Covert racism are often instances of racism so subtle that the victim is left wondering if they have been discriminated against. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D. from Teachers College Columbia University defines  “racial microaggression” as “one of the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of colour by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.”

Covert acts of racism, apart from being distressing and confusing for the recipient, can be difficult for people from the dominant culture to accept “because it’s scary to them,” Professor Sue asserts, “It assails their self-image of being good, moral, decent human beings to realise that maybe at an unconscious level they have biassed thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of colour.”

When I was sidelined, ignored or marginalised, the younger me was left wondering- Was it me, them or the situation? Am I being too sensitive? Did I do something wrong? Is it just an individual personality trait or is there something bigger here?  Is this person incapable of trusting me just because I am different from them? Am I being sidelined because I am not interesting enough, or is the other person just having a bad day? Is this person not interested in knowing me because they think they already “know” how I am from their experiences with other people of my ethnicity? 

As I grew older, patterns began to emerge and I have realised that ALL these could be true in one situation or the other and I have gotten better at deciphering between my own sensitivities and other people’s biases.

Here are six suggestions I have to develop awareness about and avoid engaging in covert racism at our educational institutions: 

1. Learn how to say my name correctly, don’t hesitate to ask if needed

First things first: Yes, the names of people of colour often sound unfamiliar or sometimes, difficult to pronounce correctly. Try your best to pronounce them correctly, ask for guidance and never shorten someone’s name for your convenience before asking them first.

2. Be socially inclusive, but don’t overcompensate

You don’t need to become my friend, you just need to be friendly and considerate. 

At a previous school of mine, I was unwelcome at the staff book club for many years. There was a poster about it on the staff bulletin board and  when I expressed my interest to the book club leads, I was given sketchy details in a lukewarm tone with no invitation forthcoming. It was not until someone posted a well meaning invitation on the school’s online social messaging board that I was let in. I still can’t be sure why I was kept out of a monthly get-together based on a love for reading which I shared with the members of the group.

People of colour understand that you will be more comfortable with people who you can discuss your food with and can complain about things with; we know this because we do the same. Humans are wired to seek out people with similar experiences as theirs- it helped us during our cave-residing days when it was important to stick to our tribe to stay safe. We instinctively connect with people who share our culture and in my experience, a shared culture transcends shared race or ethnicity. So none of us should be under any kind of pressure to have diverse-looking close friends as long as we treat people fairly, equally and respectfully. 

When we value people for their intrinsic qualities, we will naturally include diverse people in our social circles. When we look beyond people’s idiosyncrasies and external looks, we find the people we share our values and ambitions with. 

3. Find diverse ways to talk to  people of colour, don’t just discuss topics related to their race or country 

I have a colleague who always talks to me about food, clothes or movies from my country. We have worked together for half a dozen years and it makes me wonder if she sees me as a multifaceted person that I am. 

Do you feel compelled to talk to ethnically diverse people only about their country or culture? Or do you plunge into awkward silence wondering what on earth you should talk about that will not be offensive and will be politically correct? Find the middle path. Yes, I am happy to talk about which Indian restaurant in town I find  the most authentic. No, I don’t want to be always seen through the lens of my ethnicity as I am so much more beyond my origins. 

4. People of colour commit racist faux pas too, don’t ignore it. 

Racial prejudice oc4urs both ways and though it cannot be termed as racism due to imbalances in power held by white people and people of colour, there is no reason to condone it. When you see or hear POC being racially biased, gently question their judgement and call it out. 

5. Talk openly about racial, cultural, ethnic differences, don’t be colourblind

Once when I mustered the courage to mention to a white male school leader that, ambiguous as it is, covert racism in international schools does exist, I was immediately and emphatically told that “no one is out there to get me” and basically made to feel that I was being too sensitive! Denying that racism in any form exists around us is colour blindness and it is a sureshot way to shut any dialogue about it.

Colorblindedness denies the prevalence of differences based on race and though it is rooted in the goal to promote racial equality based on race-neutral policies, it has led to perpetration of systemic racism. If we pretend that race does not exist, we deny the presence of race-based inequities in our communities. Open dialogue about racial and ethnic differences at your school as and when needed. A paper published by Harvard social scientists in The Current Directions in Psychological Science states that, “people exposed to arguments promoting colour blindness have been shown to subsequently display a greater degree of both explicit and implicit racial bias.”

The responsibility of open dialogue about bias, prejudice and race falls more heavily on leaders, and it’s important that schools are now developing explicit DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) policies for all stakeholders to follow.

6. Develop self-awareness about your biases, don’t equate good intentions with correct action

It has taken me years of catching myself judging people with tattoo-covered bodies to stop making assumptions about them. I recently briefly dated a person with a wing chest tattoo and a whole arm covered with a colourful assortment of motifs and images, and I learnt intriguing stories behind some of his body art.

When we observe our own thoughts and examine our biases and assumptions, we can check ourselves every time we make a sweeping generalisation in our heads about someone based on their ethnicity or physical features.

Sometimes issues will be attributed to bias even though they may have stemmed from poor communication, differences in expectation, individual personality traits and so on. Again, be curious and ready to find out more.

Most of us genuinely want to live in a diverse and inclusive world with equity for all. However, the best intentions are futile if they are not met with the right actions. Let’s marry our best intentions with wholehearted efforts and create workplaces where no one feels marginalised because of their physical features and colour.

References:

DeAngelis, Toni 2009 Unmasking ;Racial Microaggressions’ American Psychological Association Vol. 40, (No. 2) pp. 42 <https://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/02/microaggression>

Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center (ACLRC) The Myth of Reverse Racism Accessed January 2022 <https://www.aclrc.com/myth-of-reverse-racism>

Afpelbaum, E.P., Norton, M.I., and Sommers, S.R. 2012 “Racial Color Blindness: Emergence, Practice and Implications” Current Directions in Psychological Science 21 (3) pp.206  <https://www.hbs.edu/ris/Publication%20Files/Racial%20Color%20Blindness_16f0f9c6-9a67-4125-ae30-5eb1ae1eff59.pdf>

Stephen M.R. Covey May 2021, Association of California School Administrators, Accessed January 2022 <https://content.acsa.org/six-ways-to-help-your-schools-be-more-inclusive/>

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#HonestyAboutEditing - The Campaign

Suzanne Samaka portrait

Written by Suzanne Samaka

Suzanne Samaka is a 33-year-old mum from Watford. She grew up in a single parent, working class family, which has given her a strong sense of working hard to achieve. She has spent 15 years working for a high street bank in a number of roles, mainly around relationships and people.

How can I make a difference to the mental health of our young people? That was my question and it hit me like a lightning bolt one evening. To give some context to my life, I am a stepmother to four children, have a two year old daughter and have recently given birth to my second baby. I also work full time in banking.

Sadly, for the past four years a member of our family has suffered with anorexia. It is fair to say we will never know the root cause of this and maybe neither will they, but it is apparent that they are not alone in the anxiety, depression, physical and mental health challenges that they have faced in their adolescent years. I’ve been to eating disorder in-patient clinics and I have always been shocked and saddened by how full these units are with adolescent girls and boys alike.

The pandemic has meant young people have spent more time at home and online but I must stress this isn’t only a post-pandemic problem. They are seeing more content than ever that is edited or filtered and it is having a disastrous effect on their self-esteem. The statistics don’t lie and in the UK, 9 out of every 10 girls with low body esteem, put their health at risk by not seeing a doctor or by skipping meals. A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health asked 14-24 year olds in the UK how social media platforms impacted their health and well-being. The survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness. More than two thirds (68%) of young people surveyed support social media platforms highlighting when a photo has been manipulated. 

I have been contacted by many teachers who have told me about conversations with their students who feel under pressure from social media perfection or crippling loneliness when they feel that their face doesn’t fit. I have also been contacted by countless parents who are terrified of how body conscious their children are, with ages starting from as young as 8. I have also spoken with many adults who have suffered their own mental health challenges in their adolescent years, signing the petition because they just can’t fathom how they would have survived against the odds that the youth of today are growing up with. The more people I speak to about the petition, the more it makes me want to ensure there is change, protection and honesty to give our young people a fair chance in today’s world.

Now there is one thing I need to make crystal clear. I have nothing against social media. In fact I think it can be hugely positive to all of our lives. I also have nothing against editing or filtering, it is completely each to their own. What I have a problem with is the lack of honesty, which is causing young people to believe they need to be flawless yet striving for this is damaging their mental health. Do I believe social media is the problem for the challenges in youth mental health? No. Does it exacerbate the problem? Absolutely. Mental health challenges can quickly become deeply rooted and leave scars for life. Our children and young people deserve better than that.

In trying to evoke change I have recently begun a petition on Change.org to amend the social media laws to state when an image has been filtered or digitally edited. This is now the law in a number of countries, Norway being the most recent. If it can happen there why not in the UK? What I am hoping this solution could do is to help our young people and next generation to understand that these posts aren’t real and their true self is more important, as well as their mental and physical health.

What I have realised is that each individual can help create positive change. It really does only take 30 seconds to put your name against the petition and then share with your own network. The momentum of this campaign has been amazing with several MPs on board, charity organisations and individuals who are experts in their fields. Collaboration is key here. If we all pull together we really can protect our next generation. I’m a parent. An auntie. A person who cares. That is all it takes. Somebody to do something.

Whilst my family has been my first hand experiences of mental health challenges in young people, I have just seen one too many examples to not do something about it. In the words of Emma Watson, If not me, who? If not now, when?

The link to the campaign is https://www.change.org/ChangeSocialMediaLaws 

The link to the details of the survey completed by the Royal Society for Public Health is available here https://www.rsph.org.uk/static/uploaded/d125b27c-0b62-41c5-a2c0155a8887cd01.pdf 

You can connect with the author – Suzanne Samaka via the following social media accounts:

  • Instagram – @protectyouthmentalhealth
  • Twitter – @SuzanneSamaka
  • #HonestyAboutEditing

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What's in a Name?

Malarvilie Krishnasamy portrait

Written by Malarvilie Krishnasamy

Mal is an education consultant specialising in leadership development, coaching in schools and SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development). Mal supports educational leaders to create a self-sustaining culture of professional development and is a Regional Leader for WomenEdSE and the Dorset Advocate for the MaternityCPD Project & a Healthy Toolkit Advocate.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet

Do names matter?

According to Shakespeare, not so much.

My name is Malarvilie. It may seem unusual but in India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka amongst the Tamil, Malayalam and Telungu communities (about 200 million people) it’s the equivalent of Sharon or Kate.

In my parents’ culture, the father’s first name is the family surname. My dad’s name was Krishna and his dad’s name was Rajaiyan. When the British closed down their naval base in Singapore, my dad became jobless but was offered a British passport as Britain needed workers. As he had 3 kids he jumped at the chance to work in the ‘motherland’. On his passport, the British added the ‘samy’ to Krishna. They did this often. Ever wondered why there are so many Patels in India? Much like ‘Jones’ for the Welsh and in Ireland, the English changed many names e.g.instead of Tadgh, they’d rename them ‘Tim’.

Malar means flower. Vilie means eyes. It sounded like I looked like an alien when I was born. I’ve clearly grown into my eyes. So they named me Malarvilie which together means a flower in bloom. My husband, Tim rips me to pieces every now and then about it.

When I was born, my dad wanted my grandad’s name added to my birth certificate as it’s an ancient Indian name and he was proud to have a child born in London. But my parents’ English wasn’t great in 1973. So my birth certificate says my name is Malarvilie Krishnasamy Rajaiyan. Even at my dad’s funeral, his name was wrong. When I mentioned it, a family member said ‘Oh he didn’t mind’. Is that the point? I also believe he did mind.

The Ting Tings understood!

https://youtu.be/v1c2OfAzDTI

In certain cultures they don’t correct you. In the UK there’s an awful habit of changing names to suit the English pallet. Or worse, it’s changed for you. Age 3, my childminder called me Mandy.

I’ve had a range of nicknames over the years:

– Mandy

– Malibu

– Milli Vanilli

– Mallory

My favourites are: ‘Malarvilie Christened-a-Salami’. I also found ‘Malarvilie Ham-bacon-Sarny’ amusing.

Even my parents called me Malar. Apparently by the time they said ‘vilie’, I was already there. 

But since 6th form I’ve been Mal.

Teaching

As a teacher, in our first lesson together, I’d tell the kids all the nicknames I’ve had and put on the board Krish/na/sa/my. I’d say I’ve heard all the nicknames as a kid but I couldn’t do anything then, now as a teacher I can hand out detentions! I’d also say I expect them to say my name properly and I will ensure I say their name properly. Some children would say ‘Call me whatever’. But I’d insist they tell me how to say their name. 

As a teacher in one school, on my first day I introduced myself to staff as Malarvilie. Within a few hours everyone was calling me Mal, without permission, some without trying, some with a look of panic asking ‘do you have a short version?’ It was disheartening.

Smash the Patriarchy!

We got married in September. I didn’t change my name, as it’s my name. But Tim added Rajaiyan to his name. Our 2 kids have Rajaiyan as their middle names. It means ‘victorious king’. Our eldest is named Taigh Rajaiyan McCullagh, you can see his heritage in his name – Indian Irish. I feel a sense of pride when I see my children’s names in print. 

In the last 30 years, no one has called me Malarvilie until now.

I moved to Spain. At passport control in Valencia, the guy looked at my name and said ‘Malarvilie’ I nodded in shock and he asked ‘Is that correct?’ It was perfect. The Spaniards roll their ‘r’s so it’s easy for them. They’re also not afraid of long names. Unfortunately, Mal means’ bad’ or ‘evil’ in Spanish so saying ‘My name is Mal’ would be problematic. So, I introduce myself as Malarvilie. Tim has started calling me Malarvilie too as introducing me as ‘evil’ doesn’t feel right to him.

In Spain, in a funny way I feel more whole and less apologetic for my heritage.

So, what’s in a name? A lot actually.

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An Ongoing Marriage Bar in Education?

Emma Sheppard portrait

Written by Emma Sheppard

Emma founded The MTPT Project, the UK's charity for parent teachers, in 2016 when on maternity leave with her first child. She has 12 years experience as an English teacher, Lead Practitioner and ITT Lead, and now runs The MTPT Project full time.

Of all the protected characteristics, considering the relevance of ‘marriage and civil partnership’ to our education sector might leave us scratching our heads a little.  In its most obvious form, discrimination according to this characteristic can play out in interview or progression scenarios where prejudices around employees’ stability, current or future priorities or flight risk might play in their favour, or against.  There are also overlaps to consider here with the protected characteristics of pregnancy and maternity, and sexual orientation, especially given the welcome changes to marriage law in the UK over the last decade.

However, recent research from The MTPT Project has revealed that being married or in a long-term partnership can have an impact on teacher retention, particularly amongst heterosexual mothers.  In our three-year study into female teachers aged 30-39 who had stayed in, or left teaching, relationships with husbands and partners played a part in teachers’ decisions to leave the profession.  But what nuance is their behind these findings, and what can we do to avoid discrimination towards teachers in marriages or civil partnerships if this variable seems to spell out bad news?

Firstly, it’s important to note that this research is ongoing: The MTPT Project are yet to release a report on the role that husbands or partners play in keeping teachers in the profession, or supporting their progression.  What’s more, far from instigating teachers’ decisions to leave the classroom, husbands and partners were found to act more symbolically as a mirror, or foil to other much larger issues that affect our workforce, whether teachers are married or not.

In this aspect of the study, interviews revealed the following:

Where teachers in the study were the lower wage earner, decisions around their husband / partner’s job took priority.  So when it came to relocation, reduction of hours, or taking on a heavier domestic load, a teacher was lost to the profession because… well, her husband’s job was more important – it paid the bills!  But isn’t this simply a reflection of the gender pay gap that persists both in education and British society as a whole, and the continuing likelihood for women – particularly mothers – to take on the majority of caring and domestic duties?

When teachers in the study were stressed and burnt out, it was their husbands who were both negatively impacted, and who provided the voice of reason and compassion.  Interview participants told stories of interventions around mental health, improved relationships once they’d stopped teaching and generally happier family units.  But aren’t husbands simply providing the echo here to persistent reports around poor wellbeing that pervade the entire profession?

When teachers in the study had the time – often during maternity leave or school holidays – to reflect and look for an escape route, they compared their jobs with their partners’.  Even when they saw a lower wage, they saw greater flexibility, better benefits packages, higher levels of praise, and better work-life balance.  But doesn’t this simply hold a mirror up to the rigidity and exhausting workload we continue to find in some of our schools that make life particularly difficult for the 54% of our workforce who have childcare responsibilities, and which prematurely drives our young teachers out of the profession in droves?

Just over half of our population in England and Wales are married or in a civil partnership, so discrimination against an employee or interview candidate on the grounds of marriage or civil partnership would be (to pinch a phrase from a local dad in the park) ‘pissing against the wind’.  We’d end up with very few teachers left if we discriminated in this way!  However, The MTPT Project’s study shows that the overlap between the three protected characteristics of sex, pregnancy and maternity, and marriage and civil partnership can leave women in particular needing greater systemic supports from our schools – support that would benefit every member of staff, regardless of their demographic.

Want to reduce the risk of losing the married mothers on your team?  Work towards addressing the gender pay gap in your school or academy trust; provide greater flexibility; reduce workload; listen to feedback to understand the practical steps that will improve colleagues’ wellbeing, and provide extended paternity leave packages that help to share out the domestic load from the moment that baby is born.

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We Wish You an Inclusive Christmas

Shuaib Khan portrait

Written by Shuaib Khan

Shuaib is a teacher, sociologist, poet and podcaster.

As the holiday season approaches, this can become a powerful point of reflection for schools on how inclusive their practices are. This is especially the case for how schools cater for the needs of staff and pupils who have mixed feelings about the festive period as they don’t celebrate Christmas. In this blog (originally published on the Leader’s Digest), we will be looking at ten ways your school can make Christmas celebrations more inclusive.

What is inclusion?

Diversity, inclusion, equality and equity are used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and interpretations. Many schools have their own equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) leaders in an effort to promote fairness, access and equity. During the Christmas period, there is a need to think about alternative provisions for those who, for whatever reason, do not wish to partake in festive activities. So, how do we define ‘inclusion’?

The diversity network Diverse Educators (DiverseEd) provide us with the following definition of ‘inclusion’.

Inclusion is the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organisation’s success.

School communities are not homogenous and not every member of staff or pupils will celebrate Christmas. For some, the holiday season can evoke bad memories and the feeling of being excluded as everyone else enjoys school productions, secret Santa, Christmas lunch and the rest of the exciting festive activities. So, how can your school make Christmas inclusive?

DiverseEd reminds us that inclusion should not be viewed  as just  an add-on but rather as an institution-wide point of reference to meet the needs of everyone in your care. Inclusion should be practiced all year round and not just at the sight of a Christmas tree or at the smell of freshly baked mince pies. The conversation about inclusion is nuanced, requires deep personal reflection and remembering that the holiday season can bring mixed feelings. Leader’s Digest recommendations to make Christmas more inclusive is part of, rather than a substitute for your school-wide equality, diversity and inclusion ethos.

Ten ways my school can make Christmas more inclusive

Create a diverse planning committee

Planning Christmas events requires planning and preparation. As a school leader, having a  planning committee that is representative of your school community is one way you can ensure a diverse range of views, ideas and thoughts are heard. Planning committees could be made up of support staff, including teaching assistants and also staff who don’t celebrate Christmas. Your school’s Christmas events planning committee can be an excellent way of understanding the individual needs of your fellow colleagues and also of pupils. In making necessary adjustments or alternative arrangements for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, a diverse planning committee can help identify challenges and collaboratively find solutions.

Having an interfaith calendar

As the festive season approaches, it is important to remember that other faiths will have important events and traditions taking place too and these deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated too. For example, Hanukkah which is an eight-day long Jewish festival begins on November 28th and ends on December 6th. Also, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th. Both of these religious events take place as the Christmas festive season commences. Your school’s interfaith calendar can be a powerful tool to plan celebrations for these respected faiths all year round and make staff and pupils feel respected and valued. An interfaith calendar can also help avoid scheduling mistakes, plan celebrations and guide your schools religious/PSHE curriculum.

Allowing staff and pupils to opt out

An important element of inclusion is offering people options. Staff and pupils should be allowed to opt out of Christmas celebrations if they wish to without fear of judgement or sanction. Christmas can be a really challenging time for some people and as a school leader, if a colleague or pupil doesn’t wish to partake, their wishes should be respected. A big part of inclusion is respecting others, their preferences and allowing them to have the autonomy to not participate.

Make events optional/voluntary

As with allowing staff and pupils to opt out, festive events should be optional and voluntary. Organising Christmas plays or concerts is often done in non-contact time and a lot of invisible labour takes place to make these events happen. School leaders should reiterate that attending events is always optional and that there will be no pressure or judgement if they cannot attend. For some staff, it is not necessarily the case of being unable to make the commitment to after school rehearsals or concert preparation, but rather they have additional responsibilities outside of work. The wellbeing of staff is of paramount importance in making festive events fulfilling and worthwhile for all.

Provide food options

Food is an integral part of Christmas. To ensure all staff and pupils feel included, just as your school canteen would do, catering for all dietary requirements and personal preferences is key. For example, a good idea would be to have separate tables with vegetarian, vegan,  gluten-free, Halal, or Kosher food. Another option would be to relay information to pupils and parents about the options and alternatives available during the Christmas period. These are small provisions which will make staff and pupils feel more welcome and included in the Christmas festivities. Going forwards, it is also a really important way of getting to know your staff and pupils. Further to this could be to avoid offering alcohol to staff who don’t drink to avoid offending or alienating them.

Ask staff what they want

How many times have you been stumped on ideas for a secret Santa gift or just unsure if a colleague will like how the school celebrates Christmas? Asking staff what they want is an excellent way to plan Christmas celebrations in your school. This does not mean you have to hand over powers to staff but rather use their intricate knowledge of the pupils to guide your decision making. As a school leader, having ideas put towards you from staff can help refresh how your school embraces the festive season. In liaison with staff, certain practices from previous years that didn’t go well can be rectified or replaced. For example, Christmas jumper day. If a significant proportion of your pupils cannot afford to participate, they will feel excluded. This could easily be replaced with something more cost effective for the local community such as a Christmas tombola. Asking staff, who know the pupils and the school community incredibly well, this can help make Christmas a more inclusive experience for everyone.

Be mindful of the cost

Recently Teaching Assistant’s Digest completed a series of articles on TA pay. Christmas is an additional cost, especially for TAs and support staff who are already facing financial hardships. A £50 staff Christmas meal may seem like a small amount but for support staff, that £50 is days worth of earnings. Part of an inclusive model is including groups who have historically been excluded and TAs definitely fit this criteria. Where possible, if staff events are free or at a reduced cost, SLT should be mindful of this. It’s all good inviting everyone which could easily be interpreted as ‘inclusion’ but what about those who cannot afford to attend? Just because everyone has a seat doesn’t mean everyone can afford to eat! School leaders should also encourage support staff not to spend their own money on school Christmas events such as parties. If they do, an opportunity to reimburse them should be available.

Offer holidays to staff and pupils of other faiths

Again, a part of having an interfaith calendar is knowing exactly when other faiths have their traditions and celebrations. Christmas is a holiday season for everyone but throughout the academic year, other faiths will have traditions and festivals that will require staff and pupils to have time off to observe and celebrate. For example, Eid or Diwaali. Staff and pupils should be entitled to an appropriate number of days to celebrate their religious festivals. As a school leader, it is important to empower your staff with the confidence to request time off and for pupils to feel as though their school values their faith. This can also be done by allowing all staff and pupils to understand the importance of different religious festivals through embedding these into the curriculum and the schools wider inclusive ethos.

Invite feedback

As a school leader, first and foremost, you are a reflective practitioner. The nature of education is that there will always be opportunities to reflect, improve and do better. If a specific event didn’t go too well, encouraging your staff to come forwards and provide feedback is how you can get things right next time. Inviting feedback is the ultimate way of highlighting what worked well and finding areas for development. Feedback could be anonymous, drop-in, staff surveys or asking the pupils about how they found Christmas celebrations at school.

See inclusive practices over Christmas an extension of inclusion

Inclusion should not be something that is centred around December or nativity. As a school leader, it is important to realise that creating a more inclusive festive period for everyone at your school is one step in the right direction. Inclusion is an on-going cultural process of learning, understanding, supporting and of course, including others. Christmas is an opportunity to embed inclusive practices which themselves should permeate throughout your school and enrich everyone along the way.

Although this list is not exhaustive, we hope that it can give you some food for thought. How are you going to make Christmas an inclusive experience in your school? At Leader’s Digest we would love to hear from you.

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Still a Challenge: Raising Awareness of and Tackling Islamophobia

Saira Hassan portrait

Written by Saira Hassan

Senior Education, Training and Strategy Officer at EqualiTeach. Trustee for CareStart. Saira is determined to create a better future for disadvantaged individuals so they can showcase their talents, always striving to pass on her knowledge, experience and expertise to others.

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month, established in 2012 ‘to deconstruct and challenge the stereotypes about Islam and Muslims’. In this blog post I will be sharing some definitions of Islamophobia, real life examples, personal experiences and my thoughts on how we can reject and tackle Islamophobia to create a more inclusive environment for all. 

What is Islamophobia?

So, what is Islamophobia? The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Muslims state “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness” (All-Party Parliamentary Group, 2018). Alternatively, MEND defines Islamophobia as “a prejudice, aversion, hostility, or hatred towards Muslims and encompasses any distinction, exclusion, restriction, discrimination, or preference against Muslims that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” Islamophobia has become a systemic and institutional problem preventing many Muslims from progressing in the workplace, having a complete sense of freedom and being able to feel comfortable within school, the workplace and general society. 

One sector where we can clearly see that Islamophobia is rampant is within the media. Miqdaad Versi, Director of Media Monitoring at the Muslim Council of Britain has singlehandedly spent many hours highlighting the gravity of the situation. Miqdaad has been described as the “UK’s one-man Islamophobia media monitor”. A 2018 Guardian news article on Versi’s fight against Islamophobia revealed that out of 24,750 articles on Muslims that he had recorded since August 2016, 14,129 were negative. A 2007 study revealed that 91% of articles on Muslims and Islam published in one week were negative painting an inaccurate and negative picture of Muslims in the minds of readers. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has stated that the media are complicit in the increase of Islamophobic views and attacks because of the “daily poisoning” exhibited against British Muslims by the media. 

“Still a Challenge for Us All”

Often people may have an unconscious bias towards Muslim students or colleagues which clouds their judgement. The Runnymede Trust published a report in 1997 titled ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’ which highlighted the extent of Islamophobia across the United Kingdom. 20 years later they published another report ‘Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All’ which reiterated the extent of the deeply entrenched Islamophobia . The report states “As with many Black and minority ethnic groups, Muslims experience disadvantage and discrimination in a wide range of institutions and environments, from schools to the labour market to prisons to violence on the street.” There are now countless case studies that highlight the mistreatment that Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim are facing. 

“As a visibly Muslim woman the shock I felt was evident instantly. I had to take a moment to absorb what I was hearing. As the workshop lead, I felt I had to pause before hearing other experiences of identity-based bullying in case I could no longer carry on.”

In the last fortnight I have personally heard examples of Islamophobia when delivering workshops in schools. Most recently, whilst discussing identity-based bullying, when asked to share an example of where they had witnessed Islamophobia, a Year 8 student revealed a time when a Muslim student volunteered to take part in a play during a History lesson, another student shouted out that the play was not about terrorism, therefore the Muslim student wasn’t required. I have since shared this example with other settings and the shock, horror and heart-breaking feeling that I experienced the first time has not disappeared. Other examples included Muslim girls having their hijab pulled off. As a visibly Muslim woman the shock I felt was evident instantly. I had to take a moment to absorb what I was hearing. As the workshop lead, I felt I had to pause before hearing other experiences of identity-based bullying in case I could no longer carry on. I did not want the students to stop sharing their experiences, but I had to take a moment to compose myself. This was the impact of just hearing the incident, I wondered how the young students who experienced these forms of Islamophobia had felt in those moments. Did anyone stand up for them? Were they confident enough to challenge this themselves? Did the class teacher step in and use this moment as a learning tool to educate the class about Islamophobia? Did the classroom teacher check-in with the Muslim student and other Muslim students in the classroom? Has the school recorded this incident? Many questions whizzed through my mind. 

What surprised me further was the lack of intervention from teachers and other members of staff, and the lack of awareness of how to deal with identity-based or prejudice-related bullying. Our advice when prejudice-related incidents take place is for teachers to always intervene and challenge, as well as record each incident to see trends and find solutions to prevent prejudice-related incidents. Each school and educational setting should have a robust procedure in place to tackle any type of prejudice-related bullying. Although there are many teachers that would intervene, it is unfortunate that many feel unequipped to do so, or simply ignore the matter. 

Islamophobia in the workplace

Within the workplace many Muslims have also experienced Islamophobia. I have personally experienced a lack of understanding of my religion, my choices to wear the hijab, and judgement for choosing to fast during Ramadan by previous employers. For example, at that age of 18 whilst working for a leading Law firm, my manager often made jokes regarding fasting and would often say no one could see me therefore I could break my fast. In another incident, a joke was made about removing my hijab to show everyone my hair. I often wonder why these individuals felt entitled enough to make such derogatory comments about my religion and religious choice. More recently in my previous position, I and other Muslim colleagues often had lengthy discussions about how we would ask for time off for Eid as there was a culture of negativity towards asking for a day off to celebrate with our loved ones. I recall many Muslim colleagues choosing to work rather than have the difficult conversation to request leave. Other colleagues were asked to cancel other annual leave to keep a day spare for Eid and many were told to teach their morning lessons then have the afternoon off. If supply staff could be called in at the last minute to cover sickness, why could supply staff not be given a few days or weeks’ notice to allow for a Muslim teacher to celebrate Eid?

A research report co-compiled by Dr Suriya Bi and Muslim Women Connect found that 47.2% of women stated they had encountered Islamophobia and discrimination as a challenge in the workplace. One woman revealed: “Colleagues would ridicule me when fasting, asking ‘are you still starving or whatever’. Colleagues would ask me to talk about Muslims and things she’d see in the media, as if I was the spokesperson for the entire religion. Colleagues would jokingly put alcohol glasses in my face asking if I wanted to drink it. Colleagues would get annoyed when I said I couldn’t go to the pub.” (Muslim Women Connect and Bi, 2020: 29).

Furthermore, members of the Muslim community are often expected to speak up when terrorist organisations misuse the religion of Islam. Speaking up for your community, or religious group, is a very personal choice, but Muslims are expected to condemn terrorist attacks as if they are to blame or have a part to play. This can have a detrimental impact on someone’s mental and physical health, as well as forcing them to question their position in the environment. 

The gravity of attacks against women and girls

Muslim women and girls are often singled out as the focus of Islamophobia rhetoric and attacks. The 1997 Runnymede Report highlighted the gravity of attacks against women. The anniversary report in 2018 further explained how Muslim girls and women continued to face even more Islamophobic hate, especially concerning their freedom of speech and dress. Often women are mislabelled as oppressed and their choice to adopt the hijab (headscarf) or niqab (veil) is framed as forced and disempowering. Muslim men are then labelled as misogynistic and controlling (Runnymede Trust, 2018). Stereotypes like this are denying Muslim men and women of their agency. Increasingly, men and women are bravely sharing the Islamophobic hate they have experienced. 

“Islamophobic comments from an impolite customer regarding the hijab telling me that she wished I wouldn’t wear ‘that thing’ as British women had fought for the right to vote and do what they wanted and not for people ‘like me’ to have to wear it.” (Muslim Women Connect and Bi, 2020: 29). 

Most recently, Zarah Sultana Labour MP for Coventry South bravely shared her experience of receiving Islamophobic hate which you can watch here. Zarah Sultana continues to fight against Islamophobia within politics and continues to encourage more young Muslim people to join the political arena to ensure there is fair representation.

From these testaments and my personal experiences it is clear that Islamophobia is still a problem. I recently read a personal account of an employee being treated unfairly because they requested time to perform their daily prayers and was timed throughout their break. The afternoon prayers take approximately 10 minutes to complete, often even just 5 minutes. The image below sums up exactly how some organisations need to change their views towards any type of religious observance, and what they should be doing to be more inclusive for their Muslim employees and Muslim students. It is extremely important that we all work together, as a collective, to undo the unconscious bias that revolves around Islam and Muslims, to work towards a more accurate understanding of Islam and Muslims across the world.

Going forward

Organisations

  • Engage in EDI training 
  • Don’t force any of your Muslim employees to be the spokesperson for their community 
  • Do ask how they are when horrific events happen where the Muslim community feel blamed or held responsible by others, offer support and guidance, they might want to discuss something but there should be no pressure for them to act as a spokesperson.
  • Evaluate your policies – are they inclusive for all? 
  • Ensure that there are clear mechanisms where employees can report discrimination and harassment and clear procedures as to how these are dealt with, which all managers are aware of and implement consistently
  • Create an inclusive environment which provides opportunities for employees to engage with their faith and accommodates time off for religious festivals
  • Engage in anti-Islamophobia events and training 

EqualiTeach can provide bespoke support for organisations doing this work. Find out more here: Workplace EDI support

Educational institutions

  • Deliver anti-Islamophobia workshops with young people
  • Create robust procedures to tackle prejudice-related incidents and bullying and ensure that all students and staff are aware of how to report incidents and have reassurance that these will be consistently dealt with and not dismissed
  • Diversify your curriculum so that it is truly representative of the wider community and allows you to address any misconceptions young people might have about Islam or Muslims
  • Ask all students if they would like to share parts of their faith and/or culture with the class – ensure this is a personal choice and not enforced on young people and that young people are not singled out or put on the spot. 
  • Invite Muslim speakers from all backgrounds to come and share their experiences with your students

Find out more about the services EqualiTeach provides to support schools with this work here: Equality services for education settings

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