“The School has an important responsibility to speak out against inequality”: opening a dialogue about race

“The School has an important responsibility to speak out against inequality”: opening a dialogue about race

A new forum for discussing vital issues such as race, with respect to the School community and wider society, is being established in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the United States and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Created in close partnership with Vice-Captains Thomas Mgbor and Ayodimeji Ojelade, the platform seeks to enable thoughtful and open conversations about critical societal issues, not least race and discrimination. This would not only be within the context of anti-black racism, but, in time, other forms of racism such as anti-Asian, Islamophobic or Antisemitic racism, as well as covering a diverse range of global issues on which it is important to think critically.

Introducing the forum to their peers, Thomas and Ayodimeji wrote:

“As students at Queen Elizabeth’s we believe the school, like all organisations, has an important responsibility to highlight and to speak out against inequality in all of its forms. This responsibility is particularly important in promoting the rights of those students in already disadvantaged and marginalised groups.

“To act in the best interests of the student body, steps must be taken in developing the education that is provided by the School regarding issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and organisations which educate and act against all sorts of prejudice. Our School is in a significantly life-shaping position for ourselves and our peers, who must educate themselves holistically, in order to better understand different movements and gain a better understanding of the world and the global matters affecting it. This learning starts in an open and supportive school community in which we would ask all fellow students to be open-minded, tolerant and willing to tackle prejudice, racial or otherwise, when it occurs.

“We want to work with the School to provide resources to encourage this change. We are not aiming to educate our peers just to be ‘non-racist’, but to stimulate you to act on your own initiative and gain a more well-rounded view in order to become ‘anti-racist’. As students, we need to be informed about the global challenges that we face and do what we can, not only to raise awareness but so that we can tackle them ourselves.

“We are saying this in the belief that whatever problems society may face, there is always a way forward.

“We hope that the following resources may start to do so and would encourage fellow students to contribute to help us in making the necessary change.”

With the vast majority of pupils still working at home, due to the coronavirus restrictions, the forum begins as a new section within eQE (our virtual school). As more pupils return to School, over the coming weeks and months, further opportunities for discussion will become available.

Supporting the development, Headmaster, Neil Enright, said: “I hope that the new forum will provide a valuable and safe space in which all students can access resources and engage in open conversations about race and other matters important to them: to share their experiences, aid mutual understanding, and help us build a more equal and progressive community.

“This builds upon the work of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors, as well as the lecture programme and Personal Development Time curriculum. But we know as a School, as in wider society, there is much more to be done.”

“We are placing much greater and more explicit emphasis on developing and encouraging free-thinking scholarship in our pupils. That is supporting them to challenge conventional or ingrained ideas; to take conversations forward with fresh perspectives. As educators this is one of the most important things we can do: to get young people to question the world around them and then to be able to communicate their viewpoints as part of reasoned and informed debate.

“To support this, we must continually reflect on our own cultural awareness to ensure that our curricula, resources and priorities properly meet the needs of all our pupils.

“A priority within our forthcoming development plan is to conduct a thorough curriculum review, to ensure that the voices of minority or marginalised groups are fully reflected, and another is to understand what more we can be doing to attract under-represented groups to our community at all levels. Whilst we have pupils and staff to help shape this work, there is also a great potential resource among our alumni and we hope that Old Elizabethans will be keen to support us in these endeavours.

“I am proud that many pupils and OEs have been in contact to contribute to our reflections, and of the empathy shown for their peers. The energy and passion of young people can be a significant driver of positive change.

“It is deeply upsetting that in 2020 we should still need to state that black lives matter, but sadly this is where we find ourselves in the world today. Black lives do matter.

“We are a meritocratic and generally very harmonious School community, but should rightly guard against complacency. Maintaining dialogue with pupils is an important part of this, so I would encourage boys to engage positively within this new forum and with staff as we work together collaboratively.”