Interfaith Week 2018: Reflecting on inclusion and safeguarding

Nov 19, 2018
Last week was ‘Interfaith Week’ across the UK: an opportunity for different groups and communities (of all faiths and none) to come together through a range of activities to understand each other’s’ traditions, cultures, practices and histories. Universities and colleges across the UK used this week as a time for celebration and learning both within the institution, and with wider communities. Events were be organised by student unions, faith and interfaith societies, central equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) teams, as well as by individual staff and students.

For staff at all levels, including senior leaders, now could be the time to reflect on  on key equality principles: particularly fostering good relations between different groups, and advancing equality of opportunity.

Getting the foundations right:
Earlier this term we published our new guidance for institutions on Religion and belief: supporting inclusion of staff and students in higher education and colleges. This comprehensive new guidance provides recommendations, case studies, and background to a range of opportunities to support different faiths - and none - through the staff and student lifecycles, as well as the environment on and around campus.

The conversations around Interfaith week present a particularly useful time to ‘check in’ with different groups see how different needs are being supported. This is useful not only for new staff and students, but also if you’ve introduced new programmes, facilities or services.  However, as with all ‘awareness’ weeks be guarded against tokenism: be clear on how you’re going to continue conversations and take action on any issues which surface.

‘What works’ in prevention and response when things go wrong?
All students in the UK deserve to feel safe on or off campus, which is why we are working with the Office for Students (OfS) to support the 119 Catalyst funded student safeguarding projects aimed at tackling sexual misconduct, hate crime and online harassment in higher education (HE).  Advance HE is the independent evaluator of the Catalyst student safeguarding initiative.  Our role is to support and enable learning, exchange and dissemination of innovative and good practice, and help establish ‘what works’ in safeguarding students from and between the Catalyst-funded projects.

Our research so far has identified: the importance of engaging students in designing and delivering initiatives to help drive change and engage their peers; highly visible senior leadership buy-in is critical and needs to be at a level where risk is owned; reporting of incidents of sexual misconduct, hate crime and other forms of harassment should go to a provider’s governing body or sub-committee as this records what is being reported and what action is being taken across the whole institution; that embedding responsibility into institutional functions and roles can help towards sustaining the work once project funding ends; and that programmes and initiatives such as the Catalyst funding which recognises and presents safeguarding as a sector-wide issue is useful in helping to address institutions’ concerns around any potential reputational damage.

Eleven of the 119 projects, which started more recently in March 2018 and will run for two years, are addressing hate crime and harassment directed at students on the grounds of religion or belief specifically. OfS is bringing these projects together to form a collaborative, nationwide network of specialist knowledge and leading practice. Together the 11 projects are taking a range of innovative approaches as they seek to develop and share specialist knowledge and leading practice in this area, through:

Supporting academic research to create insights into the lived experience of students experiencing religiously-motivated hate crime and harassment, and to enhance our understanding of what strategies have and have not worked within different contexts.
Developing human libraries to foster dialogue and conversation.
Fostering meaningful, knowledge-exchange partnerships among HE and FE providers, and with specialist national organisations and stakeholders including NUS.
Creating and sharing open access resources such as reports, training materials, digital stories, guidance on effective, meaningful student engagement in anti-harassment campaigns and projects and a literacy tool to enhance the curriculum and other educational resources.
Producing a cadre of bystander-intervention trained, empowered and informed students and staff.
Looking forward
We are looking forward to working with the projects between now and March 2020 to help identify what works in addressing hate crime and harassment directed at students on the grounds of religion or belief, and to sharing our findings with the sector through a series of forthcoming reports, briefings and dissemination events.

Keep an eye out also for future events on the equality aspects of inclusion for different beliefs, and resources for work on ‘religion and belief’ inclusion.

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