Mindy Chen-Wishart, Dean of the Law Faculty and Professor of Contract Law has launched the #RaceMeToo Twitter campaign. She aims to fight prejudice faced by BAME academics and students.
Professor Chen-Wishart was born in Taiwan as one of four daughters of an Olympic gymnastics coach, and became an immigrant to New Zealand at the age of 10, before she was attracted to Oxford with a Rhodes Visiting Fellowship. But, nearly thirty years of experience at this institution and the prestigious deanship of a faculty have not prevented her from facing regular racial harassment.
Even in the last few weeks, a man subjected her and her three sons to a torrent of racist abuse in the street. Facilities management interrogated her before allowing entrance into her own office. In a reply to Cherwell, she noted an exchange with a member of facilities management who asked her “Who do you have an appointment with?”
Professor Chen-Wishart responded: “I am the Dean”.
New to Twitter, she decided to use the platform to share some of her experiences as a BAME academic. What followed was an outpouring of support, recognition and solidarity.
Tweeting under ‘#RaceMeToo’ she and other BAME academics used the hashtag to illustrate the casual racism that they face in their everyday careers.
Similarly, a recent inquiry held by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that a quarter of ethnic minority students had experienced racial harassment.
Responses to #RaceMeToo have ranged from shock at her experiences to solidarity from non-BAME people. But mostly, what followed was recognition. “Recognition of having experienced the same, relief that their extremely hurtful (“humiliating”) experiences were being aired and called out by someone who had ‘made it’.”
Speaking to Cherwell, Professor Chen-Wishart said: “We all have unconscious bias. To deny it is an oxymoron. We need to be capable of transcending our own subjectivity, to enter the world of others, and to care enough not to hurt or exclude them.”
Beyond that, she detailed some expectations of the University:
“(i) Listen to POC. Invite them to share their experiences as students, as academics, researchers, and staff. Have a campaign.
“(ii) Signal from the top the importance of diversity and inclusion, and continue to do so. Allocate proper resources to it…
“(iii) Enhance training of support services (especially [Facilities Management] and porters) beyond the current unconscious bias and customer service, so that POC are not constantly challenged and made to feel they don’t belong. The impact can be devastating.
“(iv) Put E&D representation on the appointment panels. This is important not just for race, but for all protected characteristics.
“(v) Recognise the Cultural taxation on POC; i.e. extra work that Faculty of Colour do to serve the University’s needs for ethnic representation on committees, or to demonstrate knowledge and commitment to a cultural group, which, though it may bring accolades to the institution, is not usually rewarded by the institution on whose behalf the service was performed…
“(vi) Act: Do ask for more information, more data, more interpretation, more papers and reports. But, don’t delay acting until the never never when academics are fully satisfied they are doing the right thing.”
Professor Chen-Wishart added: “‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference’ – Elie Wiesel. This is the intangible but consequential stuff of unconscious bias. While it is no longer legal to discriminate against POC, women, disabled, and other minorities, we are often not admitted into the natural and easy social circle of belonging.”
By using her platform to change that indifference, Professor Chen-Wishart hopes to ensure that marginalised groups will feel they belong too.
Image: Professor Chen-Wishart © Warden and Fellows of Merton College; portrait by Ander McIntyre