Anti-racism at CfEY: Notes on our discussion

14th June 2020

The team at The Centre for Education and Youth came together on the 8th of June to talk about events following the killing of George Floyd and the deeper, long-running problem of systemic racism. This is a record of our discussion.

We reflected on how we operate as an organisation and considered our short- and longer-term responses.

We began by considering how we would conduct our discussion, and acknowledged that the vast majority of our team are white. We agreed that we would make space for silence and that the discussion would be chaired so that everyone had time to think about and then voice their reflections.

The team had been invited to share written thoughts in advance and Loic summarised these so that everyone could offer their responses.

Team members are feeling a mixture of difficult emotions. We are glad that society is finally asking itself big questions that it should have confronted a long time ago. Overall, the team felt it was important that, internally, we can and do have discussions about racism. We feel we should have these discussions more often and that we should report back to our board on this in future.

We considered whether we should be putting out an immediate ‘statement’ as many organisations have chosen to do. There were mixed views on this. Some felt that it is not our voice that needs amplifying right now, and that statements can be superficial – instead it is what we do in the future that matters. Others felt that fear of getting something like this wrong can paralyse action and could mean we stay silent when we have at least some power and influence over the system and should be using this for good. We agreed this summary of our discussion would serve as our statement and that for now we want to spend time listening and reflecting.

In the longer run we felt it would be important to look at key internal and external documents like our ‘standard operating procedures’ and website, and to think how these could be adapted to better reflect our position. We might want to consider a specific ‘anti-racism statement’, or we might want to make a wider comment on how structurally entrenched power imbalances affect young people, as part of our vision of a society which ensures all children and young people can make a fulfilling transition to adulthood.

Beyond statements, we reflected on our practices as an organisation and where we could and should reflect a commitment to anti-racism in our work. We thought about the topics we work on and how our research priorities might be reshaped. We already have an interest in doing more work on school exclusion, young offenders and young people in the care system; all of these issues are linked to systemic racism, disproportionately affecting young black people, but it is important we don’t behave as though we can ‘tick-off’ an anti-racist box by working on a particular topic. We also noted differing views amongst the team as to whether or not it was appropriate to highlight our existing research on related topics at this moment in time.

As well as what we research, we discussed how we conduct research, building on our 2018 statement on “Making the Case for Research”. We discussed what an anti-racist approach to research would look like, considering for example how we apply different lenses, how we recognise and respond to power dynamics when conducting field work and how we respond if clients are unwilling to recognise issues linked to systemic racism. We also noted that it is not for us to assume what research communities might want us to focus on and that we should listen to them in shaping our priorities.

Next we discussed keeping our own house in order and improving our approach to recruitment and progression within the organisation. We noted once again that most of our staff are white, particularly at a senior level (where we are also now also predominantly a male team). Whilst this is partly a consequence of several BAME (and female) members of staff making positive steps into influential roles elsewhere over recent years, we need to do all we can to ensure a diverse range of individuals progress through the organisation in future.  We also noted that although our board is majority BAME, we do not have any black directors and that conflating different BAME groups can be problematic. We therefore reflected on how we might make improvements internally, noting that there is very helpful guidance available in the McGregor Smith Review on Race in the Workplace which could point the way to adjustments to our recruitment and progression processes.

Finally we discussed how we can use our power to amplify diverse voices. We are all keen to widen our networks and we want to build relationships with a range of organisations. Too often, amplifying diverse voices involves amplifying the same diverse voices on the specific topic of race (or other forms of marginalisation that might affect them). We noted our mixed track record here, generally bringing together fairly diverse panels but having made unacceptable mistakes in the past. We also recognised that we too rarely have people with disabilities as part of our panels.

In future we want to support new voices to access influential platforms and as Iesha Small pointed out on Woman’s Hour, this should be to talk about a range of topics, not just race. This includes using our social media clout to do so. We also questioned whether there might sometimes be people or organisations we should avoid associating with, noting at the same time the need to balance this with our commitment to bridging divides.

The ideas we discussed will take time to build into our DNA but we share a desire to do so, even if we do not yet know exactly what it will look like yet. We know this will be a long game, but if all children and young people are to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood this will require society to comprehensively address systemic power imbalances like structural racism.