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Call for University of Sussex to condemn racism in research funding

5th September 2020

Dear Professor Becker,

We write to ask for the University’s public support for a recent open letter condemning racism in research funding. The letter, written by ten Black women involved in UK research and addressed to UKRI, was prompted by a funding call which saw £0 of £4.3 million awarded to Black academic leads in a UKRI- and NIHR- funded study to explore Covid-19 and its disproportionate effect on different racialised communities.

As the authors of the letter write, “Members of affected communities should be leaders in the response and not just be supportive voices within the research framework”. They explain the importance of this call: “Black and ‘BAME’ communities have taken on roles that yield high risk of exposure due to increased face-to-face frontline contact within the NHS and in essential services. Many have lost their lives to help this country in the response. This is a matter of life and death for our community. Research affects policy and policy directly affects our lives.”

The letter has so far been signed by over 2,500 people.

Despite the force of this collective call for justice from within and beyond British academia, the letter and the issues it raises have so far not been met with the necessary institutional attention or urgency. To date, UKRI have agreed for their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team to meet for just 45 minutes with the authors of the letter. No executives are scheduled to attend.

The question of the exclusion of Black researchers from the British research landscape is not an issue to be siloed off to an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion department but rather should be central to the conversations shaping the very future of research in the UK. The problem is particularly acute in this case, because good research on race, racism and Covid-19 will necessarily be indebted to Black critical thought, as is evident from the open letter’s contestation of the terms of the research call itself, which homogenises different experiences and racialised positions into the single category of ‘BAME’. Black scholars should be supported in, and not excluded from, leading research into racial disparities and Covid-19. Executives at UKRI should meet with the authors of the letter and take this matter seriously.

As a call to acknowledge and dismantle systemic racism in research institutions, the open letter is about transparency, accountability and systems working as they should. As Dr. Addy Adelaine, an author of the open letter, discovered, one person who sat on the UKRI assessment panel is connected to three out of the six awards. But the letter is also about changing academia and research as we know it, moving away from the current system and its entrenchment of structural inequities towards less harmful modes of knowledge production. This problem may be particularly visible in this funding call about Covid-19 and societal racism, but Black scholars are marginalised throughout academia.

We therefore ask the University of Sussex to issue a statement supporting the open letter, as Loughborough University has already done. The authors of the letter are hosting a Knowledge Equity event on Thursday 10 September 2020. We request that the University issue its statement in time for this event and that a member of the University’s Executive Group attend as part of the University’s work towards the Race Equality Charter.

The Sussex statement on the Black Lives Matter movement cited an observation from the University’s own Strategic Framework, that: “If there was ever a time for a great university to stand on the sidelines, this isn’t it.” With thanks to the authors of the open letter, Addy Adelaine, Chisomo Kalinga, Furaha Asani, Ruth Ngozika Agbakoba, Natasha Smith, Olumide Adisa, Janine Francois, Michelle King-Okoye, Paulette Williams, Ruby Zelzer, we ask you now to invoke that observation by publicly supporting their work.

Yours sincerely,

Sussex UCU Executive


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