Associate Dean at Ravensbourne University in Greenwich, London, James Ward’s work is predominantly centred around further education and community engagement. We sat down with him and talked about what representation and diversity in education look like, from his perspective.
What do you love the most about your role as an Associate Dean?
You get to have influence in a positive way. When you’re a lecturer or a course leader, you have a different level of influence as you go up, the higher you get. Deans are responsible for institutional strategy. So you can look into things which you feel are important to students.
What inspires or motivates you in the work that you do?
My students! It’s all about their experience, so referring back to when I was a student and when I used to teach. I think about the young people (and not-so young people), who come through the doors at Ravensbourne, I think what is it that they need to be able to learn, to be able to achieve and to get their best; whether that’s in their degree, post-grad or employment.
Do you draw upon your experience as a student and maybe the things that you would like to have seen?
Yeah, I think it’s really important. When I was growing up, at school and universities, there wasn’t really much positive role modelling, so you could never actually see anyone of your background or anyone of your understanding. So I think if you have that as a context to how you’ve learnt, and you know that that’s what held you back, when you’re in my position in education, you should be trying to think about how different types of students respond in different ways within their learning. Thinking about how you can support each of them.
What does representation mean to you?
So there’s visual representation… When you look around a room (we all do it), you walk into a room and scan the room thinking “is there anyone that looks like me?
Representation is school kids being able to look up and say “I could be that person” or “they look like me”. “They’re doing that degree or that job, I could do that too.” If you can’t see, hear or read about someone who represents your cultural context, then I think it’s quite hard to find your place in that world or in that society.
Is that something you address within your role and in community engagement?
Yes, part of my role is community engagement and we work a lot in Greenwich, which contrary to popular belief, is one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. It also has a very transient community and a lot of migration. Where people come to start life in the UK and then move on, so you’ve got a lot of mixed cultures in that environment.
What would you say diversity means to you?
Well, what it says on the tin. If you look at London, it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world. London on a surface level does show a lot of diversity, you can’t say London is not diverse but, it doesn’t have equality. Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean equality, London is diverse but it is not equal.
Have you ever studied any art subjects, do you do any art yourself?
I originally studied printed textiles, and then I had a studio for a few years and then I went into teaching. Since then, I have stopped. All I do now is go to exhibitions and look at student’s work to get inspiration, but I don’t produce anything.
Why did you stop?
Two reasons, when I was a textile designer we didn’t have computers so it was all by hand. Me and my friend had a screen printing studio so we screen printed everything, which was pretty expensive to run so you don’t really make much money. I had always thought I wanted to be a designer in that environment but then when I got there I found it quite boring. I’m a people person and I realised it was too isolated for me and I wanted to be surrounded by people, and I get a lot of buzz from working with people and that’s why I moved into teaching.
What sort of positive impact do you hope working with Shades of Noir, will make at Ravensbourne?
In my department at Ravensbourne, about 40-48% of students are non-white, so I think there is a visual diversity in terms of what we see. Ravensbourne itself has increased our pulls from BAME student groups by about 500% since we moved to Greenwich. Visually when you walk into Ravensbourne, you can see we are very diverse but I don’t think we as a community, as academics and even as students, we don’t talk actually about diversity that much. This will give the whole community, both staff and students, the opportunity to come together and discuss it.
When I’ve been to Shades of Noir events at UAL colleges, it has been great to see different types of people there. You’ve got students and staff, and people like me coming in just to listen, talk and debate. A little bit of argument is always good too, just to create disruption. Positive disruption is a good thing.