Who would have thought it, me representing Shades of Noir and UAL at an International Conference in Toronto, Canada. Last year I had faced redundancy despite at the same time receiving a UAL teaching award 2016 (http://shadesofnoir.org.uk/melodie-holliday-an-interview/). It was a worrying time for me punctuated by the fact that I loved my work as a lecturer.
Toronto is a huge sprawling city with extra wide roads and sharp angular pristine high rise apartments, where the cities professionals will no doubt live. My first impression was to wonder where the listed historical buildings are as this is what I realised I love about London. The history of London’s architecture was suddenly something of a comforting memory as I prepared to explore this city which is on the verge of structural new build change. I am accompanied by Charisse who is a 2nd year Journalism student at UAL and a content developer at Shades of Noir, she is also presenting at the Conference.
As I settled into my hotel room wondering how I was ever going to get used to the 5 hour time difference between Toronto and the UK, I looked forward to settling in and delivering my presentation at the Seventeenth International conference on Diversity in Organizations, Communities & Nations at the University of Toronto.
On the first day of the conference, I attended a talking circle entitled Identity and Belonging. This was a particularly interesting way to start the conference as all the participants talked about what the title meant to them. The discussion quickly turned to the subject of race and students finding a sense of belonging in their studies. As this was the subject of my presentation I had a lot to contribute to this area. I found many of the scholarly participants in this discussion very open and willing to talk about these issues. I was very pleased that a conference describing itself as representing diversity in organisations should start off with such honest and open dialogue. I really find it quite disturbing when I have attended meetings and or conferences around the subject of inequality in the past where I have witnessed some people who are very nervous about discussing anything to do with race. In my experience people are quite happy to skirt around key arguments, issues and/or experiences. I find that kind of behaviour totally frustrating. This exchange was far more interesting because having attended the Race champions forum https://myintranet.arts.ac.uk/staffandstudents/diversity/race-and-ethnicity/race-champions-forum/race-champions-forum/ through my GEMS membership and employment at Shades of Noir, I have become averse in opening discussions up about intersectionality and race. It is normally what we are all in meetings to discuss, so to leave without addressing key issues seems a total waste to me and a missed opportunity to enhance the student and staff experience.
Here I am in Toronto feeling so at home and in the privileged position of listening and presenting to fellow academics from all over the world.
I met some amazing people who are doing some tremendous work, Associate Dean Dwaine Plaza from the College Of Liberal Arts in Oregon, presented stunning research entitled Caribana as a site for Cultural Diversity, Nostalgia and Transnationalism among second – generation Caribbean Canadians. I was able to connect with him from a UK perspective about his work as Dwaine had travelled extensively throughout the UK to compare and contrast the Black British Caribbean experience to the Canadian Caribbean experience.
Dwaine has since kindly sent me research information which will help to inform the PhD work that I will undertake from September. Indeed the conference allowed me to connect with so many individuals that are doing some amazing work around diversity and inclusion at their institutions. Dr. Trula Nicholas is an Associate Professor at Woodridge College of Education in Washington, who was very interested in the work of Shades of Noir and who is planning to use our ToR’s in her lessons. She has also invited me to present via skype in the Fall. In fact, I met so many people who gave really interesting presentations around the issues of diversity and education that it was easy to get chatting and network because most of us in attendance were passionate about instigating change so that all students would feel a sense of belonging.
Which brings me onto my presentation which was entitled ‘a sense of belonging: How do we as educators diversify our curriculum’. This year I have presented at HEA’s Annual Conference: Generation TEF: Teaching in the spotlight conference in Manchester and the 8th ELIA Academy at CSM in London most recently. The ELIA conference presentation has led to an invitation to present in Vienna in December 2017. At previous conferences I have presented a sound art piece called ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’. However, this was not possible in Canada due to the lack of provision of a sound system so numerous presentations were affected by this factor, unfortunately. Luckily for me 9 years of teaching has prepared me to always consider preparing a plan B and armed with 25 copies of the Terms of Reference (http://education.shadesofnoir.org.uk/terms-of-references/) that I had led on for Shades of Noir called Identity, Disruption, Democracy, Subversion. I set the participants a task involving this ToR and also facilitated a discussion between the roomful of scholars. I shared the workshop with Brittany Harris from the Centre for diversity and inclusion in Washington St Louis, who led a workshop on the need for intersectionality. Later, I would be told by the conference organisers that our sessions were the most well attended session of the whole conference. I know this is true because more chairs had to be found and unfortunately I ran out of Terms of References (ToR’s) which led to someone asking to take away my own personal copy.
After the presentation, I received lots of praise and I believe this was due largely to getting participants to talk to each other. This may seem quite simplistic but for much of the conference, many people presented by standing at the front. I believe that my presentation was interactive, in that participants were asked to work together gathering thoughts and creating solutions. I think this approach was refreshing or at least that is what the feedback reflected. But much more important to me was just how well the work of Shades of Noir was received. People referred to the TORs as innovative and progressive and they were all keen to know more about the organisation and its founder, Aisha Richards as well as the University of the Arts London (UAL). It is interesting to think that some of the senior members of staff that I was talking to had no such organisations associated with their institutions. They were curious about how it all works and I got the sense that they were relieved that by working with the ToR’s in the workshop, we could actually address some difficult subjects but in a safe space. As someone mentioned if we had no interest in diversity then we wouldn’t be here. I really felt that Shades of Noir and indeed UAL by association are leading the way on issues of diversity in higher education. Having talked to people after my presentation, I am greatly encouraged to do more work in this area and I was really excited to receive several invitations to present internationally after I presented my work.
Aisha always says be part of the change that you want to see, I am so proud to be part of that change and at the conference, I felt enormous pride in the work of Shades and of the allies at UAL who have supported it. Here I would like to mention Mark Crawley, Stephen Reid, George Blacklock, Jeremy Till, Frances Corner, Natalie Brett and Amanda Jenkins who continue to trust the team that run Shades of Noir.
You really see just how important the work is when you witness people’s reactions to what you do when they say we have nothing like this within our organisation or their country with some sadness. It makes you see that you are at the forefront of innovative and pedagogical social justice which none of us should take for granted.
- “No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow. ” – Alice Walker