Shades of Noir in Conversation with Director of Widening Participation and Progression and Dean of Students, Mark Crawley.

I think there is a momentum happening nationally and internationally, which is unstoppable and I believe we are going to get there. – Mark Crawley 2016

Shades of Noir caught up with Mark Crawley, UAL’s Director of Widening Participation and Progression and Dean of Students and supporter of Shades of Noir since its initiation in 2008.

This isn’t Shade of Noir’s first ‘In conversation with Mark Crawley’, our last ‘in conversation’ happened in 2012, but as team members of the current Phase 4 of 2016, for this team it was our first time sitting down with Mark and finding out what he’s been up to recently, to get to know a bit more about his current roles, responsibilities and bit a more about Mark himself.

Mark greeted us with an infectious and warm smile, positioning himself in the same place he recalled from the last ‘In conversation with..’ he had had with Shades of Noir in 2012 and spoke to us briefly about his previous roles and on his journey to his current positions within UAL. We found that for Mark, it all started back when he was part of the Students Union during his studies at Swansea University in the late 80’s and was elected the Welfare Officer for 1988, then moving on to work at Thames Polytechnics Students Union as a full time advice worker, onto University of Greenwich and then eventually to UAL in 1995 as Student Adviser and became manager of the Advice and Guidance Team.

Mark returned to UAL in 2007 having spent five years working in FE colleges in Lewisham and Tottenham and became Dean of students 5 years ago.

His current responsibilities cover Widening Participation, Equality and Diversity, Disability, Counselling, Student Health, and FE Development and Quality Enhancement.

We’ve made some progress, but there’s still a long way to go. – Mark Crawley 2016

SON: In the interview you did with us in 2012 you spoke about diversity, equality and bridging the gap. From your perspective, how have these subjects improved since then and in comparison to when you first joined UAL?

MC: ‘I returned to UAL in 2007 as previously I was Assistant Director in Student Services at UAL and left due to lack of diversity and equality, I worked firstly in Lewisham FE college where I was for 2 years and then to a big FE College in Tottenham were again I found the same problem; but I really loved working in FE and wasn’t going to leave. In 2007 there was a job opening here (UAL) which was to be the first Director of Widening Participation for the University and when I came back I found a really different institution, there had been a Vice-Chancellor at that time, Sir Michael Bichard and he’d come from having been a civil servant in a New Labour government (as it was called at the time), and he’d supported David Blunkett when he was Education Secretary; and he’d really put equality & diversity right at the top of the university’s agenda – I came back to quite a different institution. We’re nearly 10 years on from there now, we’ve made some progress, but there’s still a long way to go.’

SON: Could you speak to us a bit about your role as Director of Widening Participation and Progression/Dean of Students. What does this role mean to you?

MC: ‘ With Widening Participation that’s about getting more working class students and more students of colour into the university, we are at about average for a university, a third of our students are from a working class background and a third of UK Home students are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. That’s ok, it’s like many other universities, it’s much better than Oxford & Cambridge, nowhere near as good as the University of East London, or Greenwich University, but particularly with students of colour we are not as good as other London based Universities, we have this odd thing where we are an international recruiter but we are also a London institution and London institutions tend to have more students of colour, so we still have some work to do.

My work is around leading on Outreach, getting students that might not apply to UAL or are thinking of applying and their application might not be that strong and supporting them with that so they apply with strong portfolios, strong applications and also encouraging them to apply. A lot of work that we do is also making sure that students are successful when they are here, that they stay and that they leave with the best degree they can get and most importantly that they progress on to what they want to do; hopefully within the creative industries or as a creative practitioner. On FE my role is looking after the quality assurance and funding for the Foundation courses and as Dean of Students I’m involved with students wellbeing and support, so I look after the counselling teams, the mental health provision and also all of the support for disabled students and then I just get involved within cases where I think things are just not going right, be it individual cases, the university, so it’s quite a variety but I’ve got a really good set of managers who help me do all of this. I generally lead on equality & diversity and supporting Shades of Noir is a key element of that.’

MC: ‘This is a great place to work. I came back and a lot of people stay here a long time, because although, like all universities, we have challenges and we aren’t as good at some things as we could be, the students here are amazing. They are fantastic. The staff are great. I have really good colleagues and whilst like all universities there are times of frustration, there’s never a dull moment.

We are a lot more focused, a lot sharper and smarter. – Mark Crawley 2016

SON: What significant changes have been implemented since your role started?

MC: ‘We’ve gotten a lot more focused on a number of things. In terms of equality, we’re a lot more focused around our Outreach work, particularly in the last couple of years, we’re really targeting the right schools, the right colleges, there’s lots of working class students and students of colour on our doorstep, in FE colleges in London, in secondary schools here, we’re getting really good at getting to those schools were we can provide the most help and be the most supportive. What we’ve really achieved over the years is a real high standard of Outreach work. We are long-term. We have schools and colleges we’ve been working with for up to 7-8 years and ongoing. Within our own university we’ve targeted and been more focused on diversity and looking at our staffing profile, and supporting disabled colleagues,  we’ve got more and more colleagues declaring their disability, because they see we are good at providing that support, we are getting some really good focus around improving the diversity of our staffing profile, particularly amongst academic staff. I think the Teaching Within Programme that Aisha and Shades of Noir are leading is a really big step forward for us, it could be a game changer and I’m looking at this to be a 3-4 year programme. I think we are getting a lot sharper, I think Stephen Reid’s Race Champion forum has done a lot of good work, but we do need to see the results. We do need to see the changes, in terms of the data that we are looking at.’

We need an internationalised education, for me a ‘British’ Education is a Global Education. A London Education is a Global Education. –  Mark Crawley 2016

SON: Since the Arts SU event Working through the gaps, what is your view on the place for cultural awareness in our institution for both staff and students?

MC: I think it’s really important and I think we have to do a lot more work, around it. We haven’t closed the attainment gap. In terms of between White and Students of colour, we haven’t closed that attainment gap, despite lots and lots of work, and I think there has to be an element to that that we still don’t have sufficient cultural awareness amongst our staff and amongst some of our students as well, that’s a key element of what we need to change, we also need to change the culture as well, so there’s work to do around an inclusive curriculum that reflects all of the cultures of the students that are here. There’s an interesting debate around having a ‘British’ education but for me a ‘British’ Education is a Global Education. A London Education is a Global Education. We need a internationalized education, I think there are some really good pieces of work that are really starting to have an impact, again from Shades of Noir, but again we still have a long way to go.

I think there is a momentum and a movement that is unstoppable.Mark Crawley 2016

SON: How do you think we will change the landscape and culture? What advice would you give to students (mainly overseas and those of colour) if they are aiming for executive positions to be change makers themselves?

MC:  ‘I think there is a momentum happening nationally and internationally, which is unstoppable; in terms of Diversity, regardless of Brexit, regardless of Trump, there is a momentum that is unstoppable. You have to be an optimist. I’m an optimist, perhaps it’s easier for white men to be an optimist, but I am and I think it’s not letting those barriers exist and for people to do whatever they can to insure that those barriers come down, either that they leap over those barriers or they help to tear them down. I think there is a momentum and a movement within the university, I think there’s a movement nationally and we are not going to go backwards, in terms of inequalities, despite everything that’s going on politically and internationally, I believe we are going to get there.’

We need to recognize our privileged position and where that privilege comes form, to understand whiteness –  Mark Crawley 2016

SON: Aisha speaks very highly of you as an ally, what would you say are the three most important things senior management should be considering to be part of the changes they want to see, or need to see?

MC: ‘I would say the keys things are to listen to the full range of voices from the different communities that make up the UAL University community. Take risks, take a chance. If there is an initiative, an idea, that feels like it could make a difference, even though it’s risky, to take that risk. Those gut feelings nearly always turn out to be right. Thirdly, for people like me and my colleagues to recognize our privileged position and where that privilege comes form, to understand whiteness and to be really aware of those things and for that to inform everything we do.

This concludes our ‘In conversation with Mark Crawley’ from 2016 and we’ll be sure to catch up with him soon with updates on these new programmes and progressions.

Further links:

 ‘In conversation with: Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Race Champion Stephen Reid’

Head to our youtube channel for more!

Words by Tiffany Webster.