The hopes for this day were broad. Proving an opportunity for like-minded research and university-based professionals to gather and share about their projects. Creating opportunities to make new connections, and to inspire one another. Also to share practice and to educate one another on the wider issues, in order to increase people’s resources to more effectively inform the wider backdrop of their HE teams and communities.
The scope of the event was quite incredible. The breadth of focus of projects was wide-ranging. For example, there were people from a prestigious University Library’s project called ‘We Are Our History’, where they were striving to allow all students and staff to feel represented in the libraries’ exhibitions. There was also a project, Close The Gap, which involves Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and attempts to transform the doctoral student selection process to be more socially and epistemically just. But there was also such a breadth of individuals with their own backdrop of experience. For example, there were some existing students, established academics, those who were speaking from experience of dealing with barriers to learning , and those who were committed allies.
With all this range, it is perhaps more impressive that there was such an atmosphere of intentionally created safe space for everyone. This meant allowing space for every voice, and facilitating the presentations, panel discussions and the questions from the audience. All those who shared could be confident communicators and be able to reflect on many issues and priorities that the day encompassed.
A big factor in this achievement, I feel, was down to Professor Dame Sue Black’s opening statements as President of St John’s and then some final insights from Danial Hussain, the Student Union President. Sue’s tone set the course for the day, with sharing her own story, and highlighting the impact that one particular teacher had on her education, and subsequent career. Talking passionately about how this teacher was the 'one who saw promise', in spite of how the rest of the school body saw her. She talked of her belief that everyone should be able to be the best and achieve without society's limitations. And that it takes a 'veritable army to train the leaders of the future'. There was a beautiful symmetry in some of the final insights of the day, from the SU President. He shared his story, again highlighting that there had been one impactful professor, who had seen and listened to him and his story and took him under his wings. He equates so much of his success in both undergraduate and postgraduate career to the support they provided him.
Within the day, everyone, to one degree or another, touched on these themes. A main one was that of the concept of belonging; both what does it mean to ‘belong’, and what actions provide the best means to facilitate and not hinder this process. Another big part of this information unpacked was that of the challenging traits of the University of Oxford as an institution - from the application process, thriving as a student, the learning, assessment and then the awarding protocol.
Another key recurring theme was the need to provide the toolkit, confidence in their own voice and a step up for those who face unusual disadvantages to success. Thus enabling them to become agents of their own change, and sustainably earn and continue their own achievements. Examples of some of exciting projects of this ilk are the Astrophoria Foundation Year and Opportunity Oxford.
In conclusion, this day was such a success in meeting the main hopes of the organisers and the delegates. Many new connections were made and knowledge was successfully exchanged. New ideas would have been sparked, and encouragement for all those present, who were doing their own specific parts, that they are on the right track. Hence, each of them are a small part of a bigger ecosystem of work for this incredibly important cause.
Torie Stubbs, Administrator, Centre for Medical Discoveries