In response to the unequal negative health impacts of Covid-19 on the BAME community and the collective trauma of the anti-Black violence brought to light by the international Black Lives Matter movement, the University granted two weeks of pre-approved optional compassionate leave for BAME staff.
This initiative was suggested by Dr Angela Martinez Dy, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Advocacy Lead for the Loughborough University BAME Network, in response to a Black Academics Solidarity Meeting hosted on 4th June 2020 by scholar-activists Dr Leighan Renaud, Dr Hannah Robbins, and Dr Furaha Asani.
Angela says: “As an ally in attendance I did my best to listen to what Black and mixed race Black heritage academics were saying and take action accordingly. What I heard was grief and exhaustion from not only the trauma of COVID, and the spectre of Black death, but also from having to keep up professional appearances. I also heard them say that now was a time for allies to take risks that could make material changes to their working and learning conditions. I put these together to propose that extra leave time be afforded for them to switch off from work, rest and recuperate.”
This achievement was a collective effort, bringing together academics, professional services staff, the academic union and University management. Angela consulted with the BAME Network Co-Chairs, Ms Veronica Moore, Head of Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity, and Dr James Esson, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, and proposed the suggestion for compassionate leave to the Loughborough University and Colleges Union (LUCU) President, Dr Mary Brewer, Senior Lecturer in English and American Studies, and LUCU Negotiating Secretary and IT services project manager Mr Marc Gibson. On behalf of LUCU, Mary raised it with Ms Adèle MacKinlay, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development. Angela also directly approached Adèle and the Chief Operating Officer of the University, and Race Equality Champion, Mr Richard Taylor, to discuss the proposal with them, after which she and the BAME Network co-chairs worked with Adèle to draft communications.
What is notable about this policy is its simplicity; because it serves the differential needs of groups with protected characteristics, it falls under the legal heading of ‘positive action’ in relation to the Equality Act 2010. Adèle identified ways to utilise existing policies to authorise the leave and communicated with managers to ensure they were briefed to approve these requests should they arise. She also allocated additional funding to support alternative or additional counselling needs of Black and mixed-race Black heritage staff.
The majority of BAME staff were heartened by this show of support from the University, and the University has committed to further institutional action, as the problem of race-based stress cannot be solved through self-care alone. The University will continue its ongoing work on the Race Equality Charter and continue to challenge racial inequality and anti-Black violence, most recently seen in the police shooting of Jacob Blake. As such, the offer of compassionate leave for race-based stress is open ended and will continue to be available to BAME staff should they require it in the future.
Regarding BAME students, the University moved quickly to amend its mitigating circumstances policy such that any students who were affected by the murder of George Floyd did not need to provide ‘supporting evidence’. This move was made in recognition of the deep distress caused by the event, and in order to avoid retraumatising BAME students by asking them to recount the impact on them. In addition, a set of anti-racism resources have been curated for incoming first years as part of the Personal Best development programme.
You can read copies of the messages sent on 22 June from Ms Adèle MacKinlay to BAME staff, and from Mr Manuel Alonso, Associate Chief Operating Officer and Director of Student Services, to BAME students.