The BIPOC STEM Network is a new initiative: the first network within the University, for research staff, academic staff, and postgraduates that identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) or BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic). The main aim of the Network is to promote and support the work of People of Colour within the University and beyond, in order to create a more diverse and inclusive environment within academia.
The recent global Black Lives Matter protests have renewed focus on the staggering lack of representation of People of Colour within academia, an issue that is particularly acute for Black people. For example, in 2019 in the UK, Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) students accounted for 30% of all undergraduates, yet less than 8% of the ~1,200 PhD students funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) self-identified as BAME. Moreover, within that 8%, Black students were underrepresented. It's a similar stark statistic for Black researchers in environmental sciences, where the latest data (2015-2016) from the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) indicates just 1% of PhD students, identify as Black. Moreover, these disparities aren’t only visible amongst postgraduate students. Data show that in 2016, there were 8300 professors in the UK working in science, engineering and technology, but that only 35 of them (0.004%) were Black.
Representation is important. If young, aspiring undergraduate and graduate students see more people that look like them in places they want to be, they’ll be inspired to strive for what seems attainable. We personally are yet to meet a Black professor working in STEM. This is why we think the BIPOC STEM Network is so important; it enhances the visibility of the few academics of colour working within STEM and facilitates connections that can help students of colour navigate their own particular challenges. Schemes like the University’s Black Academic Futures Scholarship are an excellent way to encourage applications from underrepresented groups. However, it is equally important to ensure that as diversity improves, so does support for students, researchers and staff, through mentorship schemes and inclusive events.
We hope that the Network is one form of such support and are looking forward to meeting with other BIPOCs in STEM, sharing experiences, engaging with allies, and hosting thoughtful discussions with Network members. Our goal is that these discussions will be translatable into policy recommendations that can enhance the experience of People of Colour within the University and beyond. Look out for our inclusive social events and stimulating panel discussions that will explore issues from effective allyship to funding opportunities and career advice. We look forward to seeing you at one of our events soon!
The Network was founded by Victor Ajuwon (pictured), doctoral student at Merton College, Sara Lil Middleton (pictured) and Lauren Rudd, NERC Doctoral Training Partnership students in the Department of Zoology and Atreyi Chakrabarty, doctoral student in the Department of Pharmacology. We hope you can consider becoming a member, or an ally to help us achieve our aims! You can sign up to our ally mailing list by sending a blank email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.