The University of Sheffield’s Race Equality Lectures and Race lectures will take place digitally this year amid ongoing Coronavirus restrictions. 

It’s expected they will be delivered by the University’s Race Equality Champions whose role has now expanded into delivering workshops for the University’s Student Ambassadors and Students’ Union committee members. 

However, the pandemic has delayed delivery of this year’s program. By this time last year, over 53 Race Equality Lectures had already been delivered to academic departments with workshops also taking place for SU societies during intro week. 

Race Equality Champions, which were introduced by the University as part of it’s ongoing Race Equality Strategy earlier this year, are a collection of students trained to spot microaggressions and raise awareness of racism on campus. 

The scheme has since come under substantial criticism in the national press with a Daily Telegraph column lambasting it as “an Orwellian attempt” to stifle free speech. 

However, Santhana Gopalakrishnan, who originally led the Race Equality Champions initiative wrote in the i that the scheme was all about “leading healthy conversations”. 

She said: “Students respond well to their peers so training students to lead this work feels like a way we can make a real impact.

“This work has already included improved reporting mechanisms, new anti-racism videos and talks timetabled into the schedule for all new students, work to decolonise the curriculum, data driven target setting and a Take Racism Seriously campaign.”

The scheme sees the champions leading discussions about race with new students and training for student societies. This training is to ensure all societies have an inclusion officer who is equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to understand and tackle systemic barriers to participation that students face. In addition, annual anti-racism training is now compulsory for all sports teams and is also offered to all society committee members.

However, a five-week plan to hold workshops with 5,000 students back in February was also halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a full digital replacement still not arranged by the University.  

There are plans to hold an online Race Equality workshop online on Tuesday 10 November to which attendance is voluntary. The University said it would be an opportunity for discussion centred around how to challenge and overcome barriers to progress and exploration into the histories, cultures and legacies of black individuals and communities around the world.

Image: Hannah Ahmed

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