Race Action Plan

In June 2020, the Humanities Divisional Board committed to a series of practical and deliverable actions to tackle specific race-related issues. You can read more about the action plan further down the page. Actions involve, and impact on, staff and students, now and in the future.

Three main pieces of work were carried out through the 2020/21 academic year, and this webpage will continue to be updated regularly to reflect our work, our successes and our challenges throughout the 2021/22 year.

The Division's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Academic Lead, Helen Swift, and the Equality and Diversity Officer welcome questions, comments and contributions. You can also get involved via Teams, on our Teams E&D Open Platform.

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Short term

Mid term

Long term

Share best practice, lessons learned and mistakes made. Continue to support open and honest conversations, coordinate Race task force.

Strongly encourage full take up of training eg online Implicit Bias, Tackling Race Bias at Work, with senior colleagues publicly committing to attending training.

Faculties taking up training opportunities and finding opportunities to discuss issues

Implement Race Action Plan – a one year task and finish project

Action taken, and recommendations for further action made

Curricula changes embedded, ‘race’ topics – or other ‘diversity’ topics – no longer additive

Prepare a welcoming email for all students that presents the Division as interdisciplinary, recommends some core ‘critical thinking’ lectures and to invite involvement in the planning of the platform (see below)

Email is a regular fixture at the start of the academic year; incorporated into institution-wide comms

Work with libraries to train students in effective ‘browsing research’

Advice and guidance can be find on these webapges

Develop Teams channel for discussion, learning and empowerment. This could host faculties’ discussions if needed

Platform used, updated, reflected on – structure shared with other Divisions and HEIs.

Bring together a ‘critical thinking collection’ of existing, cross faculty, lectures – promote to all students

Conduct a review of race activities already taking place across Division – update: faculties have had in-depth discussions with students and these will be ongoing during the academic year. 

Develop a ‘code of practice’ to be shared with faculties and colleges (may also help attract and retain a more diverse staff population)

Colleagues held to account when behaviour deviates from consensus-driven acceptable norms.

Lectures/structured conversations/institutional exchanges, in collaboration with eg TORCH; Humanities Cultural Programme; other divisions; other HEI (national/international); other external organisations

Expand UK BME PGT studentships and post-doctoral opportunities.  

Address recruitment procedures. 

Expand UK BME PGT studentship, including eg mentoring schemes, events to recognise and celebrate successes of alumni.

No all white shortlists from 2030.

Address the need for socio-economic background considerations to be part of selection criteria for post-graduate scholarships.

Studentship more focused on supporting students from lower s-e backgrounds

Work with eg HR, colleges etc to create recruitment opportunities for broader ‘non-traditional’ subject areas

QA/statement of principles/benchmarking


You can read the premise of the Race Action Plan further down this page. 

In the summer of 2020, after the killing of George Floyd and against the backdrop of discussions of systemic racism, staff and students called for spaces for open and honest discussion of the impact of racism on their work, study and lives.

The Division seeks to provide a space where academics, researchers, professional staff and students can discuss and debate issues of diversifying the curriculum, decolonising the curriculum, the lived experience of Black bodies, terminology on race and empowering historically under-represented voices. This list is not exhaustive, and you can explore more on our Teams group.

We're all more confident using Teams: we know that we cannot post anonymously, and that it is a professional environment.  As a virtual space, it is subject to the same regulations and standards of behaviour as would apply in face to face interactions.

The Open Platform is:

  • a space for respectful debate and exploration: a solution to the need for facilitated in-person events during the global pandemic.
  • a space of collaboration and positive action: open to all, where all voices have equal footing and where people can be heard.
  • A space for change: we recognise that we can, and should, do much more to challenge our biases and assumptions. We should do more to provide a safe and nourishing academic environment for people to flourish. We should do more to develop our scholarship to encompass critical lenses and under-represented voices. Change may be slow or fast, but we are on the path.


Join the debate on our Teams E&D Open Platform!

Our librarians have been working tirelessly and creatively to highlight resources for critical thinking, and to reflect on collecting practices. A 2-year project (Jan 2020-Dec 2021) entitled Changing the narrative: championing inclusive collection development, is being spearheaded by Helen Worrell. The project focusses on the modern print collections and online resources within the libraries that support the Humanities and Social Science Divisions. The goal is to heighten critical awareness about current collections, and understand better the significance of gaps and the particular narratives these collections tell. This will ensure that the development of the collections is self-reflexive, so that they can continue their transformational impact. The project aims to enhance our collections in areas such as LGBT+ Studies, Women's Studies, Disability Studies, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Studies and the intersections between these identities. See the Changing the Narrative libguide here.

This project is closely aligned to the Queer Studies Network, which runs ‘research lunches' (click here for more information) where people talk about their current research, and the Oxford & Colonialism project which looks at the role of colonialism/racial justice struggles at the University (past and present). 

Helen Worrell (she/her) is Archaeology and Tylor Anthropology Librarian, Bodleian Libraries. She is Vice-Chair, Oxford University LGBT+ Advisory Group, as well as being project lead on ‘Changing the narrative’.  She warmly welcomes input and suggestions.  

Other colleagues, including Isabel Holowaty, the Humanities Librarian, Rachel d’Arcy-Brown in History, and Helen Scott in English, are thoroughly engaged in this work.   


Helen Scott is also the Film Studies and Women’s Studies librarian. Her detailed LibGuide for Women's Studies covers a wide range of intersectional resources, and you can find it here.

There are LibGuides on an extraordinary number of research themes, and staff and students are strongly encouraged to explore them.

Women and Social Movements, International

Through the writings of women activists, their personal letters and diaries, and the proceedings of conferences at which pivotal decisions were made, this collection lets you see how women’s social movements shaped much of the events and attitudes that have defined modern life. This digital archive includes 150,000 pages of conference proceedings, reports of international women's organizations, publications and web pages of women's non-governmental organizations, and letters, diaries, and memoirs of women active internationally since the mid-nineteenth century. It also includes photographs and videos of major events and activists in the history of women’s international social movements. Finally, we have commissioned from leading contemporary scholars 30 essays exploring themes illuminated by the primary documents in the archive.  


‘America and Race’ Bibliography

The RAI is pleased to launch the ‘America and Race’ Bibliography, a new resource to facilitate the teaching of race in America to UK undergraduates. Created by Amelia Hart and Dr Sonia Tycko, the bibliography presents works that provide accessible historical insights into conceptions of race, the social construction of difference, and the freedom struggles that have attempted to dismantle white supremacy. The project adopts a broad chronological span from early America to the contemporary United States, and includes Atlantic, global, national, and regional approaches.

To view the bibliography, click here.

To read an account of how it was compiled, click here.

If you have recommendations, comments or suggestions, join the debate on our Teams E&D Open Platform.

Interested in Race, and want to know more? Want to use gender to approach a 'traditional' subject? Faculties across the Humanities Division offer a wide range of lectures that use critical lenses to explore areas of scholarship.

We've created a GoogleDoc that you can access here. It will be updated regularly. If you've attended a lecture that you thought should be included in the list, please let people know via the Teams Open Platform.

It is important for us to be accountable for our actions, and to share the reasons that lay behind making decisions. In this spirit, we are sharing the paper that went to the Humanities Planning and Resources Committee in July 2020, as it represents the Divisional thinking behind, and support for, this work.

Humanities Equality and Diversity Forum: Race Action Plan 2020-21


In line with our systemic strategic approach to Equality and Diversity, we plan to establish an explicitly intersectional E&D Forum, with broad representation, which will target particular work streams for each academic year. This will facilitate the setting of achievable practical targets whilst cumulatively working to embed cultural change and develop and share good practice.   

The emphasis is on what can distinctively and constructively be done best at divisional level, whilst dovetailing with individual faculties' strategies. Such an interdisciplinary/cross-cultural approach, reinforcing a stronger Humanities identity, has been welcomed by staff and students. As the largest Humanities Division in the country, we have an important advocacy role within and beyond the University in cultural debate and public policy. It is crucial that we benefit from hearing the widest possible range of critical voices as we develop our ideas and values.

For 2020-21 the work will be focused on a Race Action Plan. The urgency of the need for progress to be made in this area is obvious, and there is real scope to harness collective energy. The ground has been laid through a broad-ranging series of conversations and brainstorming meetings over the summer, with faculties (staff and students), library staff, University networks, the CTL, and Oxford SU.

Decolonising the curriculum

The following tangible aids to reflection on a more systemic de-colonisation of the curriculum will be in place by the beginning of MT, with the intention of supporting what faculties are already doing, as well as fruitfully sharing ideas across the division:

  1. Communication of existing lecture provision which raises broad methodological questions – e.g. introducing critical thinking about race - which would be pertinent to all Humanities subjects. 
  2. A parallel mapping process to provide information about relevant research strands and networks within or across faculties.
  3. Highlighting of Bodleian staff work on LibGuides and advice on use of SOLO, in order to enhance effective browsing research by students.
  4. The establishment of a digital platform on Microsoft Teams as a collaborative resource for Humanities students and tutors to post requests for advice on reading/viewing/listening for particular topics, and to share ideas. This is multi-stranded, and non-prescriptive. It has potential to provide support for a broader project (and/or series of faculty-specific projects) of collaborative co-creation between students and tutors of easily updatable reading-lists, which could have practical, pedagogical and confidence-boosting benefits.  
  5. A welcome email from the Head of Division will go out to all new students (u/g and p/g) [see below] at the very beginning of MT, introducing the Division, and its role and core principles, signalling its interdisciplinary and cross-cultural engagement, its interplay of different cultures and languages, and referring to the expectation that people will regard it as a foundational part of university life to take up opportunities for acquiring confidence in critical methodologies – and for learning other languages (literally and metaphorically). This message is intended to validate students coming from all backgrounds and perspectives, and represents the start of an anticipated work stream through the year on a statement of values and principles and appropriate means of QA. 

In addition: 

  1. The E&D Academic Lead and Officer have initiated collaborative work with the new SU team, for whom curriculum diversification and decolonization are a key strategic priority for 2020-21.  

  1. There have also been preliminary discussions – so far with MPLS and the Gender Equality and Athena SWAN Policy Advisor at the EDU - about the scope for producing podcasts on disciplinary histories, in order to contextualize and thus encourage critical thinking about normative assumptions.

Tackling race bias at work

The Head of Division has encouraged a commitment from all staff (academic and professional support) to take the online Tackling Race Bias at Work training, underlining how important this is as the start of a process of self-reflection across the Division.

Further key work streams for 2020/21

BME graduate scholarships and post-doctoral/ECR posts

Intensified work on BME graduate scholarships, both as an immediate action and as a core part of longer-term fund-raising; points of emphasis being partnerships with colleges, and the underlining of the importance of establishing a significant BME pipeline.  Oxford’s role in training doctoral students and offering early career research posts means that there is scope to develop strategic initiatives to frame and fund not just scholarships but also post-doctoral awards. 

Note: The current terms of reference of the scholarships raise broader questions about BME/BAME as a category and about the intersection with socio-economic background. This is an ongoing discussion.  

This work will dovetail with and gain momentum from the Black Academic Futures scheme, announced by the University on 30 September. At the same time, the success of the Humanities PGT pilot scheme was important in making the case for the broader project.

AP/SP Posts

  1. Further work will be done on AP/SP recruitment procedures and protocols to encourage BME applicants. 
  2. There is a need to prioritise the designation of posts in black (and other non-white/Global North) histories, literatures, music, art, linguistics, philosophies, religion, which will underscore a commitment to such intellectual diversity as being core to the values of the University as a whole.
  3. There is also a need to frame posts in such a way as to ensure that, from 2030 onwards, we do not have all-white shortlists.
  4. Posts are being advertised in important areas of curriculum development.

Lectures/structured conversations/institutional exchanges

Facilitation and communication of intellectual cross-connections. There would be particular benefits in students moderating or co-moderating discussions, and in the building in of elements of exchange –  cross-generationally, cross-culturally and inter-institutionally. There is of course scope to set up stimulating international conversations online.  A series of high-profile online conversations in HT, organized under the aegis of Women in Humanities, TORCH and the Humanities Cultural Programme, as part of the centenary of the award of degrees to women in 1920, will raise critical intersectional questions under the heading Gendered Powers.

QA/statement of principles/benchmarking

Work on a QA process for E&D, and on the development of a divisional statement of principles. Such a statement will discuss conditions of trust and respect, without which nobody is confident to speak or to learn. This work will be conducted in close collaboration with faculties (and colleges).

Intersecting with this work the goal is to develop an ongoing outwardly-focused benchmarking exercise to draw on best practice in other universities and public bodies. 

This area of work seems to us to be intimately related to student (and staff) welfare, and to constitute a productive way for divisional work to complement other forms of support.

Language, Terminology and Data

We have repeatedly discussed the crucial importance of language in any area of debate, but especially in the context of diversity. We need to recognise its power, and how effectively those who resist systemic change deploy it as a vehicle of resistance under the cover of sounding progressive – some students have pointed out that using apparently straightforwardly positive terms like ‘inclusion’, ‘merit’, even ‘equality’. The University uses the terminology of ‘world-leading’, which – as we know from government politics – can be a real hostage to fortune.  The very structure of the debate about racism in binary terms – good vs. bad – occludes the systemic problems, and thus plays into the hands of those pushing back against change. The politics and functionality of BME/BAME/POC/black are a clear area of sensitivity. We propose a debate early in the new academic year to air these issues – which are intellectually central to all our fields. Contributions from colleagues who work on translation or linguistics will be particularly valuable. 

There are analogous concerns about the way in which we collect and use data, and here it seems particularly important to separate out discrete issues: 

(i) the need to have access divisionally and at faculty level to data which has been gathered, even if some of the figures cannot be used publicly for data protection reasons.

(ii) the concerns about the reductive nature of the categories used, and the potential of questions to offend and/or to elicit non-response (cf. the offensiveness of binary gender questions) should be taken seriously - and acknowledgement of this recognition should continue to be pressed on the University and indeed beyond. It is not per se a Humanities question, although we should be vocal in articulating the nature of the problem.

(iii) at the same time, there is a bureaucratic as well as political demand for data which map onto government/HEFCE categorisation.

(iv) the small numbers argue for divisional-level (rather than faculty-level) public discussion of any investigation involving statistics.


In October 2020, the following text was sent by email to all incoming undergraduates, post graduate taught and post graduate research students in the Humanities Division.


Dear all,

As Head of the Humanities Division, I would like to welcome you most warmly to Oxford.  In addition to becoming a member of a College and a Faculty, you have become part of the  Humanities Division, and an important contributor to its rich and diverse culture.  We are delighted to have you here.  

Inherently pluralistic and interdisciplinary, the Division is intellectually committed to fostering conversations across boundaries, to challenging assumptions about existing norms and lines of demarcation.  Encompassing the study of an extraordinary range of world languages, in addition to literatures, histories, philosophies, theologies, music and art, the Division emphasizes the critical role of language, and of translation, in both literal and metaphorical terms.  The shared intellectual pursuit of what makes us human – and what could make us more humane – benefits from everyone’s input.  Yours will be invaluable.   

These aspirations are given tangible form in a variety of ways. The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities (TORCH) draws together some of the cross-cutting and innovative work from across our faculties. It offers an extensive cultural programme of talks, podcasts and themed networks, many of which are student-led and responsive to the ideas and interests of students. TORCH operates in a dynamic online space, as well as supporting in-person events.  

As part of our commitment to Equality and Diversity, the Division provides support to faculties in reflecting on their values, and developing policy and practice. Each academic year, the newly-established Equality and Diversity Forum will prioritise different areas of intersectional work. In 2020-21 the focus is on a Race Action Plan, with some very practical targets. In close collaboration with students as well as staff, a platform on Microsoft Teams is being launched which will facilitate discussion about curriculum diversification. The Division will also be highlighting lectures and events across the University which address critical methodologies. The Division works closely with Oxford’s SU, as well as with colleges and other divisions. 

The Division acts as an advocate for the Humanities within and beyond the University. This role becomes more urgent by the day, as the critical perspectives, tolerance and profound cultural insights that our field of study brings to the public sphere are under ever greater threat. I look forward to working with you all to reinforce the centrality of the Humanities in cultural debate and public policy. At this extraordinarily challenging moment in world history, your voices, which speak creatively from so many perspectives, need to be heard. 

With best wishes,

Karen O'Brien

Being aware of racism and racist structures is part of moving towards equality. Addressing your role and place in racist structures is another. If you want to read and learn more, this section recommends a few texts and resources for you in the next steps of your exploration and discovery. 

These are two recommendations chosen by our Equality and Diversity Officer, Isabelle Pitt. It's by no means an exhaustive list - there is so much to read out there on the subject of race, and many different perspectives and opinions. There's a wonderful ORLA reading list for you to dive into here, for example, and a simple internet search will bring up lots of interesting material. 

'Me and White Supremacy' by Layla F Saad. You can also get an accompanying journal to help chart your changing attitudes and understanding.

'How To Be An Antiracist' by Ibram X Kendi. This is a personal exploration of the author's process of examining racial and racialised structures and how he fits into them. 

What both of these books share, and a common theme in many of the resources you'll find, is the idea that the work of coming to terms with structural inequality and racism is an individual responsibility, particular for white people. As Isabelle says:

As a white woman, it's my responsiblity to educate myself, and to re-educate myself, not only about Black history and the history of race and racism, but about my own position within a society shaped by structural racism. I want to, and try to, use my white priviledge in a positive way - for me, being 'not a racist' isn't enough. I am working to be anti-racist. I don't find it easy. It's unsettling and uncomfortable, but it is necessary and important.