Imperial College London

A Q&A with the Faculty of Natural Sciences Diversity Champion

by

Dr Vahid Shahrezaei

Dr Vahid Shahrezaei shares insight into his role as the Faculty of Natural Sciences Diversity Champion.

Dr Vahid Shahrezaei became Diversity Champion for the Faculty of Natural Sciences (FoNS) in Autumn 2018, a role focused on coordinating and sharing best practice across FoNS departments and the Faculty.

Can you tell us more about what made you interested in the role and what it involves?

I am originally from Iran and have two young daughters, one of whom has autism. I have always been keenly aware of, and interested in, many aspects of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) – for society in general, and within academia in particular. Being in this role, I hope to contribute my bit towards making the Faculty a more inclusive and diverse environment.

One of my roles is to bridge the connection between central management and departments, to represent staff and students across FoNS on EDI issues. Dr Vahid Shahrezaei FoNS Diversity Champion

I sit on the Faculty Management Committee and chair the Faculty EDI Committee, which meets around once a term and includes EDI representatives from all FoNS Departments. One of my roles in these meetings is to bridge the connection between central management and local departments, and to represent staff and students across FoNS on EDI issues.

I’ve been keen to learn more about related activities and initiatives across College, including the EDI strategy. In the first few months I joined the EDI Forum and the Athena Swan Committee. I also represented the Faculty on the College Athena Swan self-assessment team (SAT), which is responsible for preparing College’s application for renewal of its Athena Swan award. More recently, I contributed to the working group on Research Culture, organised by the Vice-Provost (Research) to prepare an EDI statement support tool for use by academic staff, to assist with research grant applications.

Day-to-day I support, coordinate and share best practice for ongoing and grass-root activities within the Faculty. A recent example is the upcoming Postgraduate Research Good Practice Online Conference, co-organsied by FoNS and The Graduate School. This workshop aims to focus on the experience of PhD students, creating a space to share reflections on, and ideas for, increasing postgraduate diversity and inclusivity in STEM at Imperial. The event is open to staff and PhD students across College – please do join us if you can by registering through the website.

How have FoNS departments responded in recent weeks following the brutal killing of George Floyd, and what is the Faculty’s response?

Following the devastating killing of George Floyd the Heads of each FoNS Department released statements of support to students and staff. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement some departments cancelled meetings and events on June 10 so that staff and students could take part in #ShutDownSTEM and #Strike4BlackLives.

At a recent FoNS Management Committee meeting the discussion focused on the imperative need to ensure black staff and students feel valued, safe and supported within our College community. Our Dean and Heads of Departments are committed and determined to instigate both immediate action and long-term planning to this end. I’ll be working with departments to find out what’s being done to diversify routes into the opportunities on offer at Imperial – both for undergraduate and postgraduate student recruitment, and also routes into academic and professional staff roles. This work is underpinned by the College’s zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment (find out more in Imperial’s EDI Strategy summary – the full version is also available).

Imperial staff are encouraged to sign up to EDI-related training courses – including Active Bystander and Unconscious Bias. I’m also in the process of working towards appropriate related training for students, and am in discussion with Professor Stephen Curry, the Assistant Provost for EDI about this.

What related concerns have you come across during conversations with FoNS staff and students in recent weeks?

One important concern that’s been highlighted to me recently is that not all students know where to get help or report incidents of racial discrimination or harassment. It’s important that relevant support and guidance for staff and students is easily accessible. In the immediate term we’ll work to ensure that confidential support for those who have experienced racist behaviour is clearly signposted from both centrally-managed services, and also locally within our departments. 

If staff and students experience racism (or any form of discrimination) where can they go to report this and/or access support?

Within departments, students can raise any worries or issues with their personal tutors, senior tutors and supervisors. Equality, diversity and inclusion resources and bullying and harassment support for students are also available on the College website.

It is vital that we work together to listen, amplify under-represented voices, and put sentiments on these issues into constructive and inclusive action. Dr Vahid Shahrezaei FoNS Diversity Champion

Staff can report issues to their line managers and Heads of Department. Support is also available via the FoNS Have Your Say staff webpages and the central Harassment and bullying support for staff webpages too.

We’re working towards having a dedicated person in each department for students seeking support in these matters, and will be in touch about this as soon as possible.

The EDI’s networks and events programme are also a great source of information, support and community. They welcome all staff and students to join in, find out more, stay connected, ask questions and listen to diverse perspectives on difficult and challenging issues.

Please do feel free, whether you are a student or staff member, to contact me with concerns or comments on EDI issues, or with regards to racism and discrimination within FoNS specifically. It is vital that we support each other and work together to listen, amplify under-represented voices, and put sentiments on these issues into constructive and inclusive action.

Reporter

Claudia Cannon

Claudia Cannon
Faculty of Natural Sciences

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Equality, Diversity
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