Picking Your Battles, Collective Action and Fighting Tokenism: A Talk with Professor Farzana Shain

Read on for a write-up by Laura, a first year PhD student, Postgraduate Decolonise Rep and WOKE Champion

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On the 22nd November 2018, Dr. Farzana Shain (Professor of Sociology of Education) gave a talk as part of the Women Of Keele Educate (W.O.K.E) series.

When I heard that Farzana was the speaker for this week I jumped at the chance to write up the event for the W.O.K.E blog. I have been lucky enough to meet with Farzana a handful of times now, as part of the Decolonise Keele project, and at various events around Keele.

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Whenever I talk to her, she instills in me this drive and passion for academia.

In fact, she was featured in my last W.O.K.E blog post as a person who offered me some important words of wisdom.

 

Farzana’s talk was about Tokenism, specifically tokenism in her academic career. She very kindly provided a definition of tokenism:

 

Tokenism is likely to be found wherever a dominant group is under pressure to share privilege, power, or other desirable commodities with a group which is excluded. Tokenism is the means by which the dominant group advertises a promise of mobility between the dominant and excluded classes. The token does not become assimilates into the dominant group but is destined for permanent marginality. The token is a member of an underrepresented group, who is operating on the turf of the dominant group, under license from it (Laws, 1975: 51).

 

Farzana explained that in any given situation, the dominant group would cover approximately 60% of the overall group of people, whereas the token group would be made up of only 15%.

She also explained that tokenism can be displayed and ‘felt’ in three different levels – individual, institutional and systemic.

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On an individual level, Farzana explained that people are assumed to represent a specific culture or group more than they represent the work that they complete and because of this she has encountered a number of situations throughout her academic career that have placed her specifically within a culture group.

Farzana told us of a time when she was working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) and completing research in local schools.

She was contacted by one of the local schools to ask if she would be willing to give a talk to the students that attended that particular school.

Believing that this was research related, she was interested in this opportunity. That was until the organizer asked her if she could produce examples of Asian Cuisine for the students to try, or give a talk on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

 

 

Another more recent example Farzana gave was when she was speaking at a Gender and Education conference.

A chance encounter in the bathroom after the talk led a woman to explain to Farzana that she was the ‘token black person’ on the panel.

Similarly, Farzana received an email from a member of staff inviting her to participate in a project due to it having an equalities dimension.

These types of encounters bring with them a whole host of questions that Farzana openly shared with the room.

 

Mainly, the question of being chosen for the work and research she has conducted, or simply to make the panel diverse.

 

So how does Farzana aim to combat this tokenism?

She deliberately goes for ‘mainstream’ roles such as a Research Director position to show that she can perform in these roles and perform well.

But within these roles there is a level of institutional tokenism.

Farzana pointed out that women are generally hired for ‘women’s jobs’ such as teaching and learning jobs that require a certain amount of administration.

These roles contain work that is not only unpaid and unrecognized, but also takes time away from research and scholarship, which are the areas that are required for recognition, pay rises and promotion.

As well as this, generally being called upon to represent a culture, or as an expert in equality, is also unpaid or under-paid.

Tokenism is also present on a systemic level.

Farzana used the example of Further Education (FE) to detail this point.

She explained that FE underwent some changes that caused a mass exodus of male employees to leave their professions, causing the number of female employees to rise from 3% to 17%.

But with this came a reduction in salary and an increase in workload where women were expected to shoulder the burden for change in the FE environment.

Once the crisis was settled, the number of men working in these roles began to increase again.

It is only recently that the number of women Vice Chancellors has risen as high as 29%, with it sitting at around 16% for a long time. Still an unequal number for the role, but maybe a step in the right direction.

So, Farzana tries to take more ‘mainstream’ roles wherever she can.

This in itself presents challenges, people just don’t expect women to be interested in these roles, and to be able to complete them as well as their male counterparts.

She also engineers her research to reflect this attitude.

As well as researching topics such as race and gender, she continually stays in the loop with policy research, so that she is known in an area outside of race and gender equality.

Farzana advised us to pick our battles, some things just aren’t worth the fight. But when they are it is the collective voice that will shout the loudest.

Institutional networks such as the Decolonise Keele project and W.O.K.E are challenging power struggles that threaten everyday issues. To read more about Decolonise Keele click here.  

If you could be part of the departmental lead for the Decolonise Keele Project read the below poster:

call for working groups decolonise

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Together, the collective voice can help combat issues such as tokenism.

 

Farzana’s talk made me reflect upon my own academic life.

It made me think of a time when I was applying for academia and I was told that I would definitely be given a place because universities love ‘mature students’ and mothers.

Not that I had achieved ten distinctions above the required amount for my course.

I research about migrant mothers and, although I’m not a migrant, I’m a mother.

But I also look at the way people are represented, even throughout academic study. I’d like to think that my research will someday pave the way for a different type of representation, for the way migrant mothers, working mothers, and mothers who study are perceived.  

And I’d like to think that one day this will enable me to write about more than motherhood, postcolonial science fiction and soap for example.

Farzana makes me believe that we do not have to be just one tick box on a form, we can  jump around and tick every box if we want to.

 

If you would like to join us in the women of Keele Educate project or if you are interested in more information about Decolonise Keele please fill out the below:

 

 

Not in Our Name: Women of Keele Educate (W.O.K.E) join protest at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre

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Raveena

On December 1st the Women of Keele Educate group (supported by the KPA and SU) took a minibus full of people to Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, this involved a two-hour drive each way and a lot of singing.

We joined the 15th ‘Surround Yarl’s Wood’ protest organised in order to demonstrate against the indefinite detainment of people held in detention centres across the UK.

With a few placards, whistles and a megaphone we joined around 300 other protesters, trudging through several muddy fields to get to the detention centre, all the while accompanied by the Police.

It must be said that (as usual) despite several roadblocks and the request for information concerning the numbers in our party, the police were very hands-off on the day.

The UK is the only country which does not limit the amount of time a person can remain in a detention centre before being released or deported.

Amongst those held at Yarl’s Wood (and other IRCs) are refugees, asylum seekers, LGBT+ identifying individuals and those who were brought to the UK as children.

People who have fled war, genocide, trafficking, rape, abuse and discrimination came to the UK for safety and have instead been treated as criminals.

People (mainly women) in Yarl’s Wood have no idea whether they are going to be held for 6 weeks or 3 years and are subject to dehumanising treatment from Serco (private security company who took over management of the centre in 2007) and the Home Office.

The detainees are often left without proper medical care, heating or privacy and a surprise report from Ofsted in June 2017 found, “During the course of the inspection it was discovered that a doctor who had been employed at the centre since November 2016 was not in possession of the required registration” (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2017, p5).

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We’re far too cool to look at the camera!

Although pregnant women are only supposed to be detained in a centre for a maximum of 3 days, one woman has been there for over 6 weeks, according to a sign displayed in one of the windows during the protest.*

In 2017 Women for Refugee Women found that 85% of detained women were survivors of rape and other gender-based violence (pg. 5).

The following, are only a few of the findings from research conducted about detainees in Yarl’s Wood:

  • 62% said they were survivors of rape or other sexual violence
  • 42% said they were survivors of forced prostitution/internal trafficking in their countries of origin, or that they had been trafficked to the UK for forced prostitution or domestic servitude
  • 38% said they were survivors of domestic violence
  • 35% said they were survivors of forced marriage
  • 15% said they were survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM)
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On the way to the demo site.

During the demonstration, both detainees and protesters heard from several ex-detainees, one of which was Mabel Gawanas who had previously been held at Yarl’s Wood for 3 years.

She spoke about the need for solidarity within the community of women in the detention centre, and the necessity of support from the wider society in rejecting the fundamentally racist, anti-immigration policies condoned by the UK Government.

Women inside Yarl’s Wood were able to communicate with protester’s through windows  opening only a couple of inches.

Some waved, some held up messages on A4 paper (‘Help us’, ‘I’m pregnant’, ‘Amnesty’, ‘Freedom’) and some shouted through the gap to tell us about their experiences.

As an ex-detainee stated “If it was safe for us to stay in our country, we wouldn’t be here today, we would be back there.”

Standing up against the inhumane treatment of those who seek safety and refuge within our borders, does not necessarily mean that one has to advocate an open-border type strategy – we can still have a stable and pragmatic immigration policy without subjecting those in need of sanctuary to the dehumanising treatment which currently exists.

Research both in the UK and elsewhere shows that there are much more effective alternatives to detention, ones which are more humane and less costly (see the International Detention Coalition, 2015).

In the wake of Brexit, Donald Trump, the Windrush Scandal and the election of Jair Bolsonaro, it has never been more important to take a stand against the xenophobia and bigotry which is perpetuated in our name.

Women of Keele Educate stand in solidarity with the women detained in Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres in the UK (and around the world) and want to continue increasing awareness surrounding this issue.

So then, we welcome you to join our newly formed organisation at Keele University, which champions intersectional feminism and to add your voice to the increasing number fighting for the human rights of women everywhere.

For more information concerning the demonstration, please follow the links below:

http://www.refugeewomen.co.uk/2016/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/We-are-still-here-report-WEB.pdf

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/protesters-rally-detention-centre-women-immigrants-181201212935358.html  (Spot the quote from our very own Sophia Taha).

https://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/There-Are-Alternatives-2015.pdf

 

*According to Movement for Justice, this woman was released on the evening of the demonstration due to increased public scrutiny and pressure placed on staff by her fellow detainees, whom until yesterday hadn’t been aware of her condition (although it was known to Serco and the Home Office).

See below for more photos from the day.

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Time to Do Better

A quick Saturday morning of research has thrown up some interesting facts and figures:

2016

When looking at the data from the KeeleSU Elections in 2016 there were 47 candidates total.

Of that total 78.7 % identified their ethnicity as white. When you compare that to Keele’s statistics on all students, the student body, was 65.8% white.

So in percentage terms, the white student populace is over-represented in running for positions of power on campus.

I also found that whilst 61.7% of candidates in the SU elections identified themselves as male, the campus wide demographic showed that only 41% of all students on campus were male.

(Head to here to see the full report on the student demographic at Keele that year)

2017

When looking at the data from the KeeleSU Elections in 2017 there were 43 candidates in total.

70.45% of candidates that ran identified themselves as white compared to a campus demographic of 64.8% white students.

61.3% of candidates that ran, identified themselves as male, but campus wide the demographic data meant that 41.4% of all students were male.

Head here to see the full report on the student demographic at Keele that year

There is a disproportionate number of men running for and holding positions of power on campus.

It is not representative of the student body.

I don’t currently have access to the data to do the same work for KPA positions, but it is significantly worse if you consider the number of male postgraduates that have held the KPA positions versus the number of female postgraduates we have in total.

(This data is from 2015/16 as it was available it is unlikely that there are  huge fluctuations in gender balance year on year):

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It’s time to do better.

After just a few months of work Women of Keele Educate have ensured a higher number of women and non-binary people at Keele have nominated themselves in the upcoming by-elections.

Take the time to read the manifestos of some fantastic candidates when you see them appear in the next few weeks.

Take the time to vote.

Take the time to ensure that you are accurately represented.

If you need any help or would like to join us get in contact