Dr. Sandra Appiah, a Senior Lecturer in biochemistry, was in her London home the day the video of George Floyd’s arrest went viral. Stories of racial injustice weren’t new to her, but this one hit her differently. She felt something in her shift. Dr. Appiah thought of her students in the Department of Natural Sciences at Middlesex University, who came from all around the world. She considered how valuable it was to feel represented in the classroom and what she could do as a Black female biochemist to help create a more diverse, equitable learning environment.
As it turned out, those questions were very much on the minds of others at Middlesex. With 40,000 students from 167 countries—and 70% of whom are Black or Brown—the university is a veritable melting pot. Diversity is part of the school’s fabric, but after the Black Lives Matter movement, equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) efforts gained new momentum, especially at the main campus in Northwest London.
Workstreams were established, project groups formed, and a chorus of different voices weighed in. From this evolved one of the university’s community principles: to strive to create a fairer world and embed EDI in everything.
Talk turned to meaningful action with intentionality underpinning everything, as articulated by Anna Kyprianou, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for EDI at Middlesex. Dr. Deeba Gallacher, the head of the Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement, and members of the Student Union co-led work on EDI, including the development of an inclusive curriculum.
It was around this time that Dr. Appiah jumped into the mix. She attended university-wide EDI meetings that weren’t just eye opening; they also helped give her efforts some direction. “I heard that Black and Brown people are achieving less in and outside of the university,” she says. “To my shame, I didn’t know the extent of the problem. But as a scientist, I thought, OK, where are the data and what are some solutions to the problem? I was asking a lot of questions, and I also wanted to hear the students’ voices. It was a bit bold because I’ve never done anything like that before, but I decided to start.”