Dr. Catherine Murgatroyd, Principal Lecturer for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in Academic Development, University of Portsmouth

As a Principal Lecturer for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in Academic Development at the University of Portsmouth, Catherine’s motivation is drawn from a reimagined Higher Education (Arday, Belluigi, & Thomas, 2021; Zembylas, & Bozalek, 2017; Roegman, et al 2021) where awarding gaps do not exist, every student can authentically, and most importantly, transparently belong, and where students have maximum agency over their educational outcomes because structural, cultural and institutional barriers to success have been identified and dismantled. With a professional background in statutory Social Work, she has spent much of her professional career prior to academia working within complex social problems that manifest in individual and community vulnerabilities and hardship. Catherine’s professional values of social justice, respect for diversities, and the empowerment and liberation of people underpin her work in academic development where her work centers around pedagogical practices that promote equity, celebrate diversity, and build communities where everyone can belong. She holds qualifications in Social Work, Counselling, and Mediation, as well as a Doctorate in Education, utilising systemic understandings and intervention skills to create rich relationships in Higher Education for safety, bravery, and growth.


The University of Portsmouth is proud of its success in widening access to H.E. with an overrepresentation of students from areas of deprivation. In common with most UK universities there is a gap between the proportion of BAME and White students achieving a 1st or a 2:1 Class Degree. An overview of the literature regarding these gaps highlights the complexity, breadth, and depth of what is a complex, social, and political problem where both historical and contemporary oppression and discrimination across multiple axis manifest in unequal educational attainment (Codiroli McMaster, 2021; Ugiagbe-Green, & Ernsting, 2022). Our understandings of this phenomena are informed by a range of empirical evidence, disciplinary and substantive knowledge, theorising from multiple disciplines, and, most importantly, the voices of those with lived experience (Zembylas, & Bozalek, 2017).

Part of my role has been to design a methodology that affords academic staff with the knowledge, skills, and values for socially just education, whilst generating the motivation to ensure EDI is a foundation of all educational activity but also transcends pedagogical strategies to ensure equity of opportunity for everyone, institution-wide.

Tackling such complexity is fraught from the outset with inherent tensions as we rely upon western centred ideologies in their contemporary context, whilst simultaneously needing to centre new ways of knowing to avoid complicity with Neoliberalism, Academic Capitalism, and of course, tokenism (Kester, 2020). This complexity starts from the conceptualisation of awarding gaps as we locate them in the historical context of Imperialism, Empire, and the colonial legacies that subjugate (Bhambra, Gebrial, & Nişancıoğlu, 2018). We turn to Sociological perspectives that offer us frameworks to understand the barriers to belonging at the individual, and structural levels (Thompson, 2017), enhanced further by concepts including Capital (Bourdieu, 1986; Brooks, 2016), stigma, stigmatised identities (Goffman, 1963) Ideology and Hegemony (Hall, 2018, Hemalatha, 2019). Anthropological understandings offer us community, culture, and an essential intersectional lens (Crenshaw, 2021 )whilst strands of Psychology might inform our strategies to mitigate unconscious bias (Thomas & Gershenson (2017), stereotype threat (Spencer, Logel, & Davies, 2016), microaggression (Sue, 2010) and utilise trauma-informed perspectives (Henshaw, 2022). The latter equally important for students with intergenerational trauma as a result of ancestral persecution and/or lived experience of discrimination and oppression.  All of these discipline contributions, however, need evaluating through a critical lens, whilst respective scholars attend to their own knowledge production processes, through decolonising /reindiginising epistemologies (Arday, Belluigi, & Thomas, 2021; Zembylas, & Bozalek, 2017; Roegman, et al 2021; Bhambra, Gebrial, & Nişancıoğlu, 2018).

The task for universities being to grapple with this heterogeneity and integrate these knowledges pedagogically across the entire student experience,  remaining doggedly committed to equity in the face of often conflicting data that homogenises and the rapidly shifting landscape of H.E.

The Re-Imagined Higher Education: A Methodology for Equity, Belonging and Success aims to tackle this issue with a multi-disciplinary methodology that takes the form of a suite of whole institution learning opportunities for educators, researchers, and professional colleagues, that co-constructs solutions with students, and engages participants in ongoing critical reflexivity through action research.

In recognition that roles and subject disciplines may leave participants with varying levels of expertise and insight into their own strands of privilege/disadvantage, this methodology starts with an introduction to ‘self’ through Positionality (Secules, et al 2021; Folkes, 2022). Here a reflective exercise that builds upon others (Birdsney and Kustner, 2021; Elsherif et al, 2022) examines 25 elements of human identity,  interrogates who has the power and/or agency to construct and assign the labels we hold, as well as examine opportunities, or barriers encountered at a personal, institutional or cultural levels as a result (Thompson, 2017). This introduction illuminates intersectionality and provides the tools upon which to write positionality statements (Cooper, 2015; Crenshaw, 2021). Building on this, ‘Creating Brave Learning Spaces’ responds to anxieties often reported by academic staff who fear they may misspeak or offend students due to the pace at which EDI understandings evolve, the distance between their discipline from these knowledges, and positionality differences in the learning space. This workshop is designed to promote authenticity and psychological safety when exploring emotive, sometimes polarising issues with students. Using simple yet impactful facilitative techniques found in Social Work, Counselling, and Mediation, staff learn the skills to create learning environments that can interrogate issues of oppression in ways that reduce the burden on minoritised students, encourage bravery, safety, and compassion for the discomfort experienced during self-development, and that bring diverse learning communities closer together by calling ‘In’ rather than ‘out’ when beliefs are aired that has yet to be critically examined through the lens of Hegmony (Arao & Clemens; 2013; Cook-Sather, 2016; Perez-Putnam, M. 2016).

With a foundation of positionality, and facilitative skills that can tackle difficulty, the suite progresses to deliver training that enables the creation of learning environments (all-encompassing) that attend to learner diversity and respond to the growing international market through the lens of cultural humility (Singh et al, 2022). This includes an examination of the Model Minority myth (Pool et al, 2016) and pedagogical strategies that attend to the full spectrum of learner differences and preferences. After what might feel theoretically heavy the suite extends to the assimilation and application of this learning via sessions devoted to belonging with the acquisition and practice of skills necessary for Allyship, Bystander Intervention, and Inclusive language. This application may take the form of experimentation from educators, student-led enhancements, and action research.  Similarly, the adjacent but not necessarily succedent session devoted to Trauma-informed pedagogies outlines the impact of collective, community, and individual trauma on individual capacity to learn arguing for and disseminating trauma-informed strategies for equity that start with shared understandings of the impact of trauma and the importance of educator/learner emotional and nervous system regulation. (Henshaw, 2022; Hirschberger, 2018; Johnson, 2018; Perry 2006).

Conceptually, this methodology asserts that in recognition that early academia was instrumental in creating knowledge that categorised and divided humankind in ways that assigned hierarchical worth (Galton, 1886; Huxley, 1870) it falls to the contemporary beneficiaries of the atrocities built upon those divisions, to undo the legacies (Bhambra, Gebrial, & Nişancıoğlu, 2018).  Hence Pedagogical practices start with resources co-constructed with students towards socially just curriculums (Dunbar-Morris, Barlow, & Layer, 2019) recognising fundamental concepts such as epistemological justice and ontological oppression, and decolonised curriculums that are transparent regarding the exploitation of certain groups in the advancement of science. Contiguous and somewhat overlapping, the session  ‘Understanding Awarding Gaps, Causes, Considerations and Moving Forward’ walks academic staff through the structural barriers across all UK education, as well as an evidence-based disarming of the deficit model (Harry and Klinger, 2007) and significant attention to the learning tax (Givens, 2016), belonging, bias, and stereotype threat (Spencer, Logel, & Davies, 2016). This session makes the links between the aforementioned learning, the applied practical strategies for belonging, and their continued value in tackling award variations.

At the University of Portsmouth, we are proud of our excellence in Teaching and Learning (TEF Gold, 2023), and on top of our ‘EnABLe’ team-based approach to learning design, this methodology provides academic colleagues with additional tools to audit and evaluate their teaching practices in terms of accessibility and inclusivity whether this is in the form of teaching methods, learning activities (Laurillard, 2012) artifacts, assessment for learning (Jessop, El Hakim, & Gibbs, 2011) and digital innovation, with the overarching aim to minimise the need for differentiated instruction and reasonable adjustments. The final strand of this methodology currently in development is our  ‘education for sustainability’. These sessions are aligned with our education strategy to ensure that our students, colleagues, education, and research outputs are rooted in socially just, environmentally responsible, and globally responsive values that promote innovative solutions to the multi-faceted challenges ahead.

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