Inclusion at QMUL: Sandra Brown and What Comes Next

Walking through Library Square and Ground Cafe on the 8th of October, it was difficult to avoid seeing *that* email, a powerfully worded accusation about Queen Mary’s problematic, institutionalized racism. The A4 letters plastered around campus highlighted parts of an email sent to Colin Bailey, Principal and President of Queen Mary. In bold were the words “On 30 April 2018 you met with me and another academic and asked us both do we think QM is institutional [sic] racist. I paused before

answering as you were new and I did not want to be judgmental. I can now answer the question and my answer is YES”. The email was from Sandra Brown, former Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Queen Mary, sent to Colin before her resignation last spring. In the email she highlights serious racism issues and a “culture of bullying” as reasons for her abrupt departure. Brown claims that Colin failed to discuss her reasons for leaving with her: “I approached my leaving date with no communication from you.” A Queen Mary research academic (who shall remain nameless) spoke to CUB and said that Colin needs to respond if he wishes for this situation to get any better. When asked if they think there will be a response from QM, they said no.

It will be difficult for Queen Mary to continue to ignore the allegations made by Sandra Brown now that students have copies of the damning email. The Students Union put out a statement denouncing institutional racism, and also acknowledged that the information in the email particularly affects BAME students, who Brown insinuated are being used by the university so they can continue to advertise their diversity. Accusing the university of not paying enough attention to the diversity of its staff, Brown rejects the praise Queen Mary receives.“Diversity is easy,’’ she says, “but now you need to pick up the heavy mantle that is inclusion and battle equally for staff as well as students who are the fabric of QM”. The staff member I spoke to reflected on how “there wasn’t really a reaction… I haven’t heard anyone talking about it. At all. It feels like staff at QM are quick to talk about diversity, but they aren’t racially aware.” Queen Mary has a Zero Tolerance policy regarding bullying, meaning that each staff member affected by bullying must be given support and all allegations investigated. But when I asked about the culture of bullying, the research academic said, “there is definitely a culture of bullying at QM, it’s evident in the staff survey results”. The academic also points out that the qualitative data collected for the staff survey wasn’t published, a move that has been noticed by staff. “It makes you question what was in the qualitative parts? Why aren’t we being shown how staff feel?” 

Meanwhile, Queen Mary continues to pride itself on the diversity of its students, and wastes no opportunity to announce the encouraging statistics. Hailed as the most ethnically diverse Russell Group University, the outcry following Sandra Browns’ email feels like it’s falling on the deaf ears of an administration that sits comfortably on such reports. In the midst of the fallout, CUB was asked specifically to report on the diversity achievements of the medical school. To this attitude, Brown responded: “there has been a mass exodus of [staff ]. Have you noticed?” Her question remains unanswered. Students aren’t happy with how the university has decided to deal with the circulation of the email, by not dealing with it at all. 


The full statement issued by QMUL is below: 


Truly embedding inclusion into everything we do is a long and challenging process. We need to develop our culture, policies, processes and systems, but most of all at all levels across the institution we need to lead, manage and behave in line with our values, and call out behaviours not in line with our values. As we say in our 2030 Strategy, we want to be the most inclusive University of our kind, and we recognise that we have a lot to do to realise that ambition.


So, this is what we have done so far and what are we planning to do next:


  • We have spent some time over the summer running workshops and focus groups to hear about people’s lived experiences at Queen Mary and what needs to change. Specific focus groups were run to get frank perspectives from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, from women, LGBTQ+ and disabled groups. The independent consultant who ran those workshops and focus groups has completed her research and her report is due to be with us very shortly.
  • We have run an all-staff survey, and the results were made available to all staff on 12 September. The survey focused on a number of important aspects of life at Queen Mary, including inclusivity, wellbeing, culture, management and development, and the results highlighted culture, behaviours, and bullying and harassment as areas for us to focus on first. 
  • Our education strategy is co-created with students building on the success of our Going for Gold initiative started in the summer of 2018. Its vision is one of “co-creating an outstanding, all-inclusive world-class education, enhanced by the richness of our diverse student population”, and EDI is embedded throughout, with students engaged as members of the different working groups. 
  • We are working with the Students’ Union and others to introduce “Report and Support” so that students and staff can safely and anonymously report issues with better follow-up, support and resolution.
  • We want to be bold and innovative in the training we roll out across Queen Mary. We want to challenge ways of thinking, cultural norms, and conscious and unconscious bias to deliver behaviour and cultural change. We are piloting a core programme of EDI training.
  • We want to embed inclusion more systematically across each stage of employment for staff – that’s from recruitment, induction, appraisal, reward and promotion through to departure. How we do this is being developed by HR and discussed with faculties as part of firming up the proposition. 


We are proud to support Black History Month, and are committed to better celebrating all significant events in the diversity calendar as well as more generally sharing and celebrating the many different cultures and backgrounds within Queen Mary. 


These are some of our first steps, and we want to continue to work with students and staff to ensure we all flourish here and onwards from here, and that we do become the most inclusive university of our kind.


2 thoughts on “Inclusion at QMUL: Sandra Brown and What Comes Next

  1. I completely agree that more needs to be done to promote equality and diversity within QMUL, do you have any particular suggestions about how this can be done? I think we need more people to voice their experiences and beliefs. Also, how can we read more about this email chain? This is actually my first time hearing about it!

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