Month: February 2021

Equality and difference (of opinion)

Last week I finished reading Ian Dunt’s book, ‘How to  be a Liberal’, a history of the development of liberal thought all the way from Descartes to present day arguments about justice and equality. It is a terrific read, which I am still digesting.

I may return to it at greater length later. The chapters on Belonging and Identity are particularly worthwhile. They touch on the struggles we still have today in dealing with the tensions that arise between thinking of people as individuals and the assumptions we make about them arising from our very human tendencies to associate into different groups.

But for this quick post I just wanted to pull out some of the thoughts of John Stuart Mill and his lover, partner and eventual wife, Harriet Taylor, two of the most influential voices on liberalism from the 19th Century. Their words touch on the importance of seeking out difference to enhance our understanding of the world:

Extract from Ian Dunt's book 'How to be a Liberal'

In particular, they emphasise the value of testing ideas in debate with those who disagree with us, something that we struggle with in the age of social media:

Extract from Ian Dunt's book 'How to be a Liberal'

And finally, they point to the important quality required if one is to engage creatively with people who see the world differently from us – empathy:

Extract from Ian Dunt's book 'How to be a Liberal'

How many of us have the commitment and the empathy to put ourselves  in the position of another? I like to think that I try, but it can be very hard work. The temptation to fall back into the comforting membership of the group, whether it is shaped by politics, religion, gender, culture, ethnicity, profession or organisational hierarchy, is always there.

EDI comms – a restart

Communication, communication, communication. You might think that with staff briefings, news articles, social media feeds, an ever-expanding website, emails and regular newsletters, there was no shortage of communication at Imperial.

Phone box in the countryside
Communication – especially valuable when you are remote

And you’d be right. But despite the profusion of information channels, it is hard to keep track of everything that is going on. That can lead to frustrated communications within our community, especially if people feel caught unawares by new initiatives or activities.

The original purpose of starting this blog was to open another channel of communication to keep people in the loop about the various EDI activities that are going on across the College. But given that the last entry was dated June 2020, I have been neglecting my duty.

As an excuse for my failure, I can of course plead the many demands of living under Covid-19, which has disrupted all our lives, at work and at home. I have been feeling its effects more and more of late, particularly in a growing sense of the detachment from the pulse and variety of life on campus. When every activity is reduced to an interaction with a computer screen, a deadening monotony sets in.

I can’t do much about that, but I can at least try to return to my purpose here. So, let me commit to at least a weekly post – well, maybe fortnightly – to let people know what is going on across a range of EDI matters at the College. A blog post might still mainly be a one-way flow of information, but I hope it signals an openness to conversation. I retain my faith in the necessity of people talking to people as the best way to change the world.

To keep things manageable, I will try to keep these posts short. For this week, let me just remind you that February is LBGT History month. The roster of events lined up by Imperial600 and the students’ union is already well under way but there are still things you can sign up for.

And coming up from 8-12th March will be Women@Imperial Week 2021. The programme is being finalised and will be advertised this coming week.