HEA First National Race Equality Conference


Left to right: Prof Kalpana Shankar, President Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, Dr Helen Maher, Dr Arun Verma

The first HEA National Race Equality Conference was hosted by the University of Galway and took place on the 20th of March 2023. This one-day conference was held in order to highlight the structural, institutional, and historical dimensions of racism which have informed past and current practice in HEIs and the societies in which they are situated.  

The President of the University of Galway, Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh opened the conference, welcoming attendees and emphasising the importance of the day. Dr. Ross Woods then introduced Professor Kalpana Shankar (Full Professor of Information and Communication Studies at UCD) who kindly launched the Anti-Racism Principles for Irish Higher Education Institutions.

The Principles were a key action in the HEA’s Race Equality Implementation Plan 2022-2024. The HEA has invited HEI Presidents to sign and endorse these Principles. Through signing these, HEIs are acknowledging that racial inequalities are present in HE and that they will proactively strive to embed race quality into their institutions. The Principles have been shaped by careful consultation with higher education stakeholders and by the Athena Swan Ireland Intersectionality Working Group of which Professor Shankar is a member.

Following the launch of the Principles, there was a panel discussion chaired by Siobhán Kangataran (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager in MTU) which looked to discuss race equality and the Principles. This led to very interesting and engaging conversations among the panellists, who then took questions from the audience. Panellists included:

  1. Nata Duvvury (Senior Lecturer and Director, Centre for Global Women’s Studies, NUI Galway)
  2. Thomas McCann (National Traveller Mental Health Network)
  3. Tonye Benson-Olatunde (Lecturer in Department of applied social studies)
  4. Liam Thornton (Associate Professor in the School of Law, UCD and Co-Chair of the UCD Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Sanctuary Sub-Group)
  5. Professor Kalpana Shankar (Full Professor of Information and Communication Studies at UCD)

After lunch, we were delighted to hear from our keynote speaker Dr Arun Verma, who travelled from London for the conference. Dr. Verma is a leading figure in implementing intersectionality, anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion strategies to transform outcomes in systems and communities. He spoke about his experience of racism, the intersectionality of inequalities and how we can all affect positive change in higher education.

Following this attendees took part in various interactive workshops. These included:

  • Developing Race Equality Plans – Dr. Lucy Michael (Research Expert in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Consultant) and Dr. Niloufar Omidi (Senior Researcher specialising in Human Rights Law at Lucy Michael Research Training and Consultancy).
  • Institutional Experiences of Advancing and Implementing Race Equality – Owen Ward (EDI Programme Manager for Race Equality, University of Galway) and Oluchi Porter (Athena SWAN Project Officer, RCSI).
  • The Voiceless Colony – Dr. Sarah Sartori (Research Manager of College Connect and Vice-Chair University of Sanctuary Ireland) and Lilian Nwanze (Anti-racism Lecturer in the Department of Adult and Community Education, Maynooth University).
  • University of Sanctuary – Prof. Lorraine McIlrath (MIC and University of Sanctuary Ireland Chair), Dr. Veronica Crosbie (DCU and Places of Sanctuary Ireland Chair), Aidan Harte (University of Galway University of Sanctuary Coordinator) and Karina Curley (DCU Widening Participation Officer).
  • Actions in the HEA Race Equality Implementation Plan – Dr. Ross Woods

The Conference closed with thanks to all for their involvement and attendance from the University of Galway’s VP for EDI Helen Maher, followed by a reading of a poem “Intersectionality” by Tonye Benson-Olatunde.

Intersectionality (A Poem)

A world of many colours, a tapestry so bright

Where each strand represents a unique identity in light

But when woven together, a pattern it creates

Of experiences of oppression, privilege, and fate

Where ability, race, gender, class and orientation

All intersect and shape each situation

For some, privilege is their crown

For others, oppression wears them down

But intersectionality tells a different tale

Of how these experiences cannot be easily scaled

For each individual is unique in their own way

With complex intersections that shape their every day

So let us not simplify, or make it all black and white

For intersectionality shows us a world of colours, shining bright

And in this understanding, a path to justice we will find

For each and every individual, their voice and story to unwind.

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