Oct 02 2018

Katerina Finnis

To celebrate our diverse community, we'll be taking part in the Black History Month campaign throughout October. One of the aims of Black History Month is to celebrate the achievements of members of ethnic minority communities, including unsung heroes who have helped change the political, cultural and social landscape. We recently caught up with Katerina Finnis to learn more about the importance of Black History Month and the events that are taking place across October.

1 Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role as Equality and Diversity Co-ordinator?

I worked as an academic for nearly a decade before becoming an Equality and Diversity practitioner. My research focused on multilingual language use and identity, and I taught modules on gender identity and intercultural (mis)communication. My interest in diversity and inclusion prompted me to transition from academia into becoming an Equality practitioner.

As an Equality and Diversity coordinator, I help the College in its aim to become an inclusive institution that promotes equality of opportunity. I analyse data, carry out consultation activities, support staff networks, organise events and contribute towards the design and implementation of equality-related aims and action plans. 

2. What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy the varied nature of my role. I am involved in a wide range of projects and I work with colleagues from a variety of roles across the institution who share the same values and passion as I do.

3. This month is Black History Month, could you tell us a bit more about this campaign and why it’s important?

The purpose of Black History Month each October is to encourage reflection on the history and achievements of minority ethnic staff, celebrating contributions to the socio-political and cultural development of the UK. It is important not to see Black History Month as a tokenistic celebration of diversity, or an ‘add-on’. Neither, of course, should the focus on achievements and inequalities be confined to a single month. Our activities at Royal Holloway continue beyond October as we engage with long-term projects, including addressing the ethnicity attainment gap, embedding diversity in the curriculum and removing cultural and institutional barriers to progression. Having a specific month put aside, however, does help to highlight inequality and white privilege, and to further promote ongoing projects.

4. Can you tell us about the Black History Month events that are taking place across campus throughout October?

The events we have organised reflect some of the ongoing challenges students and colleagues face. For example, we have organised a networking event for students and staff who identify as minority ethnic, as research shows that nationally, students from ethnic minority backgrounds feel a lack of role models. We are also launching a new career development programme for colleagues that focuses on the distinct challenges of ethnic minority staff in the higher education sector, empowering individuals to understand and overcome barriers. The Department of English are also holding an event, bringing students and colleagues together to discuss writers of colour and unearth literary voices that may otherwise be missed.

5. What’s been your favourite project that you’ve worked on over the past year?

My favourite project, but also the most challenging, is my current involvement in Royal Holloway’s application to renew the Race Equality Charter award. This is a framework that helps institutions reflect on institutional and cultural barriers, and focus on improving the representation and success of minority ethnic students and colleagues. Achieving ‘real’ institutional cultural change, with equity embedded in the whole structure and culture of the organisation, is a national challenge and certainly work in progress. 

6. Do you have any interesting hobbies or interests?

Watching TV thrillers, keeping my garden plants alive and cooking in my crockpot. You decide whether these are ‘interesting’ hobbies!

7. You may have seen our latest recruitment campaign, ‘Find your why’. We are interested to find out what Royal Holloway has helped you to discover about yourself…

My involvement with Equality and Diversity at Royal Holloway has challenged me to reflect on my own heritage and privilege. Through engaging with students and staff from different and varied backgrounds and perspectives, I have learnt a lot about myself and my personal experiences, and feel more able to understand the perspectives of others, which is key in my line of work.