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'Race silenced at political level', says academic

BOLD: Dr Nicola Rollock at work

ENGLAND’S FIRST academic centre dedicated to the study of racism and race inequality in education, opened today by Doreen Lawrence, has a deputy director willing to take the bold steps needed to refocus the fight against racism in society.

“I think race has become silenced at a political level, but race matters to all of us,” says Dr Nicola Rollock, second in command behind director Professor David Gillborn of the new Centre for Research in Race and Education (CRRE) at the University of Birmingham.

Rollock applauds the university’s decision – a “bold step” as she calls it – to open the centre. The CRRE’s mission, she says, is to pursue race equality and social justice by working to close the gaps in educational achievement and improve the educational experiences and career outcomes of black and minority ethnic groups.

“As a society we talk about gender and class, but we don’t talk about race. It makes us feel uncomfortable. We like to think that once you have the right education and the appropriate accent you are fine, but this is not the case.”

Last year Dr Rollock was quoted in The Voice as she explained that many black professionals were reluctant to call themselves middle class for fear of being thought of as ‘white.’ She believes the educated black elite in Britain today are still held back by racism and inaccurate stereotypes.

She insists that even though their life is based in academia, she and fellow deputy director Paul Warmington and Gillborn, see themselves as activists.

“We are not working solely with academics at conferences. Our work brings us into direct contact with people who have real problems, such as a mother whose son is about to be excluded from school. Someone like that could often come up to me after a lecture asking for guidance. As a Black academic I feel I am not sitting outside these issues – I am part of them.”

Born in the UK, Dr Rollock, of Bajan heritage, says she often notices the relief on the faces of young black students when they meet her.

“I can see them thinking: ‘Oh there’s someone here like me.’ I think it goes beyond the role model bit. I think they are just relieved and probably say to themselves: ‘this person may have had the same experiences as me.’”

CRRE is not receiving any Government funding but has several important national and international partners including the equalities think tank brap, the Runnymede Trust, ROTA (Race on the Agenda) and the Powerlist Foundation. Internationally, it has backing from the Centre for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington and Critical Studies in Race Education, both in the US.

Rollock, who wrote the report ‘The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 10 years On’, added: “We’re so humbled and honoured that Doreen Lawrence is opening the centre as it’s a poignant year for her being the 20th anniversary of Stephen’s murder.

"There is no better person to open our new centre.”

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