Creating a Student-Led Group for CHASE: A Reflection

Jack Rutherford, PhD Film Studies, Student Committee Representative, University of Essex,

This post will offer a review of the project of the CHASE Diversity group, from its early inception to its current nascent state. Last Autumn, I noted the varied CHASE Networks, such as the Feminist Network and SAVANT, that offered groups for those interested in feminist dialogues, or American visual art and text. However, there was an absence of network or group specifically for disabled students, which I felt could be addressed.

This post will offer an outline of the process that was undertaken to organise the Diversity group and will reflect on the last six months or so; from initial idea to the recent Diversity in Body and Mind workshop at the last CHASE Encounters, held at the University of Kent, Canterbury. In addition, this post will hope to promote discussion and feedback, a point of reference for those interested in the Diversity group, or for those setting up their own network within the CHASE consortium.

The Diversity group came to fruition from a proposal to the CHASE management team, at the University of Sussex. This meant emailing Rob Witts and Steve Colburn, who were very keen to promote a student-led group of this design. Also, I had recently received feedback from CHASE students, in my capacity as Student Committee representative for the University of Essex, with regard the introductory Encounters for CHASE’s 2018/19 intake. It was felt there were moves CHASE could make to be more inclusive and accessible for those with visible and invisible disabilities. I was given a slot to announce the formation of the Diversity in Body and Mind group at the next Encounters at the Barbican, London, in November 2018.

Partially due to getting lost (I still blame Google), and my own stage fright, the announcement was moved to the monthly CHASE Bulletin: this was an extremely useful platform for exposure, and two CHASE students, got back in touch. I had spoken to Effie Makepeace and Kate Meakin during the Barbican Encounters’ breakout sessions, who were keen for such a group and were vocal in support; both would lend their ideas over the coming months, and the Diversity group is as much theirs as my own. In fact, this is something I am keen to do: remove the notion of ‘ownership’ and democratise the group.

Effie and Kate’s feedback, as well as support from Ellis Spicer, Kate Docking and Matthew Jones from the Student Committee, was instrumental in getting over my own limitations to see the group come in to being. The first Diversity roundtable took place on the second day of the recent Encounters conference, at the University of Kent, on 12th and 13th July 2019.

I was initially dismayed at the low attendance to the workshop, but I was held in place by the presence of co-conspirator, Effie, and Steve had come along from the CHASE management team lending his support. We persevered and the talk progressed naturally.

The result was an extremely positive and fruitful discussion regards the purpose and direction of the Diversity group. We now have a plan in place to act in mediation between CHASE and the student cohort; to be fully trained coordinators, acting as a point of reference and guidance for CHASE students between and during Encounters’ conferences. This will take further work, training and engagement on the members of the Diversity group, but CHASE are committed to student development, and are constantly hoping to evolve and stretch the parameters of inclusivity within the consortium.

Reflections on Encounters: Kent 2019

By Ellis Spicer

It was a warm day in Canterbury, summer Encounters are often blessed by the weather, so I’ve been told. And it wasn’t just any Encounters, but CHASE DTP Director Denise Decaires Narain’s final stint in her role.

The programme was as varied as it was interesting, giving massive attention to and focus on the student-led sessions such as ‘Researching distressing topics’, decolonising the curriculum, the Diversity in Body and Mind Group and the Feminist Network to name but a few. But interspersed throughout these specialist break out sessions was an awful lot of fun, frivolity and room for thought, such as cohort building activities in Canterbury City Centre and on campus, mindfulness, art and pets as therapy but also skills based endeavours such as ‘how to shut up and write’ or ‘how to tame your supervisor’. There really was ‘something for everyone’ and for the next few weeks we will be illustrating the wide variety of sessions offered in a series of special posts. If anyone is interested in writing a post about an aspect of Encounters feel free to get in touch via

The key strengths of Encounters this year for me was the commitment from the CHASE organising committee to inclusivity in not just words but in their actions. Outlining the use of the quiet room for feelings of being overwhelmed and needing some reflective time and not to work was greatly welcomed by the cohort at large. The previous Encounters at the Barbican had led to some people choosing to work in the silent spaces, and it was great to see a separate room commandeered for this reason. Furthermore, a statement from Denise as CHASE Director pledged commitment to inclusivity in all forms not just in Encounters but as a central point of the CHASE ethos. We as a committee would like to echo her heartfelt sentiments and convey how our blog aims to showcase the diverse range of life experience, backgrounds and preferences within CHASE.

The emphasis on student works in progress and research at the start of each day was truly impressive and allowed us a small insight into other work going on within CHASE. Whilst we have our own fields and expertise, it is fascinating to see the passion with which other students talk about their work. We would encourage any students who haven’t done so yet to volunteer to talk about your research in the next Encounters. Sharing research in these collaborative and interdisciplinary spaces couldn’t be more important, and potentially enables us to formulate contacts away from our fields based on other lines of similarity that unites our individual research.

On a final note, we as a Committee would like to record our thanks to the organisers of Encounters for all their hard work, with particular thanks to Emily Bartlett, Kathryn Gjorgjiev, Steve Colburn, Clare Hunt, Rob Witts and Denise Decaires Narain for their hard work and commitment to such a varied and engaging programme. Our final thanks go to Denise as outgoing Director for the support and enthusiasm she has shown for the work of the Student Committee. The heartfelt messages circulated in our green notebooks as a gift to her shows just how much she will be missed.

Tune in next week where we will have further reflections on Encounters in more specific detail. And as always, if you wish to write a blog post for us on any topic or join our committee, please do get in touch via