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.

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