World Cultural Diversity Day
Oxford University has connections with virtually every country in the world. Our students come from 150 countries and our academic staff from 98.
On World Day for Cultural Diversity, May 21st 2017, we take a look at the diverse backgrounds of people at Oxford and what diversity means to them.
“I teach at the Oxford Department of International Development, where students typically come every year from over fifty countries, ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe. Teaching and learning amidst this cornucopia of nationalities and ethnicities is unusually enriching and productive. With such a diversity of country, culture and class, each student has a unique set of ideas, political beliefs and ethical sensibilities, which s/he brings to bear on the analysis of pressing development issues.
Our students stimulate and challenge each other, and us — the faculty — to probe old certainties and embrace alternative ways of thinking. It is this crucible of diverse thought and perspectives that so effectively yields innovative ways of approaching development problems, and equips our students to be outstanding future practitioners and scholars of development. For me as a teacher and researcher, learning new ways of seeing from my students is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.”
“I have always been passionate about engineering and science, not only because it can fix real problems but also it gives me a chance to understand better the world around me. I am originally from China and moved to the UK 7 years ago due to the exciting research opportunities it offers. I strongly believe that everyone is equal in front of science and each of us can make important contributions. As science has many disciplines, it needs a diverse work force, which represents vast facets of knowledge, perspectives and values, to uncover the most significant findings.”
“I am a true Londoner, born and bred, only moving away to go to University. However, both of my parents emigrated to the UK from Guyana, South America, both of their great grandparents are from India. So whilst my nationality is British, the culture I grew up in is a vibrant array of Caribbean, Indian/Pakistani, Islamic and British influences. All of which gave me a better understanding of different cultures around the world. Diversity is a must for Oxford to create an even more enriching educational environment, to create a safe space for all cultures and backgrounds, to further our understanding of each other.”
“We learn from people with experiences other than our own. Only diversity allows for multi-voice stories and thus ultimately growth and progress. Diversity furthers understanding and compassion and thus peace and prosperity. Diversity is necessary for true equality. In the educational context, only diversity and inclusivity can allow students to become well-rounded individuals that are citizens of the world.”
“To be able to tackle problems and issues with global impact, we need global forces; we need scholars from all around the world with different backgrounds, experiences, trainings, ways of thinking, and ideas to be able to solve big problems. Diversity is the key of success in facing big challenges.”
“It’s been established that companies with diverse workforces are more profitable (http://www.raeng.org.uk/policy/diversity-in-engineering/why-is-diversity-important). Engineering is about solving problems for the good of humanity; humanity is diverse, the problems are diverse, so naturally, the solutions also need to be diverse and address different perspectives. The University can only benefit from diversity in all aspects, whether it’s cultural, gender, disability, class, or sexual orientation.”
“I’ve been impressed by the College’s feminist history, and the influence of very senior staff members, the vast majority of whom are women — such as our Principal, The Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini, our Bursar Vicki Stott and our Development Director Sarah Carthew. I think female students have excellent role models here to inspire them in their future careers. I am an out member of the LGBT community, and I feel that visibility and acceptance of minority sexualities and gender identities has changed very dramatically for the better since I was a student in Oxford in the 1980s/90s. I have encountered no negative responses at all with regard to my sexuality here, and know of several other out members of our community, from academic staff to students. I think Oxford still has a long way to go in terms of racial and social diversity in its student intake, but am encouraged by the outreach and access work that I see being actively done here, and within the University as a whole. Diversity is key if Oxford wishes to foster the best and brightest minds, and to provide a place to live and work which offers opportunity and security for all its members equally.”
Bridget Azubuike is a quantitative research assistant with Young Lives , at the Department of International Development . She has a Masters in Economics from the University of Sussex and a BSc in Economics and Statistics from the University of Benin in Nigeria where she is from.
“Diversity at Oxford has given me the opportunity to share and learn first-hand about cultures, traditions and ways of life from around the world while working in one place. I have learnt to value the true interconnectedness of the world we live in. From discussions on the issues of marriage and dowry in India and Nigeria, to differences in the tastes and packaging of Milo beverage in Malaysia and Nigeria, there’s always room to share and learn here.”
“I am born to Egyptian parents but had quite a nomadic upbringing. We came to the UK when I was young, and my parents worked for the NHS. In 1972, they moved to Nigeria to work in a government hospital just after the Biafra civil war and that was the start of my love for Africa. My parents lived in Nigeria for 20 years and I grew up between here and there. I studied nutrition and development studies at university and worked for two years with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Khartoum, Sudan, which was the best work experience of my life. I married a South African who had been an anti-apartheid student activist and we moved to Cape Town in 1994.
In South Africa, I started and ran a social enterprise making and selling jewellery and home ware products from recycled materials whilst training and employing women from the township areas of Cape Town. When we came back to the UK seven years ago, the enterprise was continued by a local NGO who support people living with HIV / AIDS and who are still making products and supporting the women who worked with me.
In Oxford I have worked at the Rhodes Trust and now work at the Said Business School as Executive Officer. I am Secretary to the senior committees of the School, administer funding applications and reports and deal with academic visitors and Associate Fellows. I have two kids aged 21 and 17, and still make jewellery as a hobby. I enjoy making jewellery, baking, scuba diving, and travelling. My best holiday was visiting the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
I believe that diversity is crucial for Oxford University because people from diverse backgrounds have diverse experience, diverse perspectives and diverse ideas. This leads to an increased sensitivity to cultural or operational complexities, and to increased awareness and responsiveness to international issues in a globalised world. In a leading educational setting which is training tomorrow’s leaders to think critically, it is important to create an environment which enables people to meet diverse others, challenge their own judgements and to develop themselves and their thinking with new ideas.”
Before joining Oxford, Gladys pursued Bachelors degree in Mechanical engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya graduating with distinction. At Oxford, Gladys is a member of thriving Thermofluids and Turbomachinery group at Osney laboratory researching on better cooling techniques for jet engines. Aside from her research, she tutors engineering undergraduates at Oriel college. Gladys plays football for her college team and she is in the University athletics blues team.
“Diversity is essential since research/studies do not happen in isolation, they do happen in a very active community where there is a lot of interaction. Diversity, just like in any community, will go a long way to enrich not only students but also the University at large, both academically and socially.”
“Diversity in science is key and brings together the brightest minds. Scientists from different backgrounds have different perspectives and make better teams that are more creative in their approaches to tackle important scientific problems.
Our group brings together passionate people from different countries and with different scientific backgrounds including a geneticist, biochemist and developmental biologist. The group leader Esther is originally from Germany, studied in the Netherlands and did her PhD in the USA, post-doc Lauren is from South Africa, incoming post-doc Sam from Australia, DPhil students Friederike from Germany, Maggie from Hong Kong, Liam from the United Kingdom and MSc student Alexandra is originally from Romania and studies in The Netherlands. We are working together to better understand and treat brain diseases.”
“By creating a diverse and accepting workplace we are able to work with the very best people we can in any given field. This is what we should strive for here at Oxford — the best people to carry out the best research regardless of race, gender identity, sexuality or beliefs.
I work in science and engineering. In fifteen years I had met one out LGBT+ person which led me to believe that LGBT+ diversity was not welcome in these fields. As a result, I hid who I was for fear of being rejected from my career, but at great personal cost. However, once I decided to come out as transgender I was met with absolute inclusion and acceptance. Had I known this earlier, I would like to think that my academic output would have been much better than it was.
So, whilst saying that we accept diversity, sometime we need to actually see it in order to know that this is true. Thus we need not only to accept people here at Oxford, but also celebrate diversity. After all, happy workers are productive workers!”
Marta Favara is a senior research officer with Young Lives , at the Department of International Development. Before joining Young Lives, she worked as an economist at the World Bank and has worked in countries such as Ecuador, Ghana, India, Liberia, Nigeria and Peru.
“Diversity is important because from diversity comes creativity, innovation, and new solutions to old problems. I believe from diversity comes great knowledge which helps create a more cohesive society”.
“I feel lucky to work in a department that is diverse in so many ways and I socialise with researchers from all over the world at Oxford Research Staff Society events. The combination of mixing with people trained in different disciplines together with insights and experience from around the world makes collaboration fun and fruitful. I believe diversity in Oxford is a vital factor in making it a great University.”
Grace Chang is a quantitative research assistant officer with Young Lives , at the Department of International Development. From Malaysia, Grace has an MSc in Economics from the University of Warwick, where her dissertation looked into the impact of immigration on native college students’ wages and jobs.
“I think it is incredible to be in a culturally diverse team in Oxford that works on issues in various developing countries. This has enabled me to experience and share different ways of living and perceptions through our various cultures and backgrounds, as well as celebrate our similarities, all of which continue to build me as a person every day.
“Diversity means different things to different people. For some, diversity that can be detected phenotypically matters most, such as race, age, gender, religion, ethnicity, ability, etc. While these forms of diversity meaningfully contribute to the dynamism of a place like Oxford, it’s the diversity of perspectives and outlooks that race, gender, religion, ethnicity, ability bring that matter most. These explicit and implicit forms of diversity remind us that people of the same race are not homogenous in the same way that those who share the same gender/ethnicity/age are not monolithic. As a relatively traditional, elite institution, Oxford must contend with the fact that the world has expanded, and so too must its student and staff composition. So, movements like RhodesMustFall and the students who front it are forcing Oxford to reconcile its colonial history. Similarly, institutes and departments like the International Migration Institute and the Oxford Department of International Development bring to the fore cutting edge research and analysis by and about people from the so-called Global South. People like me.”
“Many colleagues and friends have asked me why I would move from the Continent to Britain after the Brexit referendum. While we don’t know all the implications of leaving the EU, Oxford continues to stand for one of the world’s richest academic communities, enabled by global exchange. This can and must be maintained. Science knows no borders.
As a German and Swiss dual citizen who did his doctorate at the European University Institute in Florence, embracing cultural diversity has been part of my life. As a comparative social scientist, the diversity of cultures is main subject of my research.
The fact that our master students in social policy come from all over the world enriches our courses immeasurably, as we reflect on cultural differences and learn from these shared experiences. This is particularly valuable for understanding why societies differ in the degree of social inequality they accept and the values that underlie the social policies they pursue.
As a foreigner I am still learning to understand why one popular vote with a miniscule majority dominates Brexit politics. As a Swiss, I know about the contributions of referenda, but there are also safeguards in a confederation of culturally-diverse communities. A Swiss referendum requires not just the popular majority but also a majority of its cantons, thus balancing interests of groups speaking German, French, and Italian, areas more protestant or catholic, or urban and rural regions.
The more institutions, like the university, embrace diversity, the more they need to listen and understand those voices of seemingly minority status. Learning from others is not only rewarding personally. In understanding other cultures we better know our own, and this helps ensure peace and equality.”
“In the Research Accounts team, based in the Finance Division, we have to be efficient, flexible and responsive.
Research grants make up half the University’s record-breaking income, and we’re responsible for managing the financial side of up to 4500 live contracts, across 800 different funders based all around the world. It’s a busy job that requires empathy, an excellent understanding of how the University works and the challenges that researchers face. We provide financial advice and support researchers through the life of the grant and beyond.
Our team of 21 specialists is diverse. We represent 11 different countries, and we’re all aware that our differences make us a stronger and happier place to work. Even though we manage a huge workload, we find time to celebrate this diversity, through sharing recipes from our home countries, and through small acts of kindness on culturally important days. It’s a great privilege to work with people from such a broad range of backgrounds, and we genuinely feel it’s at the very heart of why we’re such a successful team.In the Research Accounts team, based in the Finance Division, we have to be efficient, flexible and responsive.
Research grants make up half the University’s record-breaking income, and we’re responsible for managing the financial side of up to 4500 live contracts, across 800 different funders based all around the world. It’s a busy job that requires empathy, an excellent understanding of how the University works and the challenges that researchers face. We provide financial advice and support researchers through the life of the grant and beyond. Our team of 21 specialists is diverse. We represent 11 different countries, and we’re all aware that our differences make us a stronger and happier place to work. Even though we manage a huge workload, we find time to celebrate this diversity, through sharing recipes from our home countries, and through small acts of kindness on culturally important days. It’s a great privilege to work with people from such a broad range of backgrounds, and we genuinely feel it’s at the very heart of why we’re such a successful team.”
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Produced by Jessica Turner, Digital Communications Office, University of Oxford.