LECTURERS at York St John University have taken part in a masterclass in “learning and unlearning whiteness” in a bid to help them support black and minority ethnic students.

The workshop introduced strategies which could be incorporated into the curriculum and teaching practices, including “identifying the everyday privileges of whiteness”, “challenging whiteness through non-white knowledge” and “unlearning whiteness through exposure of the effects of whiteness”.

Participants were asked to get involved in the workshop through “sharing their own examples of white privilege in higher education”.

The Sunday Times, which revealed the class had taken place, along with similar ones at other universities, said they were part of a growing trend for academics to be asked to acknowledge their “white privilege” and recognise how their “whiteness” can make them unknowingly racist.

Marije Davidson, equality and diversity adviser at York St John, said the master class was “one small, early step” in a broader agenda of promoting ethnic diversity in the curriculum and attracting more ethnically diverse students and staff.

She said a National Union of Students report had shown students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were treated differently due to unconscious bias. “At York St John University we have not shied away from our responsibility to address this,” she said. "We can only advance race equality and tackle under-representation if we understand what is happening within our own organisation. As part of this work, we hold focus groups with BME students and staff and run privilege workshops for all staff (regardless of their ethnicity)."

She said privilege worked at many levels and in different areas, such as gender, race, disability, sexual orientation and class.

“We can make progress only if all of us reflect on our beliefs and attitudes and appreciate the impact this has on our behaviour towards people who do not share the same privilege, and their response,” she said.

“At York St John University, we are proud of our track record of attracting and supporting students from less advantaged backgrounds and of being in the Top five of Stonewall LGBT-inclusive universities in the UK.

“We know that people of colour are disadvantaged in many areas of life, and we continue to take every opportunity to build on our strong culture of inclusivity and do all we can to remove barriers to achieving success through education and careers.

“We are planning further sessions for staff at all levels and are committed to diversifying the curriculum and delivering a learning environment in which everyone can flourish. A diverse and culturally rich community benefits all students and staff.”