2016 – What a Year

Wrote this on my running blog but it also works here I think

really not a runner

I am so ready for 2016 to be over. I really am. It’s been horrible in so many ways, it’s been, well it’s just been crap. Or has it? Am I ready? Isn’t there a small part of me that doesn’t want 2016 to be over? 2016 has been a year of unbelievable achievements, a year of learning so much about myself, a year of hitting a new all time low and reaching dizzying highs, a year of standing firm and sticking to principles, of being confident and smiling when inside everything was crumbling into tiny little pieces that didn’t seem like they would ever fit together again, a year of walking away, of giving up, of re-building and of persuading others that I am brilliant when I felt anything but. 2016 taught me that I am superwoman – a very very fragile and breakable one, but superwoman. 2016 has…

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They’re Not Just Toilets!

A couple of days ago my institution opened a new entrance to one of the university buildings.  Not exciting, but in that entrance area (it’s a glorified porch really) there are new toilets, not exciting either, but these  toilets are gender neutral toilets. Now this is exciting. I was going to blog about them then but somehow it didn’t seem important enough. Well I think I was wrong about that. I actually think that having those toilets there is massively important and an email sent by a colleague mocking them and noting (sarcastically it seems) ‘As tens of thousands of innocent people are being cynically and perhaps routinely slaughtered in Aleppo, this remains the most compelling issue facing Students & Staff today’ suggests that maybe celebrating the toilets is even more important than I thought. Stick with me as I try to unpick this and try not to rant.

I don’t really get the obsession with toilets split by gender. It’s a toilet. I actually think it would make perfect sense to just have toilets – full stop. That would just be so much more inclusive and, well equal. Who gets to pee where isn’t about biological differences, it never has been. It’s about some old-fashioned concerns about what women should and shouldn’t be doing in public. It’s about anxiety and the misplaced perception that there is a need to protect women (or just generally protect us from each other). The research into public toilets is fascinating (see for example Molotch and Norens 2010 book ‘Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing’ which also contains a chapter by Terry Kogan on segregation) and I wish I had the time to read more of this stuff (yep, maybe I should have been a sociologist after all!). There are a number of issues around gender neutral toilets which jump out at me. I know there’s research and I am also keenly aware that most of it I haven’t read. What follows is my gut feeling about this and my initial reaction to the email I got at work which, to put it mildly, made my blood boil. I have tried to sense check my gut feelings and perceptions by talking to friends and reading some stuff but I know there’s a whole load of stuff I’m missing. If you have ideas for something I should read to help me get a fuller and more nuanced picture please leave me a note in the comments

  1. Gender neutral toilets are for everyone. They make sense. In buildings where there is limited space for toilets – just have toilets. Don’t make (almost always) women walk further and wait longer to pee.
  2. We don’t need segregation. Women do not need protecting. Segregation just encourages us to deal with each other in a slightly artificial and negative way. (I hadn’t really thought about this until one of my friends mentioned this – thanks, you know who you are). Segregation encourages us to view each other with suspicion. Well, as someone who routinely skipped the lines for the Ladies’ and walked into the blokes’ toilets – there’s no mystery. You might encounter a few more hairbrushes and a little more make-up in the little girls’ room but that’s it. Also – segregation doesn’t work. There is no magic safe space. See a recent Guardian article for examples
  3. Toilets can be the venue for many a drama, many tears and confidential chats and comforting. This has come up in conversation several times with female friends whose best friends are men. If the toilet is the only area at work or wherever where you can have a private conversation and a bit of a cry when you’re having a rough day, and your best friend or trusted colleague is male, you’re stuffed. You have to do your crying on your own leaving your bestie outside feeling properly useless. That doesn’t make sense
  4. Gender neutral toilets also make sense for parents – it means they can take their child of whatever gender to the toilet without any awkwardness whatsoever. None.
  5. Gender neutral toilets are also imperative for trans people. Here I think safety is an issue. The US trans survey results are pretty scary – 59% have avoided using public bathrooms (including at work and school) because of fear. Just think about that for a minute – 59% of respondents to that survey did not go to the loo because they were scared. That alone makes gender neutral toilets not just a good thing but absolutely crucial in any society or organisation that takes equality in any way seriously.
  6. I have re-written this paragraph several times now and I can’t quite get it right. The email I received (which went to a selection of people in response to the announcement that we now had these gender neutral toilets) was dismissive of ‘gender dis-specific’ people and pointed to the fact that there may be 3 in the institution and that ‘their survival is threatened by both a lack of tolerance and the lack of an arena where they can take a dump without the wolf-whistles’. I don’t even know what to say to this. Yep, there’s a lack of tolerance – nicely exemplified by the email. And yes actually their survival (in some cases, actual survival) and safety is threatened. Have a look for example at this article in the advocate which highlights some of the issues.
  7. Perhaps the most upsetting bit in the email is the assertion that because we care about gender neutral toilets we don’t care about Aleppo. I stopped breathing for a second when I read that. I care, as do my friends, about injustice. If I care about having gender neutral toilets, I can still care about Syria, about Human Rights abuses, about the gender pay gap, about every day sexism, about trans equality, about whatever f-ing injustice there is. I don’t have a finite amount of ‘caring’. Using one massive injustice to justify doing nothing about other injustices (on the basis that this means we don’t care enough about the massive one) is just idiotic. But of course I am missing the point here – if you don’t see not having gender neutral toilets as an injustice…
  8. For my institution as a university those gender neutral toilets are a great first step. There is somewhere to go for staff and students who do not want to deal with the ‘which toilet is the right one for me’ debate or issue every time they need to pee. I don’t care what the reason for that debate might be, nobody should have to worry about going for a pee at work/uni. I’d like to see gender specific toilets disappear – I don’t see the point in having them

So there we are. Do you see now why they are not just toilets? Why they are much more than that, a symbol of inclusiveness and equality or at least a step towards those values. They can also be genuine life-savers and certainly stress savers for many – and it’s not for me, you or anyone else to decide who gets to pee where.

Don’t get it: Refugee crisis

I’m struggling to blog at the moment – not because I am drowning in work but because I’m not. I am actually not working silly hours and I am taking time away from the computers and tablets and email… There are several blog posts I want to write and one of them is a response to our MPs making decisions about immigration, human rights and the situations refugees are finding themselves in which I simply can’t comprehend. But I want to spend time thinking it through, evidencing it and researching the details. Right now I am caught up in other things… However, it is clear that the vote to block the UK taking in child refugees who have lost or been separated from their parents has provoked a reaction in many who find it as incomprehensible as I do. I will get writing on this at some point but here’s a copy of an email my friend Joe has sent to our very own MP Kris Hopkins. As  I have said on more than one occasion, Mr Hopkins does not represent me or my views on anything. I don’t understand him, I don’t understand how he can hold the views he holds, I don’t understand… that however is not the basis for a sensible debate so I will work on articulating that more fully and clearly. Over to Joe (shared with permission obviously)

Kris,

I never like to start any form of correspondence with a negative tone. However, in this instance, I cannot bring myself to allow for the normal pleasantries; that is to say, I am disgusted and let down by your vote against the acceptance of 3,000 child refugees. As a former paying member of the Conservative Party, and someone with an interest in politics (albeit currently disillusioned given current events), I felt compelled to voice my anger over your stance.

You are an MP for Keighley and Ilkley. You were born, raised, and live in Keighley. Okay, I’m not writing your biography here. My point is, you represent a fantastic constituency, one that is built on the strength of community, a community that prides itself on being multicultural and inclusive. This community has a heritage built on the successes of immigration; Irish, Italian, Chinese, African, Asian, European, amongst many other nationalities. We are a community that is proud of the different cultures that are the lifeblood of the constituency you represent.

With that said, I am not ignorant to the problems our community faces, whether that be problems with crime, racial tensions, inequality, I could go on. However, what I find abhorrent about your stance on the Immigration Bill and the rejection of help for 3,000 parentless child refugees is it goes against the very fundamental of the spirit of the constituency you represent. Further to that, I feel this stance only further compounds the issues we do face as a community and gives power to a hateful few that want to incite their racial and xenophobic views, that further divide us.

The children that you have turned away, are like any other child on the planet, including those from our community: young, innocent, and have dreams of a better life. They are from a war torn country, and I’m sure if your home was under attack and your life as well as the lives of those you love were under threat, you too would run and try to escape for a better life. Our community and our country allow refugees like these the chance for a better life, and as a country we should stand together united and be proud of the opportunities we offer! Child refugees in this country have gone on to become some of the hardest working citizens we have, who contribute heavily to society; successful business leaders, medical professionals who work tirelessly to save lives, scientists who work on ground breaking and important research, and let us not forget political leaders – Labour’s very own Lord Dubs who himself arrived in Britain as a child refugee when he fled the Holocaust in the 1930’s.

So, why are you choosing to abandon 3,000 helpless children, when over 10,000 are already missing, likely to have been sold to traffickers? Why have you failed to show a very basic level of compassion and generosity, one that reflects the very constituency you represent? Why do you contribute to an extreme polarisation of society, creating a culture where people are scared of immigrants, rather than welcoming those who want a better life? I challenge your stance on all the above, and if in fact you are the right man to represent our constituency when your views are evidently so far removed from the majority of the very people you represent.

I look forward to hearing your response.

Kind regards,
Joe Ingham

 

Equality and Diversity in Legal Education 3

And here’s the third and final part of  my reflections on the workshop on Equality and Diversity in Legal Education. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 here.

After lunch we had another set of parallel sessions and I chaired Session 2B. The  first paper picked up the theme of ‘polish’ and helping students to assimilate. Dominic De Saulles took a pragmatic view that the legal culture at the Bar is what it is and then considered our responsibilities and duties to those of our students aspiring to the bar.img_1422

He noted the significant ethical challenges we face in helping or even encouraging students to join that legal culture which might mean they have to ascribe to values they find unpalatable and lose some of their sense of self in doing so. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the Kantian ethics justification for helping students learn to pass as barristers but I need to think about this a bit more. It seems to me that what would be more valuable is to talk about resistance and how things might be changed but I also accept that for that to be possible these non-authentic lawyers need to get into the professions otherwise there is little hope of a revolution from within! Dominic had some lovely pictures on his slides and one of my favourites was this one which shows img_1426a court room with lots of people doing things they shouldn’t be – the defendant is pleading guilty thus depriving lawyers of income, one advocate has lost the plot and is showing emotion, another id ducking rather than standing up for his client….

The second paper was given by Elisabeth Griffiths and grappled with hierarchies of rights and protection under the Equality Act 2010 and how this might play out in employer networks. She had some really interesting data on networks (or lack of networks) and we had an interesting discussion about how effective those networks might be and how much they are just for show or for ticking boxes.

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I was also interested in Elisabeth’s comments about how doing this research has impacted on her teaching and is leading her to be less doctrinal in her approach. I do think what and how we research can have an impact on how we teach certain topics. I guess this is an argument for having people teaching in areas where they are also research active but I think it probably also says something about the relationship between research and teaching more generally. I have weekend brain though so I’ll wait to think about that a bit more until I am back on working day brain!

The day finished with a roundtable with Pat Leighton asking what is special about researching equality and diversity; Charlotte O’Brien offering comments on teaching equality and diversity in the very contested Brexit context and Debra Malpass of the SRA providing some information about a call for statistical analysis and a data workshop coming up shortly (sorry I tuned out on the project call because I can’t do stats). The roundtable touched on many of the thoughts I’d had throughout the day – we need more and better information about how inequalities are playing out across legal education and training and in the professions. We need longitudinal data, we need data that is richer and deeper than a questionnaire will offer, we need high quality qualitative empirical data and we need high quality clear and comprehensive quantitative data and we need to keep talking – to each other, to our students, to those in the profession and to anyone who will listen – and, perhaps more importantly than all of those – to those who don’t want to listen. Yes, most of all we need to be talking to them!

Equality and Diversity in Legal Education 2

Here’s part 2 of my reflections on the University of Sheffield School of Law and LERN co-hosted worksop on equality and diversity in legal education.

The day continued with a parallel session where I listened to 3 papers which were all interesting and which all triggered different but related thoughts and ideas. The first was about how we can achieve  more inclusive legal education in the context of disability and it engaged with both the lack of visibility or presence of disability in the legal curriculum and problems of access to legal education for disabled students. img_1416The idea of what a good lawyer is again came up. If a good lawyer is the person who can stand the heat in the kitchen then any notion of weakness means you can never be a good lawyer. Declaring a disability or asking for an adjustment therefore becomes impossible. Hidden disabilities in particular are then easily construed as a deficit. For example you cannot be a good lawyer if you are dyslexic because law is text based and you need to read things quickly…Surely it can’t be beyond us to think about these skills differently.

The second paper was about how we can actually build a curriculum around the students in the classroom and start from their experiences. Jenny Gibbons from York Univeristy explained how she did this for her employment law module. I like this idea. You talk to your students about their experiences and knowledge and build on that – this means the content of the module has to be fluid and flexible and about developing skills and constructing knowledge, not about learning or acquiring knowledge. That can be challenging to do in an institutional context which is keen on measuring very specific learning outcomes and ensuring the equivalence of experience for all students. It is also a challenge to traditional teaching orthodoxy because the classroom experience for the teacher is less structured, less safe and less planned. That can be scary. In fact, it is scary. It’s daunting walking into a classroom not being quite sure what is going to come up, what you’re going to be discussing and where the discussions might take you. Of course it is easier to simply set some questions and go through the answers… it’s also more boring, less rewarding and less likely to actually engage the students and encourage deep learning.  So there – I’m all for asking questions you don’t know the answer to and to being open to learning from our students.

The third paper was about globalized legal education and the benefits this might bring and it got me thinking about what truly globalized legal education might be. We also talked about whether globalized legal education and/or exchange programmes could help students build the all important cultural capital (and start to develop some of the sort of professionalism required – See post  1 in this series). I’m afraid I missed some of this paper because I got sidetracked thinking about what globalised legal education would really mean. Not that I have got very far with this but I was thinking about the tensions between law being jurisdiction specific and the (perceived?) need to teach legal rules which will mostly be set in the national context and the idea of global legal education.

So by lunch time my head was already full of thoughts and ideas. I was beginning to make connections to some of the things I have been thinking about for a while and which I will pick up again soon – questions around academic identity and how that plays out in law schools and what impact that may have on students too. Watch this space – it’s currently all swirling round in my brain and I need to wait for it to settle before I manfully articulate this.

After lunch I chaired a session with two excellent papers which you can read about in part 3 and if you missed my thoughts on the keynote, have a look at part 1.