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The BGS Blog

Equality at BGS

In this blog post our Head of School Cara shares why she, along with Deputy Heads of School Oskar and Angus, chose to speak about Equality in Senior School assembly earlier this term.

At the end of summer Angus, Oskar and I met up to have a chat about what we wanted to focus on and (hopefully) aim towards achieving over the coming year in BGS. Expecting to be there for about an hour, we all left nearly three hours later with a very clear focus in mind. That focus was equality and it was our passion for that topic, which had resulted in our conversation continuing so much longer than expected, that led us to choose to do an assembly on this in October.

Equality has come increasingly to the forefront of attention within BGS over the past few years, with the creation of Equality Committee by a group of pupils and the School’s partnership this year with SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality), an organisation that promotes equality and good relations between people with protected characteristics as defined by law. This has been due in part to the increased championing of equality across the School, and an increasing awareness of the need for equality to be an integral part of collective life at BGS, both of which are a testament to the kind of school that BGS is and aspires to be. However, part of the reason for this greater focus on equality has been the ongoing lack of it, be it globally, in Bristol or within our own school community. It is an understatement to say this is incredibly unfortunate, and a disappointment to many of us – whether the scale of that disappointment is our world or our school – however this does not render it something to be glossed over. Hence the three of us were very conscious that we did not want to gloss over it.

We felt that, in order to promote and celebrate equality and to reiterate the need for it, we need to ensure that everyone at BGS feels it to be something that is applicable to them; that by celebrating equality, it would do the same for them in turn. Black History Month was the perfect time to remind ourselves of this, as it is a month dedicated to that celebration and promotion of awareness, and National Hate Crime Awareness Week provided a saddening reminder of why it is so deeply needed. Many BGS pupils are very fortunate to experience privilege of various kinds; we wanted to communicate that this privilege should not set individuals against equality, nor create the sense that equality works against them. Equality benefits everyone, and everyone understanding this is the only way we can ever ensure it is given the prevalence it ought to have. This is by no means a small goal, and is probably a slight stretch of what is an achievable aim for the three of us this year; however we figured we all have to start somewhere, and school assembly on the 17 October seemed as good a time as any to do so.

In the assembly, we asked everyone, pupils and staff, to reflect on their experiences at BGS. Everyone stood, taking a seat if they had ever heard anything racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist or otherwise discriminatory while at school. Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, by the end of our questions, the vast majority of people were seated.

There was hesitation too when asked to stand again if they would challenge the speaker, perhaps reflecting not reluctance to do the right thing, but the fact that it isn’t always easy to stand up to those around you. We wanted our assembly to encourage everyone to commit as a collective to standing up together for equality and against discrimination.

We were speaking during Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness of the people who have historically been oppressed and whose role in history has been marginalised or overlooked. In our assembly we looked at the work of Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered, aged 18, in a racially motivated attack. Her campaigning, for justice, and for change in the institutions that failed her son and family in their search for justice, was recognised in 2013 when she was appointed a life peer. The charity she set up in Stephen’s name has aimed to create positive community initiatives in his honor. She provides us with a view of strength that is both resolute and gentle, passionate and empathetic, powerful and vulnerable, and that entirely transcends any boundary of race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, gender identity and so on; a view of strength that both fights for and is rooted in equality.

We also wanted to emphasise that working for the interests of a minority or marginalised group does not mean working against the interests of those outside it, in fact it benefits us all. For example, the stereotypes of femininity that feminism campaigns against restrict not only women but also men. Women are told they cannot be powerful, strong or in control; men that they must be. Women are taught they should be nurturing and gentle; men are told they cannot be. These restrictions on emotions and behaviour affect men negatively just as much as women, as the huge problems of male mental health and suicide show. We may think the stereotypes are outdated, but many of us still use language such as ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’ which communicate those exact ideas pretty clearly.

We want the school that we’re a part of to be one whose pupils and staff alike are passionate advocates, people who value and stand up for equality and who channel their energy into making doing so the norm for each and every person at BGS. Part of this requires us to recognise that many of us here experience a great deal of privilege in our lives; acknowledging this privilege is not to say that someone’s life is easy, but that their life is not made harder because of who they are. We hope over the coming year to help everyone at BGS understand the importance of using that privilege to make everyone’s lives better, so we can all enjoy the benefits that equality can bring to our lives and society.

Cara, Oskar and Angus with Headmaster Jaideep Barot, after the assemblyCara, Oskar and Angus with BGS Headmaster Jaideep Barot, after the assembly