Sussex Estates and Facilities, the outsourced business in charge of making changes to the campus site, recently commissioned an accessibility audit that flagged over 120 high priority issues with physical accessibility features of the campus.
‘High priority’ is defined in the report as any problem which presents “a significant barrier that is likely to make access impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person”.
The Access Sussex campaign has responded to the report by saying: “There are hundreds of small but difficult barriers that students and staff with disabilities face at this university. We hope that urgent action is being taken to make the necessary changes.”
The report comes just after the University rejected a proposal by Welfare Officer Rianna Gargiulo for the establishment of an ‘Equality and Diversity Director’ for the University.
Of the thirty-six institutions Sussex internally compares itself to, all have at least one member of staff responsible for equality and diversity.
The University last had the position of Equality and Diversity Director filled in 2006, when the previous staff member left the University.
Gargiulo said “I’ve taken the proposal to the committee on three occasions and was only given three minutes in the most recent meeting with the university.”
Between 2009 and 2014 the total number of permanent withdrawals from the University decreased by 22.3%, but increased by 10.5% for students with disabilities, according to a 2015 Freedom of Information Request. The Access Sussex campaign has cited this data to make the case for the employment of an Equality and Diversity Director.
A spokesperson for the University said: “The percentage of Sussex students in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance has increased by over 25% from 2010 to 2013/14”.
Last year’s graduation statistics show that 69% of black students obtained ‘Good Degrees’, compared to 83% of white students at the University. Access Sussex says that this is further evidence of the need for an Equality and Diversity Director.
Ethnic Minority Students’ Officer, Jaja Jasper Chinedum, commented: “An Equality and Diversity Director would work to address these and more issues and explore other areas that can positively influence academic performance of BME or ethnic minority students.”
Welfare Officer Gargiulo added “E&D is a huge area of work and an undertaking which cannot be adequately supported by a mere three committee meetings a year, and a vague expectation that ‘everyone will do their bit’.
“Although I understand the University’s concerns with regards to centralising this type of work, its current experiment in ‘mainstreaming’ equality and diversity is not sufficient. It is an unreasonable request to expect staff to undertake responsibility for something as vital and complex as equality and diversity as an add-on of their existing roles.
“A central post, responsible for coordinating this area of work, would also be responsible for ensuring that the principles and values of equality and diversity are embedded across the institution, and not left to one person to handle
“I highly doubt that the University will be able to achieve anywhere close to these goals until it prioritises this area of work and commits funding to staffing this area, as almost every other university has done.
A spokesperson for the University responded: “The University’s strategic plan places equal opportunities at the heart of all we do. We take our equality and diversity commitments very seriously and have a number of forums and committees in place”.