The Future of Fashion: Caryn Franklin MBE talks topical Matthias, Senior Fellow, University of Southampton and co-founder of FACE.

Caryn Franklin MBE talks to Pascal Matthias, Senior Fellow, University of Southampton and co-founder of FACE.

What’s on your mind?

This year, none of my first-year cohort, that’s 66 students, are of colour. Staff and student recruitment of Black students is already alarmingly low, now the latest figures from the Department for Education show a fall in Black British student recruitment since 2018; the first reversal in over ten years.
My school are looking at ways to address these inequalities and especially the rate of recruitment of Black academics.
Recruitment of Black staff is directly linked to the recruitment of Black students. A diverse teaching staff benefits ALL students.
As a co-founder of FACE, I now communicate these issues to my own predominantly white cohort of students, and they have thanked me for the wider learning. They have begun to understand their missing perspective on race. It’s been fantastic to see them grow in realisation of their privilege and their purpose.

How is FACE creating change?

Student satisfaction for Black students and students of colour is decidedly lower than for other groups as data from the OFS makes clear. One of the core aims for FACE is to change the questions and processes on internal satisfaction surveys and compel the NSS to engage with these new metrics. The current evaluative measures are non-inclusive. For far too long, such inequalities have persisted because of the lack of a Black voice. FACE is now that voice.

We can all benefit from a framework to help us all initiate actionable legislative and cultural changes in higher and further education. This is why, after analysis and extensive research on the historical and current inflexion points that exist within education and the wider fashion industry, I constructed the four pillars to help measure policy and procedure around Recruitment, Progression, Curriculum and Culture.

Education is at the core of meaningful long-lasting change. Historically universities have been fixed on educational economics, even before the introduction of fees. This preoccupation with wealth creation over actual wider unbiased learning is very problematic. There is a bias in the distribution of wealth on a societal level and universities are at the heart of this. If we all acknowledge a fundamental responsibility to ensure that these four pillars are implemented to address inclusiveness as central to new reimagined metrics within education, we will have a better system.
What support or comments have you received on Instagram since launching FACE?

People are reflecting on how their education was limited and biased, while industry support in creating greater inclusiveness and equality has been tremendous. This traction has allowed us to grow our network in a very short time. Bringing together academics that are mostly but not exclusively Black, means our voices have been amplified. The aim is to encourage institutions to embed our four pillars and dismantle the structural racism that has existed within the walls, culture and minds of academia and academics alike.

Why are FACE pleased to be working with GFF?

Because GFF is a vital conduit between graduates and the industry, we have felt supported and able to reach more academics quickly. GFF has already been very vocal in the promotion of Black, Asian and students of colour and this changes the narrative in two ways. Firstly, in changing perspectives of Black creatives as valuable additions to the industry, where there are currently so few acknowledgements of this kind. Secondly, in promoting a more inclusive reality for potential students who currently do not see themselves reflected within education or the fashion industry.

FACE are encouraging Black Academics to nominate themselves for a Trustee Role on the GFF Board

The current board is distinctly white. GFF agree this needs to change and have invited FACE to speak with academics and encourage greater nominations. We currently have two members of FACE who will be standing for these roles and whom are experienced fashion academics at GFF member institutions and have the full support of their institutions. It’s very hard and lonely for one Black academic to address entrenched bias in a room full of white academics, I know this from personal experience and so do many FACE members. By having two members voted on to the board of trustees, we hope to encourage the change I know many white academics also want. We understand the trustee job is bigger than commentary around identity. The fuller job will be taken very seriously, but our presence at the table would also mean that issues around race inequalities are no longer ignored by institutions.

Are you planning to expand the FACE community?

FACE is a body that advocates change, and we cannot do it alone. Everybody has come through some sort of education, so it is vitally important that change comes from individuals, collectives, organisations and the wider community. Please join us and our Instagram community for conversation and support.
We all have the power to end race inequalities, but many don’t know how. The four pillars set it out very clearly what needs to happen in academia. Our conversations will help you to look at your own university and ask about the recruitment policies for Black academics and students. Having the confidence to investigate whether there is an inclusive culture and analyse the curriculum for inclusiveness is important, but we understand that people may need help to voice these questions.

And it can’t stop there, many core reading lists are predominantly white with no Black scholars and uphold a disproportionately male bias which indicates a very predictable and unambiguous learning experience for any potential student. In addition, we need to look at the rates of progression for all students. Following up how well students do post university, has, in the past, been seen as an indicator for the strength of the course. Yes, such data will tell you that many students go on to do well at top jobs. FACE are suggesting that perhaps from here on in, another question should now also be... how many of them are Black?