Breaking Barriers in Biology

For the Trinity Term 2021 Alumni Newsletter, our undergraduate group Breaking Barriers in Biology explain their dedication to increasing inclusivity in Oxford's Biology course

Breaking Barriers in Biology (BBiB) is an independent undergraduate student body set up in late June 2020 following the merging of the Equality Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) joint committee of both Plant Sciences and Zoology. We founded this collective to hold the Departments accountable in their promises to decolonise the curriculum, train lecturers, and support students. We intend to create a strong basis for institutional memory amongst the student body considering the rapid rate of cohort turnover. 

The long-term aims of BBiB are:

  1. to solidify ourselves as an independent student body,
  2. to codify student response to Department ED&I aims, and make them accessible,
  3. provide student-suggested methods to decolonise the undergraduate curriculum,
  4. monitor student opinion on mental health support and grievance procedures in the Department, and
  5. increase active student engagement and communication around ED&I measures.

The group has a large membership and horizontal organisation, meaning that members are able to take up work when they have the time and energy to do so. We collect all this work in a shared set of folders to build up a record of our activity.

As of March 2021, we have attended all ED&I meetings as well as setting up additional ones with staff members involved in course organisation. We wrote an open letter detailing the importance of curriculum decolonisation with extensive examples of areas that currently need improvement. This resulted in a change to the month-long ‘Orientation’ period of the new MBiol course (with measures such as tutorials discussing the book Superior by Angela Saini), and relevant racial, gender- and class-based additions by lecturers to their newly recorded content (moved online due to the pandemic). Feedback to this has been positive: see this Twitter thread.

The longer term aims of BBiB center around encouraging as many voices in the room as possible, since students can identify issues with the course from lived experience. Our goal is for this group to have a sustained legacy after the current members have finished their degrees, through the recording and sharing of our actions.

For more information, contact Cass BaumbergEvan TurnerVinaya Roerhl, or Mairi Franklin.