Mark Sandler is a Professor of Signal Processing in EECS. He agreed to talk to us about his experiences of many years of filling in Diversity Monitoring forms and in particular the Higher Education Statistics Agency diversity forms.
Mark is an Ashkenazi Jew and believes it is important for Jewish identities to be recognised on these forms. Describing filling the forms he says “It has always been awkward for me. The precise categories have evolved over the years and changed with our society but normally the form doesn’t even say ‘Jewish’ it just says ‘other’. Most recently I have been writing in ‘Ashkenazi Jew’ and this was a bit of a lightbulb moment as I’ve been filling in these things for forty years” Often he found himself simply ticking a box marked simply “other” (in some older forms he found himself ticking “Chinese and other”).
“I think it’s what David Baddiel captured in his book `Jews Don’t Count because in some sense we are invisible. It’s assumed we are assimilated enough that there is simply no need to take account of us separately. It makes me wonder `Why am I not included? Is there a default assumption I am a Christian? We often have a tendency to keep ourselves quiet and there are good reasons for that, history tells us to do so.”
“There is also an assumption that I’m simply a white man and don’t bring anything to a diversity committee,” Mark said. He discussed several things about Jewish lived experience that would perhaps be surprising to those who didn’t know about them for example. “Any synagogue you go past on a Saturday morning has community members patrolling outside wearing stab vests. On the continent they are often armed. Even Jewish schools and pre-schools have security guards and other protective measures.”
“People treat the outcome of these forms as if they are objective data but they really are not,” he explained. The omission of a Jewish identity on diversity forms worries him and not just in a university context, “Hospital forms often omit a Jewish identity even though there are genetic conditions like Tay-Sachs disease which affect Ashkenazi Jews.”