7 June 2021

The College is hugely indebted to our local MP Luke Pollard for visiting us to take part in our recent Diversitas and LGBTQ+ group meeting.

Mr Pollard, who is the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, was invited to the College on 28 May to answer questions from students around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. He was also very generous in sharing his own experiences of growing up in Plymouth and of becoming the city’s first ever openly gay MP.

Diversitas, which was launched last September, is working towards engendering a College-wide attitude of inclusion and acceptance of everybody. The group is open to all students to join.

The questions which the students asked Mr Pollard included:

  • How have you overcome prejudice within your work and within Plymouth?
  • What are you doing to support inclusion and diversity?
  • What can we achieve for the future for the LGBTQ+ community of Plymouth?
  • How can we make Plymouth more accepting of diversity within Plymouth and our community?
  • What do you think our group can do to help?

To begin, Mr Pollard described the challenges he himself faced when he was at school in 1995 and how things have changed since then: “When I was a 15-year-old, I didn’t feel I could come out,” he told the group. “But things are more accepting now, so it has been brilliant to see the progress we’ve made as a country and as a city. But that progress didn’t happen on its own; it happened because people fought hard for it, and we can say the same about other areas of discrimination.”

He added: “I’m a proud Janner, I think Plymouth is an awesome city, a fabulous place to live. We’ve got a long and proud history as a diverse city which we should celebrate. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some issues. I do worry at the moment that hate is rising. So yes, we have come a long way, progress has been made, but we can still make more progress. How can we do that? By showing that if we celebrate everyone, then we do better. As a city and as a community, it makes us stronger because it allows people to grow and thrive in their own space.

“For example, think about how much happier and productive people can be if they aren’t stressed, aren’t struggling with their mental health, if they can be themselves. Challenging politely is great when someone says something that’s upsetting, and having people to back us up is important.  We also need systems and structures that allow people to raise their concerns safely.

“It’s also important to practice forgiveness. Sometimes, someone might say the wrong thing because of ignorance rather than saying it as a deliberate act. In those cases, it’s about educating.  That’s why it’s great to have groups like this, and to have role models like you, because it rubs off on others.

“What can you do? As a group and as individuals, you can confront a big problem and tackle it bite-size, one mouthful at a time. So, try changing the sentence, ‘I wish they would do something about it’ to ‘I wish I could do something about it’. Now, you are taking power. You can adjust your own behaviours, you can influence your families and friends, you can work with others.”

And Mr Pollard said: “I feel strongly that no-one is free until everyone is free. No-one is equal until everyone is equal. We’ve got a long way to go, and we can all play a part.”

Afterwards, the MP praised the College for setting up the Diversitas group and complimented the students on the questions they put to him: “They asked some really good questions, and it was great to see how passionate they are to help make the College and the wider community as inclusive as possible. And it’s good to see the College doing such great work on this.”

Mr Kelly thanked Mr Pollard for spending over an hour with the students and said: “It was lovely to have Luke here to talk to our students - several stayed on afterwards to ask him even more questions. It was also nice to be able to showcase to him the work that we are doing here to improve and increase diversity and inclusion within the College and in the community.”