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Respectful Engagement Toolkit

Durham University is committed to promoting and embedding a more inclusive and respectful culture across the institution. Together we celebrate difference, value one another and are each responsible for creating an inclusive community that is respectful and fair for all.

We aim for this to be reflected in our priorities, our structures and how we interact with each other. To this end, we have a wide range of ongoing work, initiatives and tools that can aid in facilitating an inclusive and respectful environment for all, including the ‘Respectful Engagement Agreement’ that can be used by any staff or student.

seated students in a lecture

What is the Respectful Engagement Agreement?

The Respectful Engagement Agreement is a set of collective commitments that can help create a space where everyone feels welcomed, respected and safe.

Fostering a respectful and inclusive environment is at the heart of everything that we do at Durham University, and everyone has a role to play.

Using the Respectful Engagement Agreement

  • Any staff or student can use the Respectful Engagement Agreement for events and activities, as well as teaching and learning sessions. It is downloadable below, and text can be adapted to suit the context.
  • If used for events and activities, it is advisable to send out the Respectful Engagement Agreement ahead of the event (e.g. through the event’s joining instructions or registration confirmation) to allow participants to familiarise themselves with the collective commitments.
  • To further embed the Respectful Engagement Agreement, organisers can also use it as a placeholder slide (for online events) or include it within their slide deck, where PowerPoint presentations are used.

Respectful Engagement Agreement (PowerPoint)

Respectful Engagement Agreement (PDF)


Respectful Engagement and Freedom of Expression

It is a fundamental policy of the University, as an academic institution, that in its activities there should be freedom of expression within the law. Durham University values academic freedom and is committed to promoting and positively encouraging free expression and debate amongst its staff, students and visitors. The pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas should be conducted within the University in a tolerant and respectful manner, and without interference from internal or external parties.

Intersectional Approach to Engagement

Intersectionality is a framework that takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face. Being aware of and embracing different backgrounds, cultures and experiences that our staff and students bring, provide us with a strong foundation on which to build trust and develop a nuanced understanding of how to engage with different communities.

Empowerment, feeling seen, heard and understood are at the heart of engaging with our diverse communities. It’s crucial that we get this right as this will inform how we enter these spaces, sensitively and respectfully. This blog post from Dr Shamaila Anwar provides practical advice on how we can embed intersectionality in the way we engage with our communities (NB. whilst the writer speaks about staff, a lot of the tips are also applicable to students!).

Impact of Pronunciation of Names

An individual’s name is pivotal to one’s identity; and pronouncing it correctly is a starting point to connecting with and showing respect to someone. Personal names discursively manifest identities, including socio-cultural identities of ethnicity, nationality, language and religion (Pilcher, 2016).

In a university context, findings from the Say My Name research show that name avoidance or mispronunciation by staff were experienced by some students as exclusionary, impacting their engagement with their learning and their feelings of belonging. Proponents of this research have created a suite of resources that include strategies to help avoid mispronunciation of names.


Two squares and a curved shape coloured in gold

Reporting Unwanted Behaviour

There may still be instances when we experience or witness unwanted behaviours, which will not be tolerated. We aim to support a culture in which we feel comfortable to identify and unwanted behaviours, and confident to support colleagues and students in checking, challenging their inappropriate behaviour using the various pathways available to staff and students, including but not limited to the University’s Report + Support tool.

Support Information

Information on internal and external support available for staff and students can also be viewed in the Report + Support tool.

Related Resources