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Efforts by universities to tackle racial harassment should be closely linked with wider work by unis to address racial inequalities in their local communities, as well as throughout UK society and culture. That’s among the recommendations of an advisory group convened by the membership body Universities UK in October 2019.
Prof David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (UEA) and chair of the group said: “It is my firm belief that UK universities perpetuate institutional racism. This is uncomfortable to acknowledge but all university leaders should do so as a first step towards meaningful change. Too often Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and staff have been failed. While they may have heard positive words, they have seen little action.
“That needs to change now. These recommendations are designed to help university leaders put words into action and tackle racial harassment. By embracing and embedding an anti-racist approach we can ensure that 2021 is the year we lead decisive and meaningful change, not just for our universities but for society as a whole.”
While the group arose from an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that found widespread evidence of racial harassment on campuses, the group’s publications also noted the spring 2020 Black Lives Matter protests (pictured; former Edward Colston statue, Bristol city centre) that ‘highlighted the prevalence of racism here in the UK’.
The group called for anti-racist training; a commitment to priority status to tackling racial harassment; and reporting systems for incidents. As for online, the group asked that expected behaviours be clearly communicated to students and staff; and called for sanctions for breaches. Generally, the group wanted collecting of data on incidents, pointing out that data is lacking on the scale and nature of harassment and hate crime on campuses; and that it’s likely to be under-reported.
At Norwich Medical School at UEA for example, bystander intervention training is being rolled out to medical students and staff, using role play for students to practice speaking up on behalf of others and intervene in situations of racial harassment.
Prof Nishan Canagarajah, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester and member of the group said: “Education has the power to change lives, which is why it is imperative that every university creates a truly inclusive environment for every student to flourish and achieve their full potential. It is not acceptable that students at the same institution can have a completely different experience at university just because of their background.
“This report is timely and relevant – students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are clearly being let down, and it is a wake-up call to higher education to show we cannot ignore this issue any longer.
“I am acutely aware of the challenges that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students face on a daily basis, which is why I have committed to play my part in effecting change – I am hopeful that my peers will read this report and it will mark the start of a movement of change. We have a moral duty as academic leaders to address this urgently.”
And Prof Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, and President of Universities UK said: “Every racist incident is one too many, and all university students and staff are entitled to a positive, safe and enjoyable experience free from racial harassment. As university leaders we have a duty of care to provide that outcome and these recommendations are designed to ensure that we do.
“Although universities have made progress in tackling all forms of harassment since the launch of UUK’s Changing the culture work in 2016, it’s clear that more needs to be done to tackle racial harassment throughout higher education. This guidance provides lessons and solutions which will help university leaders make rapid and lasting change for all those working and studying at the UK’s universities.
“All university leaders should read this guidance and implement its recommendations alongside their own activities to make a real difference to all those working and studying in our communities.”