With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the platforming of racism as a huge issue across the world, large institutions, including universities, often state zero tolerance for racist behaviour and abuse: statues have been removed; promises have been made to examine historical links to the British Empire and protests have increased in volume and size. But how are universities dealing with racially motivated harassment and abuse? Is it enough? Despite universities often claiming that students would come forward to report cases of racist harassment in the majority of cases, or alternatively believe that few students coming forward to report such incidents as a sign of their success (Batty, 2019), statistics from the EHRC (2019) found that around 25% of minority ethnic students said they have been subject to racist harassment at university. Black students reported that they were most likely to experience this, followed by Asian students (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2020). Clearly, more needs to be done.
One of the issues facing students from black or minority ethnic backgrounds is that they often do not feel able to come forwards to report the harassment in the first place. For example, the Equalities Commission report (2019) found that most of the time it was only reported because the issue had escalated further. Other concerns often included lack of evidence, lack of clear information on reporting processes and worryingly, concerns around not being taken seriously or the issue not being dealt with properly, or even worries around being penalised for reporting (Batty, 2019).
In addition, it is clear there are further systemic issues which affect the way racism is dealt with at universities. Although the EHRC’s report aim was to demonstrate incidences of racism at universities, they included reports of ‘anti’white harrassment’ (Busby, 2019). As Dr. Nicola Rollock (2019) states this will not provide further clarity for universities who may struggle to understand the challenges and racism faced by black and minority ethnic groups.This is because this only serves to take away from the struggles faced by ethnic minority communities by focusing on white concerns that are experienced in institutions that are majority white and therefore not as dangerous. However, it is important to also recognise the points made by the report that black and ethnic minority staff and students experience racism at a very high level, much higher than universities claim.
So what should be done? One of the most common suggestions is to increase the diversity of ethnic minority staff in senior positions. Whilst this is of course important, it is also vital that the majority of the burden does not fall upon them to change the system. Black individuals are also more likely to suffer intense scrutiny and criticism than their white peers (Murugesu, 2020), so whilst this must be part of the solution, it cannot be the entire solution. We also need greater data collection systems including centralised reporting systems (Universities UK, 2020), as well as ensuring that black and ethnic minority students feel safe and included when reporting harassment without fear or judgement. Of course, universities must themselves as an institution also attempt to examine their own histories and take steps to reduce the levels of racism present in the system. Decolonising the curriculum would be a start. Everyone must act.
Batty, D., 2019. Universities Failing To Address Thousands Of Racist Incidents. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/23/universities-failing-to-address-thousands-of-racist-incidents> [Accessed 24 January 2021].
Busby, E. 2021. University Racism Inquiry Criticised For Including Anti-White Abuse. [online] The Independent. Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/racism-university-students-equality-human-rights-commission-a9167286.html> [Accessed 24 January 2021].
Equality and Human Rights Commission. (2020). Healing A Divided Britain: The Need For Comprehensive Race Equality Strategy.
Murugesu, J. 2020. Universities Are Failing To Address Racism On Campus. [online] The Times Higher Education. Available at: <https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/universities-are-failing-address-racism-campus> [Accessed 24 January 2021].
Rollock, Nicola. 2019. Staying power: the career experiences and strategies of UK Black female Professors. Project Report. UCU, London.
Universitiesuk.ac.uk. 2021. Universities UK Calls For Urgent Action On Racial Harassment In Higher Education. [online] Available at: <https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/news/Pages/uuk-calls-urgent-action-racial-harassment-higher-education-november-2020.aspx> [Accessed 24 January 2021].