UK Universities Are Institutionally Racist
By Aamna Mohdin – The Guardian
UK universities are institutionally racist and must do more to support students of color, a leading vice-chancellor has said.
Prof David Richardson, chair of Universities UK’s advisory group on stamping out racial harassment on campuses and vice-chancellor of University of East Anglia, said there was evidence of systemic issues that disproportionally affect students from black and minority ethnic [BAME] backgrounds.
Speaking on BBC Three’s documentary ‘Is Uni Racist?’, he said: “There’s mixed experiences, but many aren’t good. There is a lot of evidence that points towards universities perpetuating systemic racism, being institutionally racist and I have acknowledged that on behalf of the sector.”
“Institutional racism is when there are systemic issues that are impacting disproportionally on particular members of your community, which need to be dismantled.”
The documentary, presented by the journalist Linda Adey, investigates the experiences of four black students at British universities, with a focus on what happens when complaints of racist abuse are made.
Students who complain about such incidents said they were locked out of the process, left dissatisfied and felt their universities had failed them. They were frustrated that they were often not allowed to know the outcome of their complaints because of data protection laws, and said their experiences had made a significant impact on their psychological wellbeing and educational performance.
Zac Adan, a 19-year-old first-year student, said he had been accused of “looking like a drug dealer” by University of Manchester security officers, who held him up against a wall and demanded to see his identification in November. The incident sparked widespread calls for the vice-chancellor, Nancy Rothwell, to resign. She later apologized for falsely claiming on national television to have written to Adan to make an apology.
Adan said it had been difficult but important to take part in the documentary and tell his story. “The reasons I did it were to shed light on the issue, and to make people aware that this is actually something that’s going on, that it needs to be addressed,” he said.
He agrees that UK universities are institutionally racist. “I think it’s ingrained and indoctrinated within the system. It’s not so much something that’s really overt, open racism, although that does exist. It’s more the micro-aggressions and systemic racism. A prime example that is shown in the documentary is when students want to report issues of racism, they’re really downplayed. They said not to be as serious as they claim to be.
“The university’s reputation comes first. And how they portray themselves to the public and to the media is way more important to them, and making public statements seems to be more of a priority for the universities than the actual welfare and wellbeing of the students.”
When asked if universities were downplaying racism issues, Richardson said: “Perhaps governing bodies are concerned about the reputational impact of the university being seen to be a place that was institutional racist. I think five years ago people, leaders, universities would not have called this problem out.”
He said it was disappointing that students were afraid to make a complaint for fear it would affect their grades or career choices. “We need to acknowledge that and put in place better support to make them feel safe and to help them be reassured that this will not damage their grades,” he said.
Manchester University said: “We have significant ongoing work to strengthen our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion in collaboration with our students and staff. We have developed through a robust action plan and a Race Matters report, which we are putting into place as a priority.”