University of Sheffield Stand Against Racism

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Aim 1: Make a statement on the main University platform    

Aim 2: Promote and establish an anti-racist culture

Aim 3: Develop a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy to racism

Aim 4: Create and support representation initiatives

Dear Professor Lamberts,

In light of the recent events regarding George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Belly Mujinga, we call on the University of Sheffield to take action and stand in solidarity with the black and POC students at the University. We will begin by outlining our four main aims which have been compiled by a group of Black and Minority Ethnic students at the University of Edinburgh who are increasingly worried about the racism that is so pervasive on campus. This also applies to the University of Sheffield. Within these aims we highlight some solutions that the University can implement to address racist incidents. Finally, we share some resources that the University can circulate to the students as informative and educational tools. We hope that these conversations do not start and end with us, but rather become circulated on the main University platforms and networks.

** Disclaimer: We will be using the following terms throughout this email – BME (Black and Minority Ethnic), BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), and POC (People of Colour). While we understand that these terms have their drawbacks and can sometimes be controversial, we have opted to use them for ease and clarity of writing.
Aim 1: Make a statement on the main University platform
We believe the University needs to make a statement on issues that are detrimentally impacting BME communities, such as the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on BME communities. They need to provide a platform and opportunities for students in BME communities to post their articles, research, and more on their social media. The purpose of featuring more BME students on the University’s social media is to draw awareness and concerns and experiences within the community. Diversifying the online presence of the university will also change the narrative that minority groups within the university are an absolute minority and make us feel like we are listened to.

The University can also reach out to societies who are direct stakeholders in specific issues and involve them in the process of publicising issues directly relating to the BME community. This will ensure that the university correctly addresses the issues faced by these communities.

The University should begin by immediately addressing the following issues and concerns publicly. However, it is important to note that the University should not limit themselves to only speaking on the following concerns:

- The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Belly Mujinga

- The disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the BME community both within the UK and the world as a whole

- The racist and xenophobic incidents towards Asian people, particularly those who are Chinese, as a result of COVID-19.
Aim 2: Promote and establish an anti-racist culture
We would like the University to commit to an actively anti-racist culture which does not simply highlight the worrying statistics but provides and, critically, enforces measures to prevent racism within the University. We want the University to join us in enough is enough on campus. As Desmond Tutu professed, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” and this false-neutrality is a position which we do not want the university to take. Furthermore, while we appreciate the efforts invested into the 2019 “Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan”, it is important to assess whether the plan is being implemented, or even disseminated or promoted effectively. Further, oftentimes these discussions are being promoted by BME students and staff, and not by the University itself. This policy of consistently delegating racial issues back into “black spaces”, who are often already informed (or at least, have experience the issues first-hand) is unsatisfactory and quickly becomes a form of performative allyship which is satisfied with patting itself on the back for doing the bare minimum (i.e. stating that there is racism on campus).
A.    Inform
According to the 2019 Race and Equality Strategy Plan, there is the lack of sufficient knowledge among students and staff about the resources and reporting measures in place should racist incidents happen. Therefore, there has to be ubiquitous information about the support available and the complaint process. This can be done through: (i) the dissemination of posters on campus telling students about how to react in situations where they experience racism. This can be similar to the posters currently generated about mental health, but rather address racial discrimination and the consequences of racist attacks and microaggressions. (ii) Sheffield Nightline or a similar hotline or counselling services should be trained to support POC students and their experience of racism. Moreover, racism is reinforced as a systematic problem whenever perpetrators are not held accountable for their acts. (iii) In order to reduce the sense of impunity, students and staff have to be informed of the consequences and accountability for racist comments and acts. One of the main reasons why students and staff members do not report racial harassment is the thought that the University will not address the situation and will put their reputation first. Thus, the University should communicate the disciplinary outcomes, not only for transparency but also for prevention. In addition to transparency purposes, the University should analyse statistics and information about ethnic groups individually rather than collectively in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the issues these communities face. This will be achieved through the establishment of a document on the consequences of the breach of the Equality Act 2019 and the disciplinary measures that it incurs. (iv) The creation of ally groups so that non-black/POC people can participate in the awareness campaigns against anti-racist culture at our university. This way, we will be able to provide an opportunity to suggest innovative ways to inform potential perpetrators of racism against POC at the University. (v) The Students Union should remind societies at the beginning of each semester to not allow racism or prejudice of any kind in their societies and the consequence of such actions. (vi) Lastly, SAMHS and Mental Health personnel must be trained and informed on how to support and handle complaints from students and staff of colour and this process must frequently be reviewed to assess its effectiveness.
B.    Educate
The problem with the current curriculum at the University of Sheffield is that is assumes itself to be ‘colour-blind’ and ‘beyond race’. However, in academics, students are being subjected to institutional racism through books and readings which still reproduce white privilege at the expense of students of colour. Racism is consolidated when we expect students to move past racism while we teach them through the same framework that built upon the marginalisation of their races. Further, many students do not seem to have a comprehensive understanding of issues of discrimination and race relations. It is important for students to be educated about all forms of racial discrimination and why they are offensive. Given the large international student population, the University has a duty to ensure students are informed on the University culture and platforms for students to address issues of racism. As a solution, we call of the University to allow the formation of a student-led “Decolonise Curriculum” group to tackle these issues, which is too huge to contain in the current report. This group would ideally work to identify instances of colonized course curriculum in our University and discuss ways to decolonize and diversify the teaching and learning which takes place.
Aim 3: Develop a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy
A.    The need for a clear policy and enforcement
As students, we have not been properly or comprehensively informed on the University’s zero-tolerance policy with regards to racism, discrimination, and microaggressions on campus. As such, there appears to be no clear penalty for when individuals breach such rules. We therefore call on the University for the following: There is no clear penalty for racist behavior within the University. As such, the University needs to clearly inform students on the repercussions for race discrimination and racism on campus. The penalties ought to reflect the gravity of the offence, there is no room for such behavior at the University.
B.    Potential solutions
Firstly, we suggest a mandatory online presentation that all students must watch before they can be fully matriculated. The platform would include detailed information on cross-cultural interactions, address experiences of microaggression, and ultimately establish an acceptable standard of behavior at the University. This is something that will occur during both freshers and refresher periods for all students and would be similar to the format of the society office bearer training. Also, we would advise the University to establish a “Race and Discrimination” talk, similar to other talks hosted during the freshers’ period. Students would have to attend a lecture on the race and discrimination policy within the university. This presentation would outline not only the behaviors that are unacceptable on campus but also the clear penalties for those who violate these standards. We also believe that the University should provide students with a list of some additional resources so they can further educate themselves on race relations and white privilege. It is vital that these mandatory classes and presentations are not presented as the sole source of information, they are simply introductory materials.
Aim 4: Create and support representation initiatives
A.    Diversify staff roles
The lack of diversity within the staff or organizational bodies connected to the university is unacceptable. It is our belief that the recruitment of a diverse workforce, fully trained on the detrimental effects of racism and microaggressions on the student body, will help create a conducive environment at our university that will satisfy students and encourage black students to come to our university. Staff must not only be trained against racism but should be encouraged to create a diverse curriculum that does not mention those of Afro/Caribbean descent or their countries only in relation to poverty, disease, or immigration. We urge the University and staff members to be more culturally sensitive and not partake in rhetoric or include offensive imagery or materials in their coursework.
B.    Create and support initiatives for BME after enrollment
To truly solidify that the University supports equality, diversity and inclusion, we would like to see more initiatives being created to support black students and people of colour. Oftentimes, minorities find it hard adjusting to the student community and the University could support us in settling in. This could either be through the use of guidebooks or species programs offered specifically to black students and students of colour. The University could have a fresher’s event for BME students once they enroll so they can meet people with similar cultures and it can include non-BME students who would like to learn more about other cultures. Being a minority makes it harder to find resources here in Sheffield. The Afro and Caribbean hair has a different texture, what are your recommended salons are barber shops? Our skin textures are different, what are you recommended beauty shops? Just as the University introduces freshers to the available societies on campus, local places of worship, local stores and much more upon their matriculation, so too should the University make this information readily available for BME students.
The University should support minority students by providing opportunities specifically tailored for BME and POC. Already, opportunities advertised on MyJobShop and outside are not inclusive enough for minority students. We have to work harder to get the same opportunity that our white peers would get much more easily. To fill in this gap, career opportunities can be provided specifically for the minorities.
C.    Establish counselling services for BME students and staff
We believe that placing the burden of counselling students on SAMHS is not good enough. They deal with many queries and we need a specific counselling service for BME students just like the hotlines which are available for students with mental health issues. Counselling sevices used by the University of Exeter, for instance, are Ubuntu counselling, Hikmat Devon CIC, Black, African, Asian Therapy Network. Such counselling services should be mandatory for students to take after a racist incident has occurred. The University should also invest in a counselor that can work closely with the BME Officer to deal with issues of racism and microaggressions.
The University of Sheffield needs to take action and stand in solidarity with the black and POC students at the University. As discussed, we believe that the University can do this by: (i) making a statement, (ii) promoting and establishing anti-racist culture within the university, (iii) developing a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy, and (iv) creating and supporting representation initiatives. We hope that this letter is the beginning of a large conversation that leads to the improvement of the climate at the University. As an educational institution, the University has a voice and a platform which it can use to speak out against injustice, should it choose to. We’re expectant that it will make the right choice.
Kind regards.
Open letter credited to and adapted from that drafted to the University of Edinburgh, by Timmy Pinnick, Martine Irakoze, Mukai Chigumba, Tumi Akeke, Dorcas Baah, and Alision Onyebujoh, who founded the Black Ed Movement collective.