University of Edinburgh Stand Against Racism
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Dear Professor Mathieson,
In light of the recent events regarding George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Belly Mujinga, we call on the University of Edinburgh 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. 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 be controversial we have opted to use them for ease of writing.
Aim 1: Make a statement on the main University platforms
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 to 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, particulalry 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, crucially, enforces measures to prevent racism within the University. There have been various concerning reports of racist incidents at the University which have gone unpunished. From the alleged “yellowface party” hosted by University of Edinburgh students, to reports of one History lecturer using the n-word notwithstanding this being used ‘in context’ (and being defended by the course organiser), to the Diagnostics Society’s alleged racist incident, to the recent surge in racist incidents against Chinese students (especially those in the LLM programme, these incidents are not isolated and are seemingly ingrained into this university’s culture. And there are many more. We want the University to join us in saying enough is enough on our campus. As Desmond Tutu professed, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” and this neutrality is a position which we do not want the University to take.
Furthermore, while we appreciate the efforts invested into the “Thematic Review 2018-19: Black and Minority Ethnic Students”, many Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students on campus do not feel like these recommendations were implemented, or even disseminated or promoted effectively. Further, oftentimes these discussions are being propelled by the BME Campaign, African Caribbean Society and EUSA - not the University itself. This policy of consistently delegating racial issues back into “black spaces”, who are often already informed (or at the very least, have experienced the issues firsthand) is unsatisfactory and quickly becomes a form of performative allyship which is satisfied with patting itself on the back for doing the bare minimum.
According to the Tackling Racial Harassment 2019 Report, there is a lack of sufficient knowledge among students and staff about the resources and reporting measures in place in case racist incidents happen. Therefore, there has to be ubiquitous information about the support available and the complaint process. This can be done through:
The dissemination of posters on campuses 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 microagressions.
The establishment of a 24-hour hotline or counselling service for POC students that can be used to report such events before reporting them to the BME officer who will take further action. Currently, the online hotlines that students see on posters are for those with mental health issues or those in the LGBTQIA+ community. There are no hotlines specifically for POC or Black people despite there being a good number of hotlines that could be used in Scotland and the UK made for POC.
The compilation of feedback based on the complaints’ and creation of support processes to evaluate future strategies.
Moreover, racism is reinforced as a systematic problem whenever perpetrators are not held accountable for their acts. In order to reduce the sense of impunity, students have to be informed of the consequences and accountability for racist comments and acts. One of the main reasons why the 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 release statistics & 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 LEARN course portal on the consequences of the breach of the Equality Act 2019 and the disciplinary measures that it incurs.
-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.
- EUSA 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. This will ensure societies are following EUSA guidelines strictly.
Lastly, the Counselling Services personnel at the University must be trained and informed on how to support and handle complaints from students and staff of colour - and this process must be frequently reviewed to assess its effectiveness.
The problem with the current curriculum at the University of Edinburgh is that it 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 inferiorities 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 on the University to allow the formation of a student-led “Decolonise curriculum” Group to tackle this issue, which is too huge to contain in the current report. This group would ideally work to identify instances of colonised course curriculums in our University and discuss ways to decolonise 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 comprehensivley informed on the University’s zero-tolerance policy, with regard to racism, discrimination, and microagressions 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:
Moreover, having reviewed the footnoted link, there is no clear penalty for racist behaviour 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/tolerance for such behaviour at the University. If the University will be broadcasting a message that there is zero-tolerance for race discrimination, this needs to be enforced by appropriate penalties.
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 micro-aggression, and ultimately establish an acceptable standard of behaviour 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 behaviours that are unacceptable on campus but also, the clear penalties for those who violate these rules.
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 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
Diversify staff roles
The lack of diversity within the staff or organisational bodies connected to the University is unacceptable this includes but is not limited to the Diversity Office in each school. This lack of diversity extends to organisational bodies connected to the University such as Edinburgh Global and Edinburgh Innovations that sometimes even lack good representation of the students that they claim to serve. It is our belief that the recruitment of a diverse workforce, fully trained on the detrimental effects on racism and microaggressions on the student body, will help create a conducive environment at our university that will satisfy students and attract 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 or potentially offensive materials in their coursework. I would also like to advise the University to engage with all stakeholders when addressing issues that pertain to black issues or those of people of Afro caribbean descent. EUSA has accepted many societies that represent black students including the Afrobeats Dance Society, African Caribbean Society, Nigerian Society and Model African Union. We believe that if the University and EUSA engage with these societies, this would be a good way to ensure that issues concerning black people are addressed sufficiently.
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 special programs offered specifically to black students and students of colour. The University could have a freshers 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 embrace or learn more about other cultures. Being a minority makes it harder to find resources here in Edinburgh. The Afro and Caribbean hair has a different texture: what are your recommended salons and barber shops. Our skin textures are different: what are your 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.
Furthermore, we’re also concerned that the University and Students’ Association has not sufficiently ensured that events on campus are more inclusive. Seemingly ‘minor’ examples like evaluating the inclusivity of ‘Big Cheese’ which happens every Saturday would go a long way to making BME students feel valued in ‘mainstream’ University events. The music at ‘Big Cheese’ should consist of a diverse range of music and this can be established by alternating different genres on different weeks. Moreover, the University should offer the same opportunities to all BME students and not offer programmes to a limited number of people such as those in scholarship programmes or part of organisations affiliated to the University. The scholarships and career opportunities being advertised on the university website are not inclusive. You would find out that these opportunities mostly do not favour the minorities. The University could support minority students by providing opportunities specifically tailored for BME and POC. Already, opportunities advertised on MyCareer Hub 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 a lot 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 onto the Advice Place is not good enough. The advice place deals with many queries and we need a specific counselling service for BME students just like the hotlines that are available to LGBTQIA+ students, disabled students and those with mental health issues. If the university is reluctant or does not have enough time of their own to create its own, there are plenty of hotlines the university can suggest. Counselling services 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 Edinburgh 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: Making a Statement; Promoting and Establishing Anti-Racist Culture within the University; Developing a Comprehensive Zero-Tolerance Policy; and Creating and Supporting Representation Initiatives. We hope that this email is the beginning of a 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.
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