Racial harassment at UK universities

Susan Fitzmaurice, Chair of the University’s Race Equality Steering Group, responds to the report into racial harassment in UK universities published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Dear colleague

Yesterday (Wednesday 23 October 2019), the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a sobering report into racial harassment at UK universities.

This is an important issue and we very much welcome the focus the EHRC has put on it. We need to work together across the sector to address the major problems the report has highlighted.

If you have not read the report, the key point highlighted is that UK universities are unaware of the scale of the problem of racial harassment and tens of thousands of racist incidents are going unaddressed every year.

There is no place for racism or racial harassment of any kind at our university. Along with our Students' Union, we have been proactively working in partnership with staff and students, including the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Staff Network and the BME Students’ Committee, to emphasise our values of inclusion and respect, and to take tangible actions to create an inclusive and supportive University community.

This work has included:

  • Developing a Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan launched in March this year, that aims to close the student attainment gap, address the under-representation and progression of BAME students and staff and create an inclusive culture.
  • Convening a Race Equality Steering Group to drive forward the Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan. The group comprises staff and students from across the University, some of whom can bring their lived experience to the steering group. By reporting to our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, we are placing race equality firmly in the University governance structures as a key priority.
  • New anti-racism videos and talks, which are timetabled into the schedule for all new students.
  • Building a community of practice with colleagues from across the University to focus on work to decolonise the curriculum.
  • Staff-facing workshops run by Advance HE focussing on race equality, including use of language, white privilege, overt and covert forms of racism, and how to instigate change.
  • Data-driven target setting to address inequalities.
  • A variety of anti-racism campaigns.
  • Development of a Wall of BAME to celebrate the achievements of some of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff, students and alumni.
  • Organising events for Black History Month.

There is always room for improvement, as today's report certainly demonstrates, and we are committed to continuing our partnership working with colleagues and students. We are giving the report careful consideration in the Race Equality Steering Group to identify where we can take further action.

This marks only the start of a sector-wide journey to fully realise the scale of the problem before we can start to address it effectively.

I'm grateful to those individuals at universities across the country who shared their experiences within the report and helped put a spotlight on this important issue. Whether it is overt racism or subtle comments and micro-aggressions, racism in any form goes against the values of inclusion and respect that our UK universities should stand for.

I also want to express thanks to our own BAME staff and students, who have really driven work in this area. This has included raising awareness around important issues such as micro-aggressions through powerful campaigns across our campus.

We have also just launched Report + Support an online platform for staff and students for reporting and accessing support about harassment, abuse, bullying, sexual violence and discrimination of any kind. We will continually review this reporting mechanism to make sure that it is straightforward and simple to understand and that the process of registering an incident is as easy and stress-free as it can be.

Let me end by stressing that we are committed to working with partners across the higher education sector to ensure our staff and students have confidence that they study, work and live in a safe and inclusive environment.

Many thanks

Susan Fitzmaurice

Vice-President and Head of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and Chair of the University’s Race Equality Steering Group