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Universities under pressure to tackle racism

VISION: Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier this year that a black person was more likely to go to prison than to a top university

LAST WEEK Warwick University biomedical student Faramade Ifaturoti returned to her accommodation to find the words “monkey n***a’ written on her bananas in marker pen.

After Faramade put a picture of the graffitied bananas on Twitter international shock and condemnation followed and a hashtag sprung up: #WeStandWithFara

However, as has been noted by Warwick’s anti-racism society, the response from the university appears to have been a slow, uncertain and incompetent one. Faramade herself expressed incredulity at having to take to the social media site in a bid to get university authorities to take any kind of action to address the issue.

Earlier this year David Cameron caused a national debate on an issue that black communities have been campaigning on for decades.

He said: “If you’re black, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university.”

Given the fact that it was the Prime Minister who said this, some campaigners felt this could be catalyst to move beyond rhetoric to achieve meaningful change.

Cameron’s comments got people talking about the need for these institutions to get their act together and ensure equality of opportunity.

ABHORRENT

But appalling as the Warwick University incident is, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

It is a visible and abhorrent manifestation of the rampant racism that operates implicitly and explicitly at every level of higher education.

A 2011 report by the National Union of Students found that one in six black students reported having experienced racism at university. Two-thirds of those that had complained about racism were dissatisfied with the institutional response.

The picture among staff is also bleak.

According to 2011 data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, of 14,000 professors in the UK, just 50 are black.

A 2014 survey by education consultants Black British Academics found that 58 per cent of black academics questioned said they had been discriminated against or disadvantaged because of their race or ethnicity.

Their comments highlighted both the experience of subtle forms of racism and open abuse.

One staff member told of being called a “n****r bitch and slave by a white colleague. Another person interviewed for the survey said that “black staff were treated with contempt and disgust.”


SHOCK: Warwick University biomedical student Faramade Ifaturoti

It all makes for damning indictment of the UK’s higher education sector.

And they build up a picture of a higher education sector that is ignoring the Prime Minister’s vision for a fairer society.
Racism on campus is an issue that has existed for far too long and university authorities must take a more robust approach in dealing with it.

A key problem is that too many universities consider themselves beyond racism. There’s an assumption that racism is something that happens in other parts of society. That too often leads to a lack of meaningful wider debates about how racism operates in their institutions.

The silence is a problem and it needs to be dealt with head on.

That can only happen if it is identified and challenged.

MESSAGE

The intellectual message transmitted through higher education, from top to bottom, is one of white supremacy. This is a message transmitted through the very architecture of academic institutions; think of the students at Oxford who must pass the statue of the white supremacist Cecil Rhodes, or those at UCL who must sit in a lecture theatre named after the Eugenicist Francis Galton. The messages of white supremacy are incessant.

These messages should not be viewed as disparate and disconnected but rather as part of a larger picture of the racism that pervades British universities. This is the systemic racism that creates the kind of racial climate in which a student feels justified in scrawling ‘n***a’ on a black student’s bananas.

Faramade’s experiences must propel higher education into action. Universities must listen to the voices of their black students and take meaningful action towards racial equality; the time is long overdue. Signing up to the Race Equality Charter Mark award scheme - a scheme requiring institutions to recognise and demonstrate a commitment to tackling racial inequality – offers a step in the right direction.

Unless universities realise that merely paying lip service to equality will not eliminate society’s prejudices from their campuses, racism will continue to flourish.

* Remi Joseph- Salisbury is Co-editor of The Graduate Journal of Social Science. He is a researcher at the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

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