Many academics and students are concerned about how racism was defined in a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission (‘EHRC’) report: Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged. The argument, explains Trish D'Souza, is that the inclusion of anti-British sentiment dilutes the impact of the racism suffered by those who identify as black and minority ethnic (‘BAME’).
The EHRC launched an inquiry into racial harassment in publicly funded universities across Britain, collating information on the experiences of staff and students alike, and examining the effect this may have had on their education. The report found that 24% of students from ethnic minority backgrounds have experienced racial harassment since starting their course. 20% of these students had been physically attacked, whilst 56% had faced racist name-calling, insults and jokes.
Within this survey, 29% of black students reported personal experience of racism, compared to 27% of Asian students and 22% of mixed-race students. Controversially, 9% of white British students who took part in the survey said they had been the victims of racial harassment, specifying anti-English, anti-Welsh and anti-Scottish sentiment.
The report holds a mirror to the faces of our universities, with regards to their understanding of the lived experiences of their staff and students. But a number of prominent BAME academics have scorned the EHRC, for including in its report harassment against white students and staff. Kehinde Andrews, professor of black studies at Birmingham City University, said: ‘The fact that you could equate the racism experienced by someone who is black, with the experience of a Welsh person at an English university, demonstrates just how ignorant the authors of the report are’.
One of the most striking conclusions of the report is that two thirds of students, and more than half of university staff, did not report their experiences of racial harassment because they didn’t believe anything would be done about it. The EHRC has added further pressure on universities to come to terms with the hostile environment suffered by its BAME students and staff, and formulate effective methods of dealing with it.
Unfortunately, comparing the experiences suffered by BAME staff and students to that of their white counterparts, has created further disillusionment and frustration amongst the BAME community – concerned that their personal experiences will in some way be taken less seriously.
Discrimination on the grounds of race is still very much a live issue, and universities will need to take greater steps to ensure that all its staff and students are protected.
For any advice on how to achieve such protection, please contact Trish D’Souza (firstname.lastname@example.org)