Universities Aren’t Doing Enough About Campus Racism

The reports of students experiencing racism at university, the ones that make it online and into the news, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Universities Aren't Doing Enough About Campus Racism

by Jazmin Kopotsha |
Updated on

We’ve been hearing about too many incidences of racist abuse going on at university campuses up and down the UK recently. Only last month, a video that a female student at Nottingham Trent University took of people shouting racially charged remarks through her bedroom door went viral and one of the biggest criticisms, beyond the obvious outrage, was the length of time it took for the university to respond and take action. This apparent reluctance to be proactive about racism within their institutions seems to be common across many universities.

While there currently aren’t any overarching stats that illustrate the number of racist incidents at universities, a 2011 report by the National Union of Studentsfound that one in six black students had experienced racism at their university. Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, NUS president Shakira Martin said that she receives calls from students to report racist incidents every day, but it’s likely that between the old figures and incidents that have been officially reported, that’s just a fraction on what’s really going on.

One of the biggest issues seems to be that universities aren’t addressing the issue of racism directly and many don’t have identifiable systems in place for dealing with this specific type of grievance. ‘They’re not prioritising it and taking I seriously… universities are more concerned about their reputation than the wellbeing of their students’, Martin said.

‘I speak to students on a daily basis that tell me they have been called the N-word or been discriminated against because of their colour or not let into a club because of their race’, she added.

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Universities UK have said that there is ‘no place for racism’ on a university campus, which is all well and good, but this echo of a vague and hopefully obvious statement is one that universities seems to rely on without furthering the ‘zero tolerance’ sentiment with campus wide action.

Following a series of racist group WhatsApp messages exchanged between students at Exeter university that were leaked on social media three weeks ago, students staged an anti-racism rally to urge chancellors to make changes on campus and break the trend of racist incidents being brushed under the carpet.

The university launched ann investigation and has suspended the students involved in the group chat, and have said that full disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate. A spokesperson for the University of Exeter told *The Debrief: '*The number of reports from students at Exeter of alleged racism is extremely low with fewer than five alleged incidents reported for each of the last five years. But even one incident is too many. Racism in any form is not tolerated by the University of Exeter and should be reported'.

In a joint statement to the Guardian, three Exeter university students said: 'These incidents are happening all the time but they are not all visible. There will be other group chats and other incidents of intimidation but we will not always see the prejudice.'

'There needs to be a big systemic change in the way academic institutions deal with racism. Someone needs to stand up urgently and say publicly to all students: "Whether you believe something is a joke or not, it will not be tolerated." Universities need to let all students know what the stance on racism is. We need to say racism in any form is not OK.'

The University of Exeter say they are 'building on existing campaigns to develop new initiatives to combat discrimination and harassment of any kind'. And while their commitment to improvement is promising, students at the many universities that have experienced publicly reported bouts of racial abuse, it feels like something larger, more assertive and systematically finite is needed to affect a real change to something that often goes on behind the scenes.

The onus shouldn't fall to aggrieved students to 'out' their universities and the students who behave in such awful ways on social media, but rather universities need to do more to outwardly support the students who are subject to abuse way more regularly than reported. If there's any positive take away from the ongoing messy relationship between university and racism, is that there's a growing number of vocal student taking a collective stand against what's going on. And it's high time that the senior management and university counselors listen.

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Follow Jazmin on Instagram @JazKopotsha

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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