LSHTM apologises as racism review warns of ‘structural problems’

Institution’s director says sorry after review set up in wake of BLM movement and ‘broader concerns’ from staff and students

December 14, 2021

A review of racial equality set up by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has “found evidence of racism and inequalities which point to deeper, more structural problems” within the institution.

In autumn 2020, LSHTM’s council commissioned a review, in response to issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement and to “broader concerns raised by LSHTM staff and students”.

The independent review, carried out by management consultants Nous group, “found evidence of racism and inequalities which point to deeper, more structural problems within LSHTM that have negatively impacted the experiences of those within our organisation”, said the institution’s director, Liam Smeeth.

“We understand that these experiences have had very real and painful human consequences. We deeply regret this and apologise sincerely to everyone affected.”

The review concludes: “While there is demonstrable goodwill amongst the school community and examples of positive experiences, the weight of evidence suggests that the culture and practices still too often disadvantage people of colour.”

The review “highlighted worrying incidents of racist behaviours and there is an urgent need to ensure a safer environment for staff and students. While some of these incidents could be perceived as a symptom of naiveite or inexperience in discussing race, there are also stories of overtly racist comments or disparaging remarks about other cultures. Furthermore, there are examples of senior staff’s behaviours going unaddressed because of their influence in LSHTM.”

The review also says: “Stakeholders perceive that LSHTM has not meaningfully acknowledged and communicated its historic role in upholding colonial interests, which manifests in unequal partnerships and Eurocentric curricula.”

And as elsewhere in the sector, “staff of colour at LSHTM are underrepresented at senior levels; have overall lower rates of successful promotion; and are more likely to be on short-term and fixed-term contracts”.

Staff and students “feel that international student fees place barriers to entry for students from low- and middle-income countries and low rates of acceptances from overseas students (as compared to UK students) supports this theory”, while staff also “highlighted that the diversity of LSHTM’s intake from overseas means that little effort is made to attract and support domestic students of colour” and “a Eurocentric curriculum and teaching practices were highlighted as issues, particularly by those from overseas”.

One academic staff member is quoted in the report as saying: “I was in my office, when two colleagues argued that religious people shouldn’t be allowed to work in academia with full knowledge that I identified as a Muslim. I brought this up with these colleagues in the nicest way possible to highlight that I was hurt by their comments. My treatment by one of the two colleagues got significantly worse as a result. Later, the same colleague said that Muslims celebrate Eid by running people over (with a vehicle). It was meant as a joke.”

Another former academic staff member says: “I had the worst work given to me whereas others were getting the nicer work, the praise and recognition…my manager would often not acknowledge my presence. She would smile at the other colleagues, but she would not even say hello to me. I think about this many years later.”

Recommendations from the review include that LSHTM “define a vision and strategy to advance racial equity”, “improve equitable opportunities for staff progression”, “improve employment conditions for fixed-term and contractual staff who are predominantly staff of colour”, improve “the outcomes and experience for students of colour, and “develop and invest in a curriculum informed by a decolonial outlook”.

On “changing culture and behaviours”, it recommends LSHTM ensures “staff actively participate in training”, that it develops “awareness of anti-racism approaches”, and broadens “the use of equity objectives in the appraisal process”.

The review also recommends that LSHTM “reinforce consistent expectations for equity in research partnerships through provision of support and resource”.

“While the conclusions of the review are difficult to confront, facing up to them is an essential step towards creating an environment where everyone’s contributions and perspectives are valued,” said Professor Smeeth.

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