Most black students ‘a victim of racism’ in UK accommodation

Report calls for measures on ‘ignored’ issue like more black staff working in halls of residence and other blocks  

February 3, 2022
Source: iStock

More than half of black students say they have been the victims of racism while living in UK student accommodation and almost two-thirds of all students have witnessed racist incidents, a survey has suggested.

A much lower proportion of black students also said they felt a “sense of belonging” in their accommodation than their white counterparts, according to the study of those living in university halls of residence and privately run student blocks.

More than 1,000 students were surveyed and focus groups also carried out for the research, commissioned by student accommodation provider Unite Students, which found that racist incidents could even involve staff.

“Most students who took part in the focus groups had direct experiences of racism in their accommodation and felt that this had not changed with the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement,” the report says.

“These experiences ranged from insensitivity around things like hair or food, to the use of racial slurs, to spitting, shouting and physical violence.”

It adds that one “positive” finding of the study was that such racism was also being openly challenged, with half of all the survey respondents saying they had seen staff confronting racism and two-thirds witnessing other students taking action.

But just 43 per cent of the black students surveyed said they felt they belonged in their accommodation compared with more than 60 per cent of the white students who responded.

“Black students spoke about feeling that they are seen as out of place, and how white peers appear to have a right to speak and act in a racially discriminatory way,” the Living Black at University report says.

“Black students feel that there is little support available for them when they feel distressed about these issues, and they describe the long-term impact on their mental health and well-being from feeling this way.”

Respondents to the survey also said that there was a “culture of limited mixing” between students from different ethnic backgrounds within halls and other accommodation, with some reporting that they thought that there had been deliberate segregation.

The report says that while it “seems unlikely that universities or accommodation providers would deliberately segregate students by ethnicity”, this “could be an unintended consequence of other allocation strategies”.

In making a series of recommendations, the report says accommodation providers should “confirm a commitment to tackling racism” and take practical steps including increasing the numbers of black staff and routinely publishing data on racism complaints and the outcomes of investigations.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, writes in the report that the focus on addressing racism in universities was often on tackling aspects like the academic attainment gap, but the “impact of racism on the non-academic aspects of student life has been largely ignored”.

“Where you live, who you live with and how safe you feel in your accommodation are crucial to student success,” he adds.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said the report showed that more needed to be done to support black students across their university life.

“For a long time, the experiences of students in student accommodation have been overlooked and disconnected from the broader university experience,” she said. “This is a good opportunity to look at how we can truly tackle racism at every level of the university experience.”

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