UK v-cs ‘should take lead on tackling racial harassment’

Universities UK guidance says institutions must introduce training on concepts such as microaggressions and white privilege

November 24, 2020
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UK vice-chancellors must acknowledge that their universities perpetuate institutional racism and take ownership of understanding and addressing racial harassment, according to new sector guidance.

The report, Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education, published by Universities UK, notes that the majority of senior leaders in UK universities are white and therefore unlikely to have direct personal experience of racial harassment. Thus, it calls for leaders to listen to the concerns of black, Asian and other minority ethnic group staff and students as well as to “invest time in self-led education and reflection to enhance their personal understanding of racism and racial harassment”.

“We recommend that the cultural change required to tackle racial harassment is owned and sustained by vice-chancellors and senior leaders,” it says, adding that “formal development opportunities to enhance leaders’ understanding of racism, microaggressions, white privilege and allyship are also likely to be helpful”.

Senior staff should also “take a leading role in opening conversations about race and racial inequalities”, “commit to being an ally in dismantling racism” and “acknowledge publicly that racism and racial harassment affect university staff and students at your institution, and that institutional structures can contribute to this”, according to the guidance, which was informed by experts and in-depth consultation with panels of exclusively black, Asian and minority ethnic students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment.

The report says last year’s Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry and UUK’s own research highlight a lack of understanding of what constitutes racial harassment and low levels of confidence when discussing issues of race.

It recommends that institutions provide examples of racial harassment and microaggressions and clarify what is and is not acceptable behaviour, implement sanctions for breaches and develop training for students and staff from an anti-racist standpoint. This training should encapsulate concepts of white privilege, fragility, allyship and intersectionality and include bystander training to support staff members and students to call out racism, it says.

The EHRC inquiry found that nearly a quarter of ethnic minority students in the UK have experienced racial harassment and that institutions were “oblivious” to the scale of the problem. The UUK report says universities must make it clear that if an incident is perceived as racist by the victim, then it should be treated as such, irrespective of the intention of the harasser.

David Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and chair of the UUK advisory group on tackling racial harassment in higher education, said: “It is my firm belief that UK universities perpetuate institutional racism. This is uncomfortable to acknowledge, but all university leaders should do so as a first step towards meaningful change.

“Too often, black, Asian and minority ethnic students and staff have been failed. While they may have heard positive words, they have seen little action. That needs to change now. These recommendations are designed to help university leaders put words into action and tackle racial harassment. By embracing and embedding an anti-racist approach, we can ensure that 2021 is the year we lead decisive and meaningful change, not just for our universities but for society as a whole.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

As someone of mixed race heritage I see plenty of racial discrimination around me, most of it is between non-'white' groups, with some far Eastern students being by far the most racist against 'black' skinned people. Buying into the 'white privilege' myth and ignoring the much more hateful racism that continues unabated won't help universities, nor those of any skin shade affected. CLASS privilege however IS a huge issue, with those from the highest Classes, Caste's or related to high ranking party officials treating everybody else as something objectionable they've trodden in.
Perpetuating the myth that white people are not racially harassed, perpetuating the sense of the 'other'.... if we actually want to eliminate the evil of racisim we need to drop all this claptrap, recognise that every single person is of equal value and worth, that we are all human beings, and above all to start being kind to one another. It doesn't matter where anyone sits on the cline of skin colour. They are all members of the human race.
I am tempted to ask my VC how exactly my institution is systematically racist and why. After all, this seems to imply that institutional design or leadership take an active part in this, not just individuals. If that's true, why do they not stop? Or are they just pretending it's systematic and in reality it's merely individuals that don't follow the existing guidance on non-discrimination? Maybe I am just misunderstanding what they mean... Somehow it feels like they are just saying what the customers want to hear. But tbh, if I was a minority applicant and the University I was applying to told me they were perpetuating racism systematically, I would run as fast as I can and look for a place where they don't do that.

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