SU confronts Bristol University on racism in open letter


By Georgiana Scott, Investigations Correspondent, and Patrick Sullivan, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Bristol SU has sent a letter to the University of Bristol calling for increased action against the discrimination faced by BME students.

On Wednesday 11 December, Bristol’s Student Union published an open letter to the University of Bristol’s Management Team on their handling of racial harassment and their inability to create an inclusive higher-education environment for students and staff.

It highlights a new report released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission showing an increase in racial harassment across UK Universities and how Bristol University is conducive to this.

It also confronts the University’s lack of action to alleviate concerns brought to their attention by the SU in a statement they made in October this year.

In the letter, they outline racially motivated attacks they claim are frequently reported by students, such as ‘frequent uses of offensive language in seminars and lectures; students being targeted and humiliated by senior members of academic staff; and racist images appearing in halls of residences’, in addition to microaggressions.

Back in 2017, the University set up a taskforce with Bristol mayor Marvin Rees to tackle racism after several incidents on campus were reported in the media. Examples included targeted Snapchat videos by fellow students featuring ‘abusive singing and monkey noises’.

The letter, signed by the seven SU sabbatical officers, calls upon the University to action eight procedures they feel will reduce intolerance experienced by BME students.

1.     Undertake an independent, external review of institutionalised racism, to be conducted by The Runnymede Trust;

2.     Take disciplinary action against staff and students who have perpetuated the hostile environment for BME students;

3.     Ensure that there is a timetabled, regular and high presence of NILAARI on campus to provide on-the-ground wellbeing support for BME students;

4.     Diversify the staff body by hiring more BME staff in senior academic and professional services positions, whilst making their promotion framework robust and impactful;

5.     Decolonise the curriculum and spaces to truly make this university inclusive for all;

6.     Embed education on hate crime into curricula so that all students develop an understanding of race-based discrimination and other forms of prejudice;

7.     Make sure Report and Support is fit for purpose and actively promoted;

8.     Make public the data of the Race Equality Charter, Staff Diversity Audit, Runnymede report, and data from ‘Report and Support’ on incidents reported and the responses taken.

They encourage any students that have experienced or witnessed any discriminatory behaviour to report it through the University's anonymous ‘Report and Support’ system, but then continue to comment on how they ‘lack faith in its capacity to deal with named cases’.

The seven sabbatical Bristol SU officers have signed the letter demanding university action | Bristol SU

The letter is signed off by stating that the University needs to make ‘an unequivocal statement that it will proactively address the injustices of the past and commit itself to erasing all forms of racism in the future’.

Bristol SU has requested a response from the University by 15 January 2020. In the meantime, they are encouraging students and staff to act in solidarity with the University's BME community by adding their signature to the bottom of the letter.

The University say they have ‘already taken active steps to address the challenges raised’, such as establishing links with NILAARI, a specialist wellbeing support organisation, and creating a new BME success programme. They are also part of the Bristol Race Equality Strategic Leaders' Group and signed the Racial Equality Charter in April 2019 to ‘help improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students’.

The University also conducted a survey on racism last month with the results yet to be released.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘There is no place for racism at the University of Bristol.

‘We have been working actively with the Students’ Union to ensure our commitment to inclusion, diversity and equality is reflected in all aspects of our University.

‘There is no place for racism at the University of Bristol.’
University of Bristol spokesperson

‘We most recently met with them on 15 November to discuss each of the points they are now raising in the open letter and gave our assurance to continue working in partnership to take their points forward.

‘We know there is more to do, and we are committed to continuing to work in partnership with students and staff on these important issues, and to ensuring that our University community is one where everyone feels safe, welcomed and respected.’

If you have experienced or witnessed any discriminatory behaviour you can report it anonymously through the University's Report and Support Tool or via the police.

Featured Image: Epigram / Tom Taylor

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