By Robin Connolly, Co-Editor-in-Chief
The University has issued an apology after ‘offensive' comments were made during an all-staff live webinar, which was held yesterday to discuss the University's response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The livestream took place yesterday, Wednesday 10 June at 2pm. It was password-protected and therefore only accessible to UoB staff members.
The webinar was hosted held by a panel that included the University of Bristol's Vice-Chancellor, Hugh Brady, and was chaired by Alicia O'Grady.
Also on the panel was Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost Judith Squires, Head of School Management, Professor Palie Smart, and Professor of the History of Slavery Olivette Otele.
Screenshots of the Q&A show some members, presumed to be UoB staff, taking part anonymously by making comments such as: ‘Bristol is Bristol, built on the backs of our forefathers – how they operated was not correct but should not be forgotten.’
Another reads: ‘Apparently there’s always someone who will take offence at anything, so should we remove all artwork, statues, logos and building names.’
Other comments made in the discussion include:
- ‘Woke-ism is using BLM as an excuse to silence criticism and freedom of expression. Academic freedom is in danger.’
- ‘Please end the session by saying All lives should matter.’
The aim of the livestream was to discuss steps the University will take going forward to address issues the Black Lives Matter movement has raised for Bristol as a city as well as for the University of Bristol itself.
The webinar also answered questions from staff about the University's ongoing response to COVID-19.
The live stream took place in the wake of the statue of 19th century slave trader, Edward Colston, being torn down by protestors at the Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol city centre on Sunday afternoon.
| Colston statue torn down during Bristol Black Lives Matter protest
| Petitions launched to replace Colston statue with alternatives celebrating Bristol’s Black community
| Colston statue removed from Bristol harbour
Questions could be submitted for the webinar in advance via the Slido Widget. During the live stream, there was also a feature where staff could post comments for everyone on the call to read. There was an option for this to be done anonymously.
In response to the series of posts made in the chat, one staff member, who wishes to remain anonymous, spoke to Epigram as they did not feel they could ‘stay silent on [the issue].’
Screenshots have been taken of the webinar when they realised that the content of some anonymous posts could cause offence.
An anonymised comment appearing late in the livestream said: ‘Please can we have more diversity within the moderators of these comments. It seems we have entirely left-wing radical liberals deleting the more tradition and conservative views. Just because you don’t share these views doesn’t make them any less valid – one voice, one vote, equality for all.’
Staff subsequently took to Twitter to express their outrage.
Josie Gill, Lecturer in Black British Writing, tweeted during the livestream ‘Reading some of the comments on the all staff live stream [...] wow, lots of anonymous racists at Bristol Uni!’
She went on to say that she ‘needed to stop reading now.’
Jess Farr-Cox, Lecturer in the Department of English, also took to Twitter, describing the views that were put forward as ‘horribly racist.’
I love the cognitive dissonance between articulating a horrible racist view, but doing so anonymously because on some level you *know* it's a horrible racist view.— Jess Farr-Cox (@thefilthycomma) June 10, 2020
Speaking to Epigram about the live stream, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘The weekly livestreams were introduced at the start of lockdown as a way to keep staff up to date with the very latest information around the University’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic and for them to hear this directly from the Senior Team.
‘Staff are able to leave unmoderated comments and ask questions directly during the livestream, with the most relevant then picked up and put to members of the Senior Team leading the discussion.
‘After this weekend’s events, we thought it was important to use yesterday’s livestream to talk about Black Lives Matter, racism and the University’s responses to these incredibly important issues.
‘We had left the comment section unmoderated, asking staff to treat others respectfully. We were deeply troubled and disappointed to then see the offensive and racist comments that were posted during the livestream.
‘We would like to apologise to our staff and students who were affected by these. Future events will be moderated.
‘These comments have served to reinforce the need to take decisive action to combat racism across our institution. Racism is sadly still very much part of everyday life for many people in our community.
‘We must all take action to challenge racism and to bring about real change. We firmly believe that if we all actively do our part and develop a speak-up culture that places responsibility on all of us – not only people of colour – to call out racism when it occurs, we will succeed.’
Featured Image: Epigram
How do you feel about the anonymous comments made by staff members?