Universities “oblivious” to racism


The Equality and Human Rights Commission has detailed the high rate of racism in Scottish universities

23rd October 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Universities are “oblivious” to the extent of racial harassment on their campuses, Britain’s equality body has warned in a damning report on the sector.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) inquiry report Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged has revealed that with racial harassment occurring at an alarmingly high rate in Scottish and across British universities, many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are not only unaware of the scale of the issue but are overconfident in their ability to handle it.

The inquiry has found that 24% of ethnic minority students have experienced racial harassment on campus.

Universities are over confident that individuals will report harassment, with 43% of universities believing that every incident of racial harassment against students was reported, and 56% believing that all incidents against staff were reported.

However, two thirds of students who responded to our survey and had experienced racial harassment said that they had not reported the incident to their university. Less than half of all staff who responded to the EHRC’s call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had reported it to their university.

Students and staff suggested that they did not come forward about their experiences because they had no confidence that the incident would be addressed. Others said that fear of reprisals also played a part, as two thirds of staff said that better protection from personal repercussions would have made it easier for them to bring a complaint.

Responding to the Inquiry’s findings, Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the EHRC, said: “We expect universities to be innovative environments that do more than just teach us how to pass exams.  We look to them to help us to grow as individuals and prepare us to be good citizens. It is considerably disappointing to discover that, instead of being progressive and forward thinking, they are living in the past and have failed to learn from history.

“No one should ever be subjected to racial harassment in any setting. Our report reveals that not only are universities out of touch with the extent that this is occurring on their campuses, some are also completely oblivious to the issue. This isn’t good enough. More must be done to protect all students and staff on campus so everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential in work and education.”

The report also warns that universities are reluctant to admit the prevalence of racial harassment on campus for fear of reputational damage or putting off potential students.

One student told EHRC: “There were other instances that made it clear that it would do me more harm than good making a fuss about it. A friend had reported an incident some time before that and was encouraged by staff to keep quiet.”

Despite universities being keen to encourage international students to choose their courses, the research unearthed a strong theme of international students feeling unwelcome, isolated and vulnerable. Some even described feeling like commodities and only wanted for the fees that they bring. Half of the international students who responded to the EHRC’s call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had been made to feel excluded, over half said they had experienced racial microaggressions, and 44% said they had experienced racist abuse, but 77% of respondents did not report it to the university.

Professor Andrea Nolan, convenor of Universities Scotland, said: "The findings are stark and challenging for universities and we must turn to face those findings and recommendations head on.

"We are committed to tackle racial harassment within universities. We will follow the collegiate, evidenced approach we have used when dealing with issues around mental health and gender-based violence.

"Scotland will be represented on Universities UK's new advisory group on racial harassment.

"Universities are a platform for people to flourish, we must ensure that always remains the case."

NUS Scotland's black students officer, Franklin Jacob, said: "It lays bare the unacceptable scourge of racial harassment experienced by staff and students at university.

"To read that 24% of students surveyed had been the victim of racial harassment whilst 20% of students had been racially attacked is damning. The figure in Scotland (11%), whilst lower, still shows the work that must be achieved by the entire sector.

"All universities - without fail - must take steps to address transparency of reporting procedures, provide proper redress for victims and to create a zero-tolerance culture towards racial harassment on campuses, stamping out hatred and prejudice for good."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Racial harassment has no place in Scotland, nor our universities.

"We must tackle and eradicate it, leaving our students, researchers and staff - from Scotland and around the world - to flourish without the distress it causes.

"The Scottish Government is wholly committed, and already taking action, to address its recommendations through effective joint action with key stakeholders, such as the Scottish Funding Council, and we encourage all relevant interests to play a part in addressing these issues."