Investigations Editor Luke Chafer talks to ex-rector Aamer Anwar and students who have experienced racism at UofG to explore the results of the recently published survey Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures.
Content Warning: racial harassment
The recently published report Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures made for uncomfortable reading. Its findings were unequivocal, racial harassment at the University of Glasgow is pervasive.
The most damning findings in the report were that 50% of ethnic minority students experienced racial harassment between two and five times since starting their studies, with 5% reporting 20 separate instances. Staff reported primarily coded forms of racism, as well as a disparity in forms of employment with no representation in senior management and being three times more likely to be on fixed-term contracts. The report concluded that: “experiences of racial harassment combined with distinctive forms of structural disadvantage … undermines the University”.
The “'catalyst for the programme of work” was the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on racism at universities across Britain, which was published in October 2019. Yet the epidemic of racial harassment on campus was formally raised 35 months before the internal report was published, by rector Aamer Anwar in April 2018. On Twitter, he described the University's approach to racism while he was rector as “being in denial or tokenistic”.
When asked why there was a delay between the issue being formally raised and action being taken, a spokesperson asserted that: “action was taken following discussions at Court in 2018… [we] created an online student reporting and support tool, which allows students to report issues either in name or anonymously”. A reporting tool that according to the subsequent report “only a handful [reported]… raising questions about its efficacy”. The spokesperson went on to reiterate what Principal Sir Anton Muscatelli said in his official statement: “Our University senior team felt challenged by the EHRC report”. This raises the question of why they didn’t feel challenged by the concerns raised by Aamer Anwar.
The EHRC report, which was the point of comparison, found that 24% of ethnic minorities experience racial harassment whilst at university across Britain, whereas the internal report carried out by the University of Glasgow found that 50% of BAME students experience such incidents. The Glasgow Guardian asked the University why there is such a stark difference, and the spokesperson believed it to be methodological differences and sample size.
Another central finding of the internal report was a degree-awarding gap with BAME students less likely to receive a good honours grade: in 2018/19 BAME students were 10.7% less likely to receive good honours compared with their White peers. When The Glasgow Guardian posed the question as to why the University believes this to be the case the spokesperson stated: “We do not know the root cause of this”. Whilst they also reiterated that as part of the action plan this would undergo further investigation using a new tool of analysis, it is only being launched next month suggesting that this academic year will again see a degree-awarding gap favouring White students.
In an attempt to understand the incidents wrapped up in statistics within the University report, The Glasgow Guardian circulated a survey to capture student experience. What became apparent was the casual and normalised nature of incidents experienced. A recurring theme in the responses was a feeling of otherness: continually made to feel an outsider. As one respondent noted: “constantly being asked where I am from...not taking the UK as an answer”. Another respondent said they were being “asked for sex for the South Asian experience”. Students' achievements were also belittled: ”I was told that the only reason I had an unconditional offer was because I was a person of colour and a woman”. Multiple respondents also noted the course group chats as a platform for racial harassment. As well as being harassed by students, respondents also noted microaggressions, “inappropriate comments”, and being placed in ethnically segregated groups by staff members. When asked “Did the University act appropriately in dealing with your incident?” the feeling of despondence was encapsulated by one answer which simply said: “no...just the usual ‘sorry’ emails”.
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