Blog: Racial harassment in Higher Education

Today (Wednesday, 23 October 2019), the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report of the findings of its inquiry into racial harassment at universities. Here, Professor Fiona Beveridge, Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences, highlights work going on across the University on this issue and gives details about a new inquiry. Fiona chaired the Task and Finish Group relating to the University’s Values and Ethics.

As a university, we welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s thorough and carefully considered report. This follows the EHRC’s inquiry into racial harassment at universities, which was launched as a result of concerns raised by universities and representative bodies about the impact of racial harassment on students and staff in the UK.

The report’s findings are extremely concerning. The surveys underpinning the EHRC’s findings showed that 24% of students from an ethnic minority background said they had experienced racial harassment since starting their course. Of equal concern, over half of staff who responded to the survey described incidents of being ignored or excluded because of their race, with more than a quarter said they experienced racist name-calling, insults and jokes.

Racial harassment and, indeed, harassment of any form, has no place at our University. All our staff and students have the right to work and study in a positive, professional and safe environment. We are committed to supporting our students and staff to thrive against a background of respect for the experiences, abilities and skills of all individuals.

In response to the report’s recommendations, we will be commissioning an internal inquiry to hear more from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students about their experiences and to work together in developing measures to improve these and support achievement.

The University’s Safe and Welcoming Campus Board is also particularly focusing on harassment this year, including racial harassment.

This will build on the support already in place. For example, we have an Equality Action Plan and have also signed the joint National Union of Students and Universities UK Closing the Gap pledge, which seeks to tackle the barriers to success faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students. As part of this commitment, colleagues are currently analysing data and developing subject level action plans to understand and address the reasons behind gaps in good degree outcomes between different students based on race, ensuring students receive the support they need to succeed.

In addition to mandatory equality and diversity training for all staff, other training courses on topics such as unconscious bias are also available. Students are also encouraged to undertake our online equality and diversity training.

We strongly encourage any student or staff member who encounters racial harassment in any form to contact one of our Bullying and Harassment Advisors for impartial advice and information on how to make a complaint. Staff can report incidents anonymously using the online report form and we are viewing options for anonymous reporting for students.

We also have support services in place for anyone who has experienced harassment, including racial harassment. Students are encouraged to attend a drop-in session with our advice and guidance team, Monday-Friday between 11am and 3pm in the Alsop Building. Staff can access support via our Employee Assistance Programme.