An open letter to staff, students and the wider University community from the Vice Chancellor

Professor Dame Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool:

I am sure I can say on behalf of the whole university community that we have been shocked and horrified by the killing of George Floyd and much of the subsequent US authorities’ response to Black Lives Matter protests.

I know that this appalling series of events has been extremely difficult for black members of our community and that this, timed together with the COVID-19 outbreak which is disproportionately affecting the BAME community, may be impacting your wellbeing. If that is the case, I would strongly urge you to seek support. Students – please contact the University’s student advice and welfare team and staff – please access the Employee Assistance Programme.

We, as an institution, are absolutely clear that racism and discrimination have no place in society and certainly no place on our campus. 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.

We also recognise that these commitments on their own are not enough. Important work has been undertaken in recent years to strive to meet these commitments – including our Equality Action Plan; becoming a member of Universities Studying Slavery to acknowledge and pledge to explore our own legacies; our ongoing work following signing 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; mandatory equality and diversity training for all staff; online equality and diversity training for students; and reporting mechanisms for any student or staff member who encounters racial harassment in any form. To be clear on this last point, staff and students should contact our Bullying and Harassment Advisors for impartial advice and information on how to make a complaint and staff can report incidents anonymously using the online report form .

But this is not enough. We must do more.

Our attainment gap in good degree outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and the underrepresentation of BAME staff in senior posts at the University must be tackled, as must any cases of racism and discrimination on campus.

In October last year the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report on racial harassment at universities. 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 findings were extremely concerning. For example, 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 university course.

In direct response to the report’s recommendations, we commissioned 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 internal Inquiry is being led by Carol Costello, Director of People and Services and Cilla Ankrah-Lucas, Council member. The EHRC Working Group, which has representation from staff across the University and the Guild of Students, has also been established to respond to the report and is currently putting together an action plan on how we can become a more equitable institution for both our staff and students. I know this Group is doing good work and making important progress and I have asked that they provide an update which we will publish in the coming days.

Racism and discrimination will not be eradicated in society or at our University overnight. But we all can, and must, do more. I am absolutely committed to facing the uncomfortable truth about how much work is needed to address these inequalities and, together with other SLT colleagues, will be meeting with representatives from staff and student groups and societies in the coming weeks. These discussions, together with the important findings of our Inquiry, will result in a range of immediate actions to be taken forward by the EHRC Working Group. I commit to providing you with an update on these actions shortly.