Petition launched to address racism at Newcastle University

Joe Molander reports on the latest example of student activism on-campus

Joe Molander
15th June 2020

A petition has been forwarded to the University encouraging it to tackle racism and a lack of diversity.

The petition, which currently has over 1600 signatures, outlines three aims for the University, targeting education, communication and diversification. It was started by Newcastle alumna Kat Edwards, and calls for more substantive change than what the University have offered previously. Edwards started the petition out of a desire for the University to explain the real, clear change it planned to make.

Speaking to the Courier, she said that “I was just thinking ‘how do I do more than just share a black square on Instagram?’". She hopes the petition will encourage Newcastle University to "set an example to other universities across the country about what the difference between words and actions are”.

The petition calls for workshops on inclusion and anti-racism

Edwards’ sentiment is well-reflected in the petition. Among other things, the petition’s education aim calls for mandatory workshops on inclusion and anti-racism. She noted that “I was a club president of a university sports society, and I didn’t go through any training. A society is the main way the University has into the friendship groups here. Putting on these workshops, particularly for committee members of societies, will be the first step to creating real change”.

The petition’s second aim is to have the University improve communication with public venues in the city. Edwards explained that “the petition needs to show the University that their responsibility doesn’t just stop at the stairs going down to Monument. I’ve seen and heard stories of people of colour going on nights out where racial incidents have occurred. Then, they haven’t reported it to the police or University, because they didn’t know there was a support system in place”. The Report + Support Scheme can be found online, but Edwards was critical of the lack of an option to report hate crimes. On the website, there are only options to report sexual harassment, sexual violence and ‘initiations’.

Image: Report + Support website

The petition’s final aim looks to diversify the body of professors and students at the University. It advises the University’s admissions and marketing teams to target areas of the UK with a high ethnic minority population to increase BAME applications. Edwards said that “you need to hear from people of colour, in order to be able to understand what they are going through. But maybe because of the fact that they see Newcastle as a very white city, they don’t feel like they can come here”.

In a statement, the University Deputy-Vice Chancellor Julie Sanders insisted “we are not sticking our heads in the sands at Newcastle University”. The statement goes on to explain that an update on the Racial Equality Charter was presented to the University Council earlier this month. Six key areas of focus were identified, including decolonising the curriculum and diversifying student recruitment. The University is also looking into training “Hate Crime champions”, with the People Services and Organisational Development team introducing “active bystander training”. This is to encourage intervention in situations not unlike the ones outlined by Edwards.

Stand Up To Racism Society support the petition

Stand Up To Racism Society have said they are fully behind the petition. At the time of writing, they are devising a charter to help tackle some of the issues to which it calls attention. In a statement to the Courier, the society said “We want it to live up to the ideals of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King. But as this petition indicates, students still feel there is more to be done.”

The petition can be found here.

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AUTHOR: Joe Molander
Head of Current Affairs and co-founder of The Toon Lampoon. Politics, interviews, satire and the Courier's leading authority on frosted tips. @JoeMolander on Twitter and full portfolio available on Muckrack.

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