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The role of university in tackling racism

Written by Comment

This afternoon, Newcastle University sent out a Black Lives Matter statement from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, addressing its efforts to bring about change in tackling the growing inequalities faced by black students and other minorities within the education system. It comes at a time of raised global awareness and anger towards the prevalence of institutional racism following George Floyd’s murder.

The dire need for change cannot be stressed enough and while these new efforts are appreciated, it is important to realise that this is not the first time that universities have been made to face their failures in addressing racial inequality.

A report  in 2019 by the Office for Students (OfS) depicted that universities in the UK have consistently failed to cater to the mental health needs of black students which has caused them to attain lower grades or drop out. Previously, in 2018, the University Partnerships Programme Foundation (UPP) and the Social Market Foundation (SMF) highlighted this issue releasing a study that indicated that only 53% of black students with a mental health condition attained a first or 2.1. Further, an inquiry last year by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) indicated that universities are failing to acknowledge and address over ten thousand racist incidents annually.

While these studies have identified the gap in attainment rates, mental health issues, and racist insensitivity faced by black students at university time and time again, changes to the system have not been felt around UK. In recent years, campaigns such as ‘#RhodesMustFall’ at Oxford University and ‘Why isn’t my Professor Black’ at University College London, depict the increasing frustration amongst students in regard to racial exclusion.

Yet, curriculums have remained white-washed, the specific needs of the black student community are not addressed, issues of racism within the student body are still prevalent and black professors and counsellors remain glaringly absent. A recent investigation by The Courier found that last year Newcastle University itself had fewer than 3 black professors out of 445. These inequalities ought to be deemed utterly unacceptable.

It is time for universities to live up to the promises of inclusivity being made to their student bodies.

Students deserve to learn through a decolonised curriculum with black theorists’ studies included in reading lists. Black students ought to feel represented by the professors that teach them and constant effort must be made to diversify university staff. Stringent measures have to be put in place to tackle racism on and off campus. There are so many levels at which these issues prevail in the system but every student that walks into university deserves an equal opportunity to thrive within it.

While the University email acknowledges and discusses these issues and presents the path towards promising change, it is our responsibility as students to ensure that change actually takes place. It is our responsibility to constantly question and challenge the issues of systematic racism to ensure that it does not take another study or movement on black lives to create a world where a black student can walk into university and believe that they can come back as a professor someday.

Last modified: 10th June 2020

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