Tackling Racism in Student Halls - What you need to know as a student.

Tackling Racism in Student Halls - What you need to know as a student.

Is There A Problem With Racism On University Campuses?

The issue of hate speech on university campuses has been in the news more frequently in recent years. An analysis by The Independent found that racist incidents at UK universities rose by over 60% between 2015 and 2017.

Some of the most high-profile of these cases took place within student accommodation. In 2016 Faramade Ifaturoti, a first year biomedical science student at the University of Warwick, found racial slurs scrawled on bananas in her kitchen. It was reported that the university, who managed the campus accommodation where the incident took place, responded slowly and only after the story drew attention on social media.

Earlier this year, shocking footage arose of students at Nottingham Trent University shouting racist abuse outside the door of a black student’s room in her halls. The student, Rufaro Chisango, said that accommodation management were slow to respond after she made a complaint.

What Is Being Done To Combat Racism In Student Accommodation?

A survey carried out by the Unite student accommodation group in 2017 showed that BAME students in the UK are less likely to feel integrated in their accommodation than white students. The black attainment gap has become a pressing issue in higher education, with many universities now trying to address the barriers faced by BAME students.

The NUS has produced guidelines for universities relating to the black attainment gap, and are due to publish best practice recommendations in partnership with the UUK later this year. While these take into account important academic considerations such as curricula design, staff training and outreach schemes, there is no specific mention of the role that accommodation might play in student success and integration.

What makes matters more difficult is the lack of consistent information about what the expected response should be when an incident of this nature takes place. Documents such as the Universities UK Code of Practice for the Management of Student Housing and the Equality Challenge Unit’s Equality and Diversity Handbook make reference to discrimination and anti-social behaviour in student housing, but contain little specific information regarding how it should be dealt with in practice.

Does Reporting Hate Speech Help?

True Vision is an online service providing information about hate crimes and resources for reporting them. They advise that all instances of hate speech should be reported, whether you yourself are the victim or if you are a third party who has witnessed such an incident.

“Reporting makes a difference – to you, your friends, and your community,” a representative from True Vision said. “By reporting hate crime when it happens, you can help stop it happening to someone else. You will also help the police to better understand the level of hate crime in your local area, and improve the way they respond to it.”

What Can I Do?

Find Out What Your Rights Are - The Citizen’s Advice website is a great source of information about what discrimination is and what you can do about it. They can also provide guidance and signpost you to other organisations who can support you.

Report It - All instances of hate speech should be reported to the police. Committing a hate crime is a criminal offence, but even when it is judged that the law has not been broken reporting statistics are used to try and prevent further incidents from happening in the future. The Report It website has a full list of ways to report a hate incident.

Speak To Your Accommodation Manager - If you are the victim of racial discrimination in your university accommodation, report it to your accommodation manager. They have a responsibility to ensure that you feel safe within your home, and should take action to deal with the situation.

Seek Support - Most universities will have a residential support service and a formal complaints procedure for incidents of harassment. Many Students’ Unions also have a BAME representative or committee that may be able to provide support and advocacy.

Speak Up - If you witness an incident of racial discrimination, don’t ignore it - be proactive and report what you’ve seen.

Grassroots Change Is Happening

While the rise in racist incidents on university campuses is appalling, the backlash from students is forcing higher education institutions to sit up and take notice. Students at Exeter University organised an anti-racism rally after it came to light that several students had been making racist, sexist and homophobic comments in a WhatsApp group.

Widespread criticism of the way that racist incidents are handled by universities has led to a call for change, with students demanding increased accountability and more serious consequences for the perpetrators.

Hopefully these grassroots campus movements will be a precursor to institutional change, and both universities and accommodation providers will be more proactive in ensuring the safety and comfort of all of their students.

Related Links

True Vision

Universities UK Code of Practice

Equality Challenge Unit Handbook for Student Accommodation Providers

The Independent Article on Racism at Universities

The Guardian on Exeter University

Written by
Lauren O'Donoghue

Lauren O'Donoghue is a content writer and podcaster based in Sheffield. She has an interest in issues affecting students, especially related to work and housing.