Universities call for urgent action on racial harassment in higher education

“Black staff and students must have the same opportunities to develop their studies and careers as their white counterparts.”

UNISON has welcomed the publication of new guidance to tackle racial harassment in the higher education sector.

Universities UK (UUK) has published the new set of recommendations designed to decisively tackle racial harassment as part of wider efforts to address racial inequality in the UK higher education.

UNISON was involved in the UUK advisory group that produced the new guidance.

The recommendations are the product of an advisory group organised by UUK in October 2019 and come just over a year after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) uncovered widespread evidence of racial harassment on university campuses.

UNISON encouraged university support staff to provide evidence to the original EHRC inquiry.

UNISON national officer Ruth Levin said: “The original EHRC inquiry uncovered the extent of the problem facing Black staff and students in our universities.

“Universities must now rise to the challenge to ensure that there is true cultural change so that Black staff and students don’t face discrimination.

“Black staff and students must have the same opportunities to develop their studies and careers as their white counterparts.”

She continued: “Universities can no longer state that they don’t have a problem and don’t know how to address it.”

We spoke to Bill Acharjee, a UNISON steward and Black members officer at a University.

“I read with great interest that the Universities UK published a report recently to call on Vice Chancellors Groups to improve the understanding and awareness of racism among staff and students within HEI’s across the country.

“What we need now is action, to ensure organisations are held accountable for inappropriate wrong doings of Black members, and the only way forward to achieve race equality cohesion. I think organisations need to have strict deadlines to implement these changes, with consequences if they fail to do so.”

The recommendations include practical steps that all university leaders can implement immediately:

  • publicly commit priority status to tackling racial harassment
  • engage directly with students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment
  • review current policies and procedures and develop new institution-wide strategies for tackling racial harassment
  • improve awareness and understanding of racism, racial harassment, white privilege and microagressions among all staff and students, including through anti-racist training
  • ensure expected behaviours for online behaviour are clearly communicated to students and staff, as well as sanctions for breaches
  • develop and introduce reporting systems for incidents of racial harassment
  • collect data on reports of incidents and share regularly with senior staff and governing bodies

The full report is available here.