Glasgow vice-chancellor apologises to victims of racial harassment

Report by University of Glasgow suggests half of minority ethnic students have experienced racial harassment

The University of Glasgow has pledged to tackle racism within its community after survey findings suggest half of black, Asian, and minority ethnic students have experienced racial harassment on campus.

The university published a report – Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures, by Satnam Virdee, Mhairi Taylor and Cassie Masterton – that included findings from a survey of 500 students.

Researchers surveyed students from different ethnic backgrounds; of those respondents, 48% were white, 30% Asian, 9% mixed ethnicity, 5% black and 8% other ethnic groups. The findings suggest one in two Asian, black and mixed race students had experienced racial harassment at the university – compared to 9% of white students. Half were harassed between two to five times since starting at the university.

The statistics represented a “significant variance” with the “handful” of cases captured by university complaints processes, the report concluded.

For a university which prides itself on its values and reputation this is unacceptable
– Prof Anton Muscatelli, vice-chancellor

The most common forms of harassment reported by respondents, with at least 70 incidences of each, were derogatory comments, racist name-calling, insults or ‘jokes’ and exclusion in professional or social settings.

Nearly nine in ten did not report their experiences, believing the incident would not be taken seriously and fearing reprisals – many also exhibited “resigned acceptance” that racism was something to expect, researchers said.

There is a more than 10% gap between the number of first and 2:1 degrees awarded to white students and black students at the university.

The survey found that the majority of white students did not consider racism a problem at the university – asked to rank the issue, 64% of white students opted for the lowest two categories, and less than 10% opted for the highest two. In comparison, 25% of black students considered racism a ‘serious’ or ‘very serious problem’, compared to 55% who rated the problem at the lowest levels.

Researchers spoke to 20 black, Asian and minority ethnic staff – and analysed their employment and pay records. Although they found no evidence of an ethnicity pay gap, researchers found “substantial variance” between the number successful job applications, with the lowest ratio in research and teaching positions (10%).

Minority ethnic staff at Glasgow are two to three times more likely to be on a fixed-term contract than white staff, often because they are more likely to work as post-doctoral researchers and junior lecturers. There are no black, Asian or minority ethnic staff on the university senior management group, court and senate.

Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli is principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow and chair of the Equality and Diversity Strategy Committee. He commissioned the report following an investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2019 found a “serious problem with racism” in higher education.

He described the report as “a very difficult read” and apologised “unreservedly” to colleagues and students “impacted by racism or racial injustice”.

“I want to also recognise the detrimental impact these experiences have had on inclusion, your wellbeing and your sense of belonging – for a university which prides itself on its values and reputation this is unacceptable.”

“This report and action plan is the result of this investigation. I want to thank our colleagues and students for bravely speaking to us about their experiences. We are determined to use this report as a catalyst to effect change. Already through the university’s leadership team in collaboration with colleagues and students, we have begun to implement the report’s action plan. We hope that all our staff and students will join us as active participants in driving through these necessary changes.”

Among the measures outlined in the action plan, the university senior management group has committed to “zero-tolerance” of racial harassment. The university will implement pre-entry awareness courses for new staff, anti-racism campaigns, new anti-racism training and new case management and online reporting system.

Read more: UK universities do not acknowledge problem of Islamophobia on campuses, report says

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