Sheffield University to hire student race equality champions

Sheffield vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts said he hoped the scheme would ‘change the way people think about racism’

The University of Sheffield plans to hire 20 of its students to teach their peers about racist microaggressions.

The university’s new race equality champions will lead sessions designed to help students challenge microaggressions – described as “subtle but offensive comments” directed at marginalised groups, such as members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BME) community.

The champions will be trained to lead “healthy, open discussions”, which will encourage participants to “think critically about issues such as the Windrush scandal, perceptions of racism in British society and microaggressions,” the university said.

The university’s vice-chancellor said he hopes the scheme will “change the way people think about racism”.

The initiative is part of the university’s Race Equality Strategy and has been created in response to student demand, the university added. The recruits will start work this February.

The new champions will work between two and nine hours a week and be paid £9.34 per hour, which will include holiday pay.

In 2018, the Oxford English Dictionary added a definition for microaggression, describing it as: “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination or prejudice against members of a marginalised group such as a racial minority”.

Name-calling, avoidance, exclusion and rudeness are common forms of microaggression. Attempts to nullify, or negate, a black person’s experience of racism are also deemed to be microaggressions.

Examples of microaggressions:

  • Statements like, “don’t make everything about race”
  • Refusing to make eye contact
  • Patronising and interrupting someone
  • Asking personal questions about someone’s identity

Content for the discussions has been developed by a wide range of students and academic experts at the university.

Read more: British universities ‘oblivious’ to high levels of racial abuse

We take pride in being part of a community with students
from over 140 different countries and all ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds
– Prof Koen Lamberts, University of Sheffield

Prof Koen Lamberts, president and vice-chancellor of Sheffield University, said: “Here at Sheffield, we think it is important to be open and honest about racism, which is why we listened to our students and worked closely with our Students’ Union and our BME committee to develop the race equality champion roles to change the way people think about racism.

“These champions will give our students the skills to challenge microaggressions now and in the future. They will also ensure students are aware of the support available to them at the University of Sheffield.

“We take pride in being part of a community with students from over 140 different countries and all ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds and will continue to celebrate diversity on campus and ensure students are clear that there is no place at Sheffield for racism.”

“Standing up to racism and celebrating our diverse community is a priority for students at Sheffield, so we’re proud to have worked with the university to introduce race equality champions,” said Rosa Tully, women’s officer for Sheffield’s Students’ Union.

“The sessions are designed to facilitate healthy, open discussions – and to give students the tools to think critically about race in our society, to challenge microaggressions that have a real impact on BME students and to be actively anti-racist in our thinking,” she added.

Read more: Queen Mary appoints first vice-principal for inclusion


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