Universities must treat campus racism as more than a PR crisis
For the first time in my four years at university, it’s starting to feel like campus racism is being noticed more widely than by the students who experience it. I’m writing in the wake of “Punish a Muslim Day”, a concept that feels dystopian but one about which students at my university rightly felt it necessary to circulate an open letter expressing their concern. The last few months have seen a rise in overtly racist campus attacks reported in the media, which Ilyas Nagdee wrote last month are “just the tip of the iceberg”. Nagdee is right, but we must also consider the idea that these cases of racist chanting or abuse are isolated from university culture more broadly.
As many expressed shock at these racist events as they unfolded, most BME students I work with say that these incidents are not beyond the realms of imagination. Many of us have experienced versions of the reports we’re seeing, sometimes in glimmers, or in subtler, more insidious guises, but they are there all the same. I have heard reports of university racism occurring everywhere from club queues to lecture halls to therapists’ chairs. Sometimes it’s obvious, in the form of slurs or chants, but other times it’s in the form of profiling, lazy assumptions or structural barriers. But both overt and covert forms exist on the same spectrum of behaviours – on the far end are Nottingham Trent, Warwick and Exeter’s allegations, but for students to reach those extremes their beliefs must be nurtured by a society, and a university culture, that has condoned their behaviour up to that point. A group of boys would not wake up one day and decide to chant “we hate the blacks”. They would first have to believe they are in an environment in which they will be free of repercussions.