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Anti-racism guide for Scottish universities

A guide educating university staff and students on what to do to tackle racism on campus has recently been published by Advanced HE and the Scottish Funding Council.

The guide was created following a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Published in October 2019, the report showed that around 25 per cent of British students from an ethnic minority background have faced racial harassment. Over 50 per cent of staff said that they had experienced incidents where they were ignored or excluded, with three out of every 20 saying that racial harassment caused them to leave their jobs. However, the inquiry found that most students and staff experiencing racial harassment did not report it.

The anti-racism guide was produced by a steering group consisting of 13 members from Scottish higher education, most of whom are racial equality activists.

Barbara Becnel, an African American PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh, told The Student:

“Too many white people have no awareness of what racial harassment looks and sounds like, and how hurtful such behaviour is to others.”

She adds:

“What the guide can accomplish is to begin to make a dominant class more aware of what constitutes racial harassment and its harmful impact.”

The guide signposts support mechanisms in further and higher education institutions across Scotland.

The first step is acknowledging that racism exists on campus and in our society.

“Call it what it is and reject it in all its forms,” reads the guide’s Declaration Against Racism.

The guidance instructs on how to address racism and what one should and should not say.

It includes a Race Literacy Glossary, explaining 32 terms such as Individual Racism, Implicit Bias and Decolonisation.

Certain expressions, behaviours and structures in higher education are highlighted, and the guide explains why they are offensive.

Microaggressions are outlined as everyday interactions that send denigrating messages or negative racial slights to an individual or group.

Unlike more overt forms of racism, microaggressions are subtle and insidious, often leaving the victim confused, distressed and frustrated, and the perpetrator oblivious of the offense caused.

Although remarks such as “I don’t think of you as black” might not be intended to offend, they can cause distress to the victim. The statement implies that the person is one of us – i.e. assimilated – despite their phenotypical difference, as the guide explains.

“You just look like you’ve a tan”, implies “Don’t worry, you’re not too dark”, and questions like “Do you sleep in your hijab?”, essentially alienate the hijab.

The guide also highlights the everyday offensive situations that many BAME individuals face – and which may well occur at universities.
These include: “Being forgotten at a bar while others are served around me”, or “Not believing that the impact of racism against certain groups would be a worthy PhD topic”. The latter is listed because it creates the assumption that racism no longer exists.

“Questioning the purpose of Black History month” indicates that colonialism and slavery are history but have no impact on our daily lives, and fails to acknowledge that Black people are already underrepresented.

The University of the West of Scotland was the first to adopt the anti-racism guide, with the other 19 universities and 25 colleges in Scotland expected to follow.

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh told The Student:

“We promote equality, diversity and inclusion through all that we do and have a Race Equality and Anti-Racist action plan”.

The University has signed the “Declaration Against Racism” that is part of the Advanced HE’s anti-racism guidance.

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