The Student
Tackling racism on campus: Black Ed in Conversation with Peter Mathieson
by Zainab Hashmi, 30/06/20

On Wednesday 24th June, the Espresso Series aired a panel discussion between the students of the Black Ed Movement, and Principal Peter Mathieson, along with Professor Rowena Arshad, a member of the university’s ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ committee and chair of the new race sub-committee. They discussed what the University of Edinburgh plans to do to tackle racism on campus, in light of the renewal of Black Lives Matter protests around the world and discontent from BAME students over a lack of action from the university.

‘BlackEd in Conversation with Principal Mathieson’ comes after the publication of an open letter by the Black Ed Movement, a group of Black students at the University of Edinburgh who have organised to raise awareness of and propose solutions to the racism which BAME students face at the university. The letter was accompanied by a petition which gained almost 6,000 signatures in only 24 hours. The letter set out four main aims: that the University make a statement against racism; that the University establish and promote an anti-racist culture; that the University adopt a zero-tolerance stance towards racism; and the creation of representative initiatives.

A wide range of topics were covered, with a focus on how the University plan to implement these aims. The panel highlighted the need for greater accountability, transparency, and collaboration between students and the university.
Speaking to The Student, Timmy Pinnick, one of the original authors of the open letter and 3rd year law student, expressed her gratitude at the opportunity to speak openly with senior members of the university, however she also pointed out that, “It was clear from the interview that there is some level of disconnect between issues on campus and the managerial staff. If we want to solve the problem of racial discrimination at the University, there has to be a sense of proximity to the issue and a relentless commitment to see changes through.”

The students questioned Mathieson and Arshad about the consequences of racist incidents, citing the yellowface party which a group of Edinburgh students held last year. When asked to give more information about what actions were taken to punish the students involved, both Mathieson and Arshad were unaware of the details of the incident, highlighting the need for more communication between students and the administration.

When Mathieson was asked how racist incidents would be dealt with, he stated that those responsible would be punished with dismissal. However, when he was questioned further, the principal admitted that he was speaking about a sexual assault case. Both Mathieson and Arshad recognised the need for similarly transparent mechanisms to be put in place for racist incidents, with Mathieson agreeing that “our responses to racist incidents have not been as prominent, and we need to change that”.

Students also stressed the need for momentum from the university in tackling racism and xenophobia on campus. Although Arshad repeated that tackling racism on campus is “a marathon, not a sprint”, she recognised that racist incidents at the university need to be dealt with quicker, especially those on social media. As for longer-term projects, such as decolonising the curriculum, students asked for published timelines to ensure that anti-racist efforts are not deprioritized as focus on the Black Lives Matter movement fades.

You can follow the work of the Black Ed Movement to tackle racism and xenophobia on campus on their Facebook page @blckedmovement, and listen to the panel on Spotify.

Image via Espresso Series