Senior managers at Goldsmiths, University of London, have admitted that its record of addressing racism is unacceptable after a damning report found black and minority ethnic students feel victimised and unsafe on its campus.
The report found that while almost half (45%) of students at Goldsmiths are from minority backgrounds, some have frequently experienced both overt and indirect racism from their white peers and white staff and did not trust the south London university to handle complaints.
The study, Insider-Outsider: the role of race in shaping the experiences of black and minority ethnic students, found 26% of those surveyed reported experiencing racism from students and staff, including the use of racist slurs such as the n-word and the p-word in lectures.
One black female student described how she was “fetishised” and sexually harassed due to her ethnicity by a member of staff, who has since been dismissed. Other respondents reported how white students glamorised the use of the n-word, using it as a greeting. The report, by the race equality specialist Sofia Akel, warned this put black students in particular “at risk of entering racially charged environments and subject to immense discomfort”.
An additional 43% of the 195 students surveyed said they had experienced everyday racialised microaggressions, such as white students and staff questioning their nationality due to being a person of colour.
Nearly two-fifths (37%) of respondents said they felt excluded from participating in university life due to racial discrimination, and more than a third reported that they had modified their ethnic or cultural identify, such as adopting a “white voice” or using a different name, in an attempt to avoid being targeted.
Many respondents described a “racial battleground” in lectures, with their white peers’ racism going unchallenged by white lecturers, who would also dismiss or suppress the voices of BME students and make racist assumptions about their knowledge and academic abilities.
The report connected this to BME students receiving poorer degree grades than their white peers, noting that almost half (49%) of respondents felt that Goldsmiths’ curriculums did not represent the lives and achievements of BME people.
The study also highlighted Islamophobia on campus, with several female Muslim students reporting being afraid to wear their veil due to fear of reprisals for being wrongly perceived as extremists.
More than three-quarters (79%) of those surveyed said they did not know where to report a hate crime at Goldsmiths. Many lacked confidence in its complaints procedures, with only a third saying they trusted the university to handle reports of racism appropriately.
Prof Elisabeth Hill, Goldsmiths’ deputy warden, said: “These findings are simply unacceptable and paint a clear picture, which cannot be ignored. This report demands a response from everyone at Goldsmiths and illustrates the amount of work we must all undertake to address these vital matters.”
She said work was underway to meet the recommendations of the report, which included mandatory race-awareness training for staff, a review of complaints procedures and improving the number of BME senior managers.
The report follows an occupation at the university by Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action protesters, which ended in July after senior managers agreed to meet their demand for a series of measures to tackle institutional racism at Goldsmiths.
Goldsmiths has previously appointed Dr Nicola Rollock to address the BME attainment gap at the university. She said: “What’s really striking about this report is that BME students are coming to an institution that looks mixed and edgy and radical but they are having to negotiate, fight and strategise every step of the way to deal with racism. This is not just happening in their dealings with white students but with white lecturers too. This report is damning but I’m struck by the preparedness of senior managers to acknowledge they’re not getting it right.”
Written by: David Batty