Student representatives, student unions and lecturers are calling upon UK universities to take more more action to tackle racism on campus.
Despite the number of incidents reported, student representatives at the leading Russell Group association reported that they are ignored by most institutions.
Shakira Martin, the president for the National Union of Students in the UK, criticised universities for being more concerned about their reputation than about the welfare of their students, the BBC reported.
Speaking to the BBC, Martin said: “They’re not prioritising it and taking it seriously… universities are more concerned about their reputation than the well-being of their students,” Martin said.
“I speak to students on a daily basis that tell me that they have been called the N-word or been discriminated against because of their colour or not let into a club because of their race.”
These statements come in the wake of a recent NUS report on the experiences of Muslims studying in further and higher education in the UK which found that one in three respondents said they were “fairly or very worried” about their religion being the reason for physical or verbal attacks, or even getting their property damaged or stolen.
One in three have been the victim of some type of abuse at their schools, while one in five have been verbally abused in person.
Earlier this week, three students at Exeter University demanded UK universities for urgent and systemic change in their handling of prejudice after a spate of racist incidents which have reportedly taken place on campus, in student societies and online.
Speaking to The Guardian, the 21-year-old students – Chris Omanyondo, Arsalan Motavali and Roman Ibra – described how Ibra was allegedly called a “nigger”, “Paki” as well as thrown derogatory remarks about burqas and 9/11.
Their university had also suspended five students after offensive messages – if you ain’t English, go home”, “bomb the mosques” and “we need a race war” – were posted on a student Whatsapp group.
A University of Exeter spokesman said the university had an “unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect and inclusivity”. They added that in each of the last five academic years, the number of student reports of racism had been fewer than five.
The National Union of Students (NUS) black students officer, Ilyas Nagdee, said that these cases were just “the tip of the iceberg”.
Nagdee said: “Racism is embedded in every fibre of our institutions. Whether it’s the culture on campus or the content of the curriculum, the experiences of students of colour on campus point to them being treated as secondary recipients to the education system on campus.”
The government and universities needed to do more to resolve the problem instead of waiting to take action only when these incidents go viral on social media, Martin said, or there will be a “detrimental impact” on their studies and the outcomes from that.
“This is something that we need to tackle, not because it’s in the headlines of the media, but every student has the needs to be safe on campus.” Shakira Martin, NUS President
One way this could be done is through creating a conversation, where victims of racial abuse offer possible solutions, Martin suggested. The government should offer funding to institutions to provide student support as well as working closer with them.
“It should be a standard procedure on our institutions that there is a zero tolerance to any forms of racism and discrimination,” she said.
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said there was “absolutely no place” for any form of hatred, discrimination or racism in society.
Under the Equality Act 2010, universities have “clear responsibilities”, Gyimah explained, and he expects swift investigation into the hate crimes reported to universities.
The recent spate of incidents is a reflection of a current British society, according to former Universities Minister David Lammy who said incidents needed to be cracked down on “very aggressively”.
“I’m afraid there are young people arriving on university campuses listening to some of the xenophobia and racist conversations that they might have heard in the communities from which they’re coming from, even sadly in their own family homes, and replicating this behaviour in the freedom of university,” he said.
A spokesman for employer group Universities UK said there was no place for racism on a university campus, nor anywhere else.
“Ultimately, a long-term commitment by senior leaders will be vital to ensuring our universities are safe places to live, work and study.”