Data from Durham University’s transparency report shows that among the 2017-18 entrants to Durham, just 9% of applications from Black prospective students led to registration at the University, compared to 18% of applications from White prospective students.
In numbers, this meant 40 Black students enrolled at Durham in the undergraduate intake of 2017-18, compared to 2,990 White students.
This is partly because Black applicants were less likely to be awarded offers. Of the 450 applications from Black students, 61% received an offer to study, compared to 72% of the 16,270 applications from White students.*
UCAS does not share ethnicity data with universities until after the application cycle has closed, so the University’s admissions decisions cannot be made based on ethnicity.
“Fundamentally, Durham is a very white institution.”Sam Johnson-Audini
In addition to being awarded proportionally fewer offers, Black students were also less likely to put Durham as their first choice. 9% of Black offer-holders took up their places at Durham, compared to 19% of White offer-holders.
The same was true when comparing White students’ applications to Asian applicants, 11% of whose applications ultimately led to registration. However, of all applications from Asian students, 70% received an offer to study, compared to 72% of White students.
Nailah Haque, the President of Durham People of Colour Association (DPOCA) and SU Undergraduate Officer elect, said that: “a big part of the issue is that Durham has maintained a reputation of being a very white, very middle-class and a very racist space both institutionally and socially.
“So inevitably a lot of Black students and other students of colour are deterred from both applying or actually coming to Durham because they know there are other universities who will offer a similar degree of education but without exposing them to such levels of racism and anti-blackness.”
When asked about what more the University could do, Haque said: “a lot of it comes down to funding. Durham has spent a lot of money on things like the Race Equality Charter that I really do believe are performative – the data being collected is all available for free if the University was bothered to actually centre the voices of Black students.
“There needs to be a lot more investment into provided Black and POC councillors and mental health staff who are fully equipped to deal with the specific trauma that comes with being racially abused but also feeling completely isolated by the wider Durham culture.”
However, for Haque, “the most important thing is that Durham also has to acknowledge its place in this country’s history of colonialism and slavery which has meant that racism and anti-blackness more specifically is very much engrained in Durham’s structures.
“There’s no point saying there is a racism problem (which we all know to be the case) if Durham doesn’t want to recognise both its historic role in constructing and perpetrating racism but also its more contemporary role in remaining complicit and allowing it to continue to flourish amongst its student body.”
Sam Johnson Audini, who is the current SU Undergraduate Officer, agreed that “The university should be open and transparent about the issues it faces and actually investing money in tackling the forms of racism we see on campus.
“This does not mean setting up yet another task and finish group or commission to decipher why Durham is not attractive to many students of colour- it means actually listening and working with student representatives through the many issues that have been raised over the years.
“The representation of people of colour in decision making needs to not be tokenistic- not just one voice in a room of white people- there are no people of colour on our university executive committee!
“There needs to be a concerted effort to work with the anti-racist projects that are already happening in Durham, and pay recognition to them, fund them and the people that work on them, rather than anti-racism being reliant on the unpaid labour of students and staff of colour.
“Durham also has to acknowledge its place in this country’s history of colonialism and slavery”Nailah Haque
“Durham needs to be transformed, institutionally and educationally- not just to improve the reporting of racist incidents to a real ‘no-tolerance’ approach, but to actually transform the exclusionary nature of our education.
“It is no surprise that there are students that feel comfortable publicly debating the ‘merits of racism’ online when those conversations happen in seminars regularly. Reviewing the curriculum in all departments, ensuring that it is relevant to all students, not just those from white, middle-class backgrounds.
“Fundamentally, Durham is a very white institution. When visiting on an open day, or post offer visit day, it is unlikely that students of colour will see a single other person of colour, neither in staff or in students. This is even less likely for black students.
“During your decision, when you look at all your course content and see a lack of representation in what is on offer, in some courses you would be lucky to see a single person of colour mentioned and hear stories from current students of colour about how racism has been legitimised by their lecturers and tutors, you become less likely to want to attend.
“When time and time again current students of colour see racism go unchallenged, even within our student leaders and members of staff, it is not clear that the university takes racism seriously. For many students of colour, it is not a matter of seeing Durham as unwelcoming, it is a matter of seeing Durham as unsafe.”
This finding comes after Durham has faced increasing criticism for its approach to racism and diversity. In the past week a petition, which has now accrued 5,702 signatures, called for the University to admit it has a problem with racism and diversity.
The petition, started by Ewan Bowler, a second-year history undergraduate, argued that Durham should introduce an outreach program directed towards Black state school students, and take steps to foster a more supportive environment at the University. Furthermore, the petition called for a “zero-tolerance” approach to racist abuse.
“We know that diversity enriches us all”Professor Alan Houston
In response, Durham University told Palatinate that their approach was informed by consultation with current black students and DPOCA. They also noted that since the published Transparency data, they had enhanced the use of contextualised offer making and introduced activity specifically aimed at increasing black student applications and enrolments.
Professor Alan Houston, Vice-Provost (Education) at Durham University, said: “At Durham, we aim to attract the brightest and best students with the merit and potential to succeed here, regardless of their background.
“We know that diversity enriches us all and so we work to create opportunities for young people of all backgrounds to fulfil their talents and abilities.
“We acknowledge we have more to do in this area but we are working hard to improve, including through our new Space to Explore Potential (STEP) programme which is dedicated to encouraging and enabling young black students to explore studying at Durham as an option.”
Image: Fellwalker via Creative Commons