Durham People of Colour Association has sent 17 letters to the leadership of Durham University, which one letter referred to as a
“call to action”.
The first letter was sent from DPOCA itself, while the other 16 are signed by the People of Colour Representatives of each college. Several JCR Presidents also signed the letters for their respective colleges.
One letter, from Stephenson POC rep Vinayak Trivedi and signed also by Stephenson College JCR, referenced a series of bigoted screenshots from members of the former Durham University Conservative Association and Durham Free Market Association. The letter claimed that “the exposed issues are just the tip of the iceberg to the issues at Durham”.
In reference to procedures for dealing with racist hate speech, the letter claims “there is a massive flaw within the university’s hate crime complaint proceedings.
“Those victims of ‘less’ serious hate incidents are instructed to write a letter to their perpetuator. We at DPOCA cannot believe that in order for victims to get justice at this university, they must relive their trauma and explain themselves to their perpetrator.
“This is distasteful and this needs to change.”
The University Executive, in response, told Palatinate: “The Respect At Study procedure covers all forms of potential bullying and harassment. In some less serious cases, speaking to, or writing to, the person concerned to let them know that their behaviour is unacceptable can be sufficient to remedy the situation. For serious allegations of racist behaviour this approach would not be appropriate. The Respect At Study policy is currently subject to review, including consultation with students.”
DPOCA’s letter also claims, in reference to a cultural survey conducted following the signing of the Race Equality Charter: “The findings of this survey expose how the university fails to acknowledge significant issues like the low BAME representation amongst staff. The composition of the senate discipline committee, for example, is worrying as there are only three BAME members out of nineteen.”
The University executive argued that signing up to the Race Equality Charter was “an important reflection of our desire to address racial inequalities as part of the University’s wide-ranging commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion. The framework will help us to identify what we can do to support the representation and achievement of our minority ethnic staff and students across our whole University community.”
Another major theme of the letters was a perceived lack of transparency in terms of incidents of racism. DPOCA said: “The University does not provide publicly the statistics on the number of reported incidents, open investigations and outcomes of racist incidents. This means that the true extent of racist incidents that occur at this University are not known.
“We relaunched our ‘Recognise, Report, and Resist’ form recently and in three days we have had almost 20% of reports that the total reports that the Report and Support tool had over the last year. We ask that the university increases transparency and make these statistics be available to the public.”
Several of the letters also cite statistics that 62% of students do not think anything will happen if they report a hate crime.
The University Executive pointed to its new “online Report and Support tool through which staff, students and visitors can report unwanted behaviours and seek support: reportandsupport.durham.ac.uk.”
The letter claimed that DPOCA had provided its college POC representatives with Anti-racism training, and criticised the University for not doing so itself. “If the university were to provide POC Reps with adequate support, it would make tackling racism at the college level so much easier. If the university really cared about making Durham a safe space, they wouldn’t leave it up to students to do all the groundwork. This is your responsibility.”
The University told Palatinate: “When the College People of Colour (POC) representative structure was introduced in August 2020, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit worked with the Durham People of Colour Association (DPOCA) and provided funding to support training for the POC representatives. We continue to work closely with DPOCA and look forward to doing so in future, including through our work on respect and tackling racial inequalities.”
The main letter from DPOCA acknowledged recent statements made by the University, such as that by Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Anthony Long, that “Racism has no place at Durham University”. Similarly, following the death of George Floyd, the University stated that it is united in tackling ‘ignorance, intolerance and hatred.’ But they questioned the authenticity of these statements: “We at DPOCA do not feel this is true and many of the students of colour we represent feel the same. These performative actions mean nothing if you refuse to address and work on the racist issues within the university.”
The University continued: “We condemn all racism and hate crime in the strongest possible terms. Racism has no place at Durham University.
“We are working to build a safe, respectful and inclusive environment. We acknowledge we have more to do to make this a reality for everyone, but we are working hard to achieve this.
“Having signed the Race Equality Charter in March 2019, we are working to understand any institutional or cultural barriers that may stand in the way of BAME staff and students, and to improve the representation, progression and success of BAME staff and students within our University community.
“Professor Jacqui Ramagge, our Executive Dean for Science, and a representative from the BAME Staff Network, currently chair a Black Lives Matter round-table discussion for University staff, which has been meeting with University Executive representatives to discuss relevant issues and identify opportunities to address structural inequalities from a race perspective.
“Also Professor Simon Forrest, Principal of the College of St Hild and St Bede, has chaired a roundtable discussion involving students and senior University staff including Executive members. This has led to the University providing financial support to a student-led project aimed at supporting access to higher education by people of colour.
“We have made it a University priority to take forward the recommendations of the Durham Commission on Respect, Values and Behaviour. We are currently seeking nominations to a Respect Oversight Group, which will oversee their delivery and report on progress to the University Executive. For more information on getting involved or making a nomination, please visit the Durham University website.
“The vast majority of our community embrace our shared goal of creating an environment that is respectful and inclusive. However, where behaviour falls below the standards we would expect, we will take swift and decisive action.”
Image: Amana Moore