By Alex Cupples
Following a racist incident in a Warwick University halls of residence Palatinate collaborated with student newspapers across the country to investigate racism on campus.
This survey uncovered a trend that strongly suggests a large proportion of racist incidents that occur in Durham go unreported.
90.6% of students who said they had ‘experienced racism directed towards them or anyone else while at Durham’ said the incident was not reported to the University or the Students’ Union.
Concerns expressed also highlighted that not enough was being done to ensure fair BME representation in colleges and the Students’ Union. 70.2% of respondents said they felt the colleges and the Students’ Union should improve BME representation.
In early April, Warwick first-year student, Faramade Ifaturoti, posted a photograph on Twitter showing a bunch of bananas with racial slurs written on them. This photograph was widely shared on the Internet and the incident has since been reported on by a number of national news outlets.
It lead to criticisms of the way in which universities deal with racism on campus.
A short survey was subsequently released across the country to collect data on students’ experiences of racism at UK universities.
This results of this survey in Durham uncovered statistics suggesting that the majority of racist incidents that occur here go unreported. It also revealed that students feel there is an underrepresentation of BME students and staff at the university.
Just 15 of the 160 students in Palatinate’s survey who said that they had experienced one or more racist incidents in Durham reported them to either the University, the Students’ Union or both.
A Freedom of Information request submitted to the University by Palatinate requesting the number of reported racist incidents over the last three years revealed that each year less than 5 incidents were reported by students. There have been no cases of staff reporting racist incidents in the last three years.
When asked what was being done by the University to encourage students to come forward and report racist incidents.
The Univeristy told Palatinate “We understand that racist incidents in society are underreported. Where such incidents are reported to the University it is likely that they would be categorised as hate crimes.
“Students would be actively encouraged and supported to report these to the Police where there are dedicated officers in place to respond to them.”
The University stressed that “staff are well placed to respond to any incidents brought forward by students and we would encourage anyone affected by these issues to seek support via the Student Support Office in their College in the first instance.”
The survey run by Palatinate also found that 70.2% of the students who took part felt that colleges and the Students’ Union should improve BME representation.
One student, in response to Palatinate’s survey said, “I feel that Durham really needs to actually do something about representation and issues of racism. There is no help or support on the Students’ Union website and most of the college welfare officers are white and thus will make a person of colour uncomfortable at times to disclose racism.”
Neither the University nor the Students’ Union currently has a Code of Conduct specific to preventing discrimination of BME students.
The University sent Palatinate a generic ‘Respect at Study Policy’ when asked about this.
When asked for comment on the low intake of BME students at Durham, the University said “the University’s Access Agreement recognises that the University receives a low proportion of undergraduate applications from BME applicants, which results in a low percentage of entrants.
“However, when they do apply, BME applicants are equally likely to receive offers of admission as white applicants. The challenge for the University is to increase the number of applicants from this cohort.”
The University told Palatinate “we are expanding the scale of our targeted outreach activity with schools with a higher than average proportion of BME students, which is helping our understanding of what activity is likely to deliver the greatest impact.”
They added, “we are delivering an ‘Increasing Diversity’ project whose aim is to broaden the ethnic diversity of undergraduate students by building sustainable relationships with teachers and pupils in schools which have been identified as having a high proportion of learners from minority ethnic groups and who are likely to achieve the entry requirements to come to Durham University.”
The incidents of racism described to Palatinate in the survey were varied.
They occurred across the University from “in a nightclub”, to “walking on the street”. However, 33% of these incidents occurred in college.
Many students who completed the anonymous survey highlighted that they face microaggressions on a regular basis.
One student said “nothing particularly violent or severe in nature has ever happened- just the usual microaggressions.”
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate negative messages to peoples based solely upon their BME status.
Some students at the University have been campaigning to raise awareness of microaggressions through a campaign run by Durham University Feminism Society, I, Too, Am Durham.
I, Too, Am Durham told Palatinate that the project aims “to raise awareness of the microaggressions and discrimination which minorities and marginalised groups in Durham can face as a part of their everyday experience.
“The main aim of the campaign was to provide information on what microaggressions are, why they’re common, and how to make the University a safer community by eliminating them. Additionally we seek to raise awareness of the prevalence of these experiences, and encourage people to think about inclusivity and diversity.”
Despite the number of racist incidents highlighted in Palatinate’s survey, reported or otherwise, 57.6% of students who responded to the survey did not feel that racism is prevalent on campus.
The Students’ Union was unable to comment on the survey but they did say they felt the issue of racism on campus was ‘important’.
Photograph: Grace Tseng