By Katie Tobin
A Palatinate investigation has revealed concerns by Durham’s LGBT+ students of colour about their treatment by other students in the queer community.
Students have reported feeling helpless, and have had no choice but to withdraw from college and University life for their own wellbeing and safety.
Palatinate spoke to students who discussed their experiences of receiving extensive racial abuse, particularly on dating apps, such as Tinder and Grindr, from other Durham University students.
Currently, there are 5,995 Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students enrolled at Durham, according to University data. Such experiences of racism by students of colour are nothing new.
In 2020, Mirabelle Otuoze wrote about her experiences of racism. The 19-year-old said she had suffered racial slurs and felt “unwelcome as a student of colour”. Significantly, she claimed that these concerns were shared by other BAME students.
The student who Palatinate spoke to claimed that the racial abuse he has received at Durham has been relentless. He noted that, in June 2020, many white friends would post black squares in solidarity with the BAME community, but this was the extent of their activism or anti-racist efforts.
He suggested that, despite their performative allyship, they would also commit acts of microaggressions like stating overtly white racial preferences in prospective partners like “blonde hair” or “I’m not really into black girls”.
However, the student noted that he found racism to be most prevalent within the queer community in Durham and that they’d found an amazingly supportive atmosphere within college rugby.
“Being a person of colour in Durham is challenging enough, and being gay is also incredibly hard. But being both is just another level,” he said.
“Cis, white, LGBT+ men seem to be unaware of their privilege but, at the same time, they also seem to control the community.”
“My friends tell me to report, block, and move on,” he added. “But this isn’t just a one-off – it’s relentless. But for men, it’s nearly impossible to date here without apps. But you get relentless racial abuse on them, and you can’t really go up to men without the possible threat of violence or abuse from them. It’s scary.”
The student documented an encounter on Grindr, where he was referred to as both an “n-word” and a “slave”. Another showed a conversation in which the student’s response to “hi” was the acronym for “All Lives Matter”, a racially charged response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The student also suggested that, for LGBT+ men, it is exceptionally hard to date and meet like-minded people without dating apps in Durham. This challenge has only been exacerbated by the absence of opportunities for meeting other members of the community in person.
Jeremy Cook, Pro-ViceChancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), Durham University, said: “We do not accept any form of prejudice or discrimination at Durham University and we condemn any incidents of racism in the strongest possible terms.
“It is important that such incidents are reported to the University so that they can be investigated. You will be supported and, after investigation, if individuals are found to have committed these offences, we will take appropriate and decisive action.
“Students and staff are also actively encouraged and supported to report these incidents to the Police where there are dedicated officers in place to respond to them.
“While we acknowledge that we still have work to do, we are working to build a safe, respectful and inclusive environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves and flourish no matter what their background, gender, race or sexual orientation.
“We are implementing the recommendations of the Durham Commission on Respect, Values and Behaviour, which included input from students and staff, which we hope will encourage respectful behaviours from all of our community.
“We also have an online Report and Support tool through which students and staff can report unwanted behaviour and seek support.
“Unequivocally, we would encourage everyone across the University to be active in the fight against racism.”
Another student Palatinate spoke with described worryingly similar experiences dating as a bisexual and non-binary person, saying that “the microaggressions are quite intense. Sometimes I can’t tell what’s overt and what’s accidental. I’ve had to roll with it, but it’s so heavy”.
They also explained their experiences of fetishisation, which “gets very weird when people date you to piss off parents.” They noted that this is especially hard if you are an LGBT+ person trying to date, and not just hook up.
“When clubs were open people would grab my curly long hair. They’d touch it and pull it without asking, often hurting me. I say nothing to avoid escalating the situation and risking being attacked.”
Whilst men were more overt, the students said that women would often use dog whistles like asking where they are from “originally” and calling them “exotic” based on skin colour. “It’s amazing how creative people can get with their racialised harassment,” they said.
Both students have deleted all dating apps out of fear of being subjected to even more racial abuse.
Commenting on Palatinate’s findings, Durham’s LGBT+ Association said in a statement: “Any racialised dating preferences, overt racism, or racial fetishism are completely unacceptable in our community.
“These behaviours have a negative impact on students, causing psychological harm, internalised sexual racism, and the exclusion of students from queer spaces.
“The community should be inclusive for all and provide spaces for LGBT+ POC students to proudly express themselves and their culture without fear of racism, homophobia, transphobia, or tokenism.
“We recognise these issues exist within our community and there is vital progress to be made.
“The university needs to make students aware of its support systems, and ensure they cater to the intersections of Durham. This includes the counselling service and report and support tool.”
Image: James Tillotson