By Shauna Lewis
Last week, Warwick University’s The Boar published screenshots of a group chat involving 11 students from the University. These screenshots were riddled with comments about raping girls, as well as misogynistic, racist, and anti-Semitic language.
This isn’t the first time an incident like this has occurred, and it won’t be the last. These chats are symptomatic of wider issues which are clearly not being addressed thoroughly enough. It was only this March that a racist group chat involving law students from the University of Exeter was exposed. Prior to this, Rufaro Chisango, a student at Nottingham Trent University, recorded students outside her door shouting racist slurs. And prior to that, Loughborough University organised a ‘slave auction’ for their Freshers’ Week. These are just a few incidents amongst countless others which make it clear that this is an institutional problem which is not wholly solved by the suspension or expulsion of the involved parties.
Russell Group Universities are a breeding ground for sexism, racism, and homophobia. Often the students come from privileged backgrounds, in which they are used to being able to say whatever they want. In the case of the 11 Warwick students, four of the students have already had their suspensions lifted. What kind of message does this send? Even if they were not active within the chat, to be silent is to be complicit. This silence demonstrates to other students with similar views that there is some degree of leniency, and so these ‘jokes with friends’ become even further embedded within our society.
To be silent is to be complicit
And Durham University is not exempt from this trend. Just over a year ago, Durham was revealed to have the one of the highest number of reports of sexual assault within the UK. There is a distinct ‘lad culture’, especially amongst sport teams, which often goes unchecked and helps to perpetuate this issue.
The emails universities send out after these events (‘We do not tolerate [insert form of prejudice] at [insert institution of education]’) are not nearly enough. These emails seem more like an effort to preserve their public image than indicative of a concentrated effort to tackle prejudice. Often it seems that it is only once the issue has been brought to the attention of the public that they make an active effort to combat hatred. This was evident in another case at Warwick University, when student Faramade Ifaturoti found the N-word written on a banana skin she had left in the kitchen. She later took to social media, pointing out, ‘It took a Twitter escalation in order for you to respond’; Chisango also expressed disappointment in Nottingham Trent University’s initial lack of response.
Universities care more about preserving their public image than combating hatred
Some have argue that people’s views can change with time and that the futures of these young men have been unfairly ruined. However, they’re educated students at a Russell Group university who are currently living through fourth-wave feminism and mass awareness of political correctness. The internet is readily available to them; they have had plenty opportunity to educate themselves. Instead, they have chosen to remain bigoted, ignorant, and to stay closeted in their bubble of privilege.
These individuals are not facing harsh enough consequences. Sure, it’s a group chat now, but in twenty years one of them may manage an office of people, which, to be frank, is likely: the majority of people involved in these scandals are well-connected and smart enough to become successful. If their attitudes remains the same, they could create a dangerous environment for anyone who isn’t a white male.
Furthermore, if universities continue to only do the bare minimum to preserve their image then these issues will continue, one after the other, each being slowly forgotten as a new one comes to light.
Durham was recently awarded £50,000 to investigate hate crime in the North East. They have courses in place such as Consent Matters and discussions in Freshers’ Week on the nature of sexual consent. Hopefully, changes like this are a sign that universities are making a more active effort to fight these issues. However, until they take more frequent and consistent action, these attitudes, which might eventually manifest themselves in more dangerous forms, will remain rooted in university culture and will continue to be detrimental to our society.
Photograph: Malte via Flickr and Creative Commons.