Posted on Mon 08 Oct 2018 at 13:41 by Christopher Carter
I can’t believe Welcome Week is over! It’s been such a whirlwind, and I’ve had an amazing time meeting loads of you at SU events so far. I’ve also been thinking back to my first week - two years ago now - and how much fun we had (admittedly less fun nursing the hangovers).
However, it sadly also reminded me of how many times I was asked questions with a racialised component, such as “Where are you really from?” and “Can I touch your hair?” – which later evolved into to comments like “You’re taking up the space of white British students” and being called a “monkey”.
These are not isolated incidents. High-profile instances of racism at Warwick such as the infamous ‘Bananagate’ incident of 2016 and the content of the recent WhatsApp group chat scandal simply reaffirmed what students of colour here have known now for some time: that this university has a long way to go before it eradicates racist assumptions, attitudes and even outright provocations.
As much as we joke about ‘the Warwick bubble’, sadly our university community does not exist in a vacuum. The systems of oppression which exist in the wider world become manifest at Warwick in everything from daily microaggressions to more readily-identifiable instances of racism – in turn impacting the university experience of students of colour in countless ways.
This is perhaps most evident in the black attainment gap at Warwick, which shows that only 20.3% of BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) students obtain first class degrees, while 35.5% of white students achieved the same classification . Racism can also impact the mental health of students of colour – following a racist incident, one student said: “I began talking less and experienced more anxiety about the way others saw me”.
These may be uncomfortable truths for some of you to hear – particularly for those who may think of themselves as socially liberal. However, this alone is not enough. With many students interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures that they may not previously have come into contact with for the first time, it is imperative that we start examining our own attitudes – challenging ourselves, and allowing ourselves to be challenged on these issues wherever necessary.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
1. We need to amplify the voices of students of colour voices so that we know what’s happening now, and what needs to be done.
We have already begun to address this through the Warwick Speak Out campaign, a joint venture between the SU and Warwick Anti-Racism Society, which calls on students of colour to submit their experiences of racism both through our online form and at the forums we held during the last academic year.
The first report bringing these experiences together can be found HERE. In their own words, these are the experiences of your housemates, coursemates, flatmates and fellow students at Warwick. For those who may still be labouring under the misapprehension that ours is a campus free from racism, it makes for truly sobering reading.
2. We need to collaborate with the University to make the changes necessary.
Student-staff solidarity is absolutely crucial in pushing for change in this area. As your Education Officer, I’ll be ensuring that this stays high on the agenda in the relevant University committees. I’m also leading the ‘BAME student experiences’ working group of the Warwick International Higher Education Academy’s learning circle on anti-racist pedagogy and practice, where we’ll be working on using the student experience to shape anti-racism in your lectures, seminars and labs.
Recently, I co-authored a BLOG POST with the Vice-Chancellor, Stuart Croft, which signals both the SU and the University’s commitment to change at Warwick, because we know that we must do more to stop racism here. This means that we can also hold the University to account in their anti-racism work.
3. We need to be a community which actively dismantles oppression.
Ultimately, the Warwick community is what we make of it, and it’s only possible to stamp out racism if we are all agents of change. This can take many forms – whether that’s helping to challenge the curriculum via the SU’s Liberate My Module campaign or calling out racism when we see and hear it. Silence is complicity – there is no neutral stance on racism; we must be actively anti-racist.
I hope that this post works in tandem with the initiatives outlined above to help start a conversation about racism on campus. For many, this will involve listening to the experiences of others, and potentially confronting some uncomfortable truths about ourselves. But change in society can only come when we analyse our own behaviours and the role that they play in perpetuating inequality. That starts with each and every one of us.