Posted on Mon 17 Dec 2018 at 13:45 by Christopher Carter
Coming to the end of Term 1, it’s fair to say that I am TIRED! Not just literally (although you’ll find that as a Student Officer), but figuratively as well.
Just three weeks ago, I sat on a panel alongside Stuart Croft (Vice-Chancellor), Dr Meleisa Ono George (Director of Student Experience, History), and Amatey Doku (VP Higher Education, NUS), talking about the Black student experience and social mobility. This was an extremely positive event, co-chaired by Liam (SU President) and Gwen (Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor), where we cemented a cross-institutional, shared prioritisation of these issues through frank and open discussions about things like:
- Racism at Warwick and its impact on both Black students accessing Warwick, and during their time here;
- The work and dedication of students across the UK to propel decolonise and anti-racist movements forward, and the need for University involvement without the co-option and dilution of that work through metric-driven efforts;
- Allyship and the fact that the labour of dealing with issues around the Black student experience has historically been done by staff of colour, yet not recognised as labour nor remunerated;
- The role of staff, a decolonised curriculum, and anti-racist pedagogy as well as other aspects of the student experience in closing the Black attainment gap – particularly debunking the myth that work around decolonisation does not apply to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths).
It was a really positive discussion which felt like we were breaking new ground at Warwick - there’s so much more we spoke about, so if you’d like to hear the full audio recording, it can be found here.
It therefore feels cruelly ironic that, since then, a number of incidents have flown in the face of what, at the time, seemed a strong commitment to challenging institutional racism at Warwick.
A couple of weekends ago, I attended the joy that is AfroFest – a cultural night run by Warwick African-Caribbean Society. This year’s AfroFest was simultaneously healing, mind-awakening and hype-inducing as actors questioned “Who tells our stories?” in a nod to the erasure of Black narratives from the National Curriculum within secondary schools. This reference relates so seamlessly to the work of decolonising and liberating the curriculum - through the SU we have tried to fill such gaps with the Hidden Histories alternative lecture series, which serves as a counter-narrative to the neglect and deliberate erasure of marginalised people’s narratives from our textbooks, lectures and seminars.
AfroFest’s artistry summed up this politically-charged issue in such an engaging way - yet it seems that the University was not interested in hearing about the incredible calibre of performances at the event, because Security was too busy racially profiling Black students, and equating Blackness with threat. By reportedly demanding that the SU inform the University when “those type of events” are taking place (even though protocol does not ordinarily require society events held at the SU to be communicated to them), the dog-whistle racism is undeniable. We must not be silent about it, because the victors are the ones who tell our stories, and they cannot be allowed to continue conflating Blackness and danger.
Further to this, recent ethnicity pay gap reporting provided a damning indictment of the entrenchment of institutional racism within the University. The 25% gap between Black and ethnic minority academics’ salaries with that of their white counterparts, and the anecdotal stories I’ve heard of the experiences of staff of colour, are inextricably linked from the shockingly low rate of BME undergraduate students who pursue postgraduate study and progress into academia. How can we even begin to tackle incidents of racism in a meaningful way, when the routes for people of colour to study and work here are still so dire?
In short, I am tired of this University’s erasure of marginalised narratives.
I’m tired of the demonisation and categorical hyper-suspicion of Black students on our campus.
I’m tired of the institutional racism which sustains the ethnicity pay gap and is inherently linked to the student experience.
Despite this… scratch that, because of this, I will continue to challenge racism at Warwick, working to decolonise not just the curriculum but also the wider university environment, because I do not want any more Black students to be made to feel the way I have at this University. To decolonise is to recognise that, historically, the UK academy has been a site for the construction of ‘race’ as a concept and the ‘justification’ of racism. It’s now time for our own University to step up and question its role in the production and legitimisation of certain types of knowledge (and the de facto marginalisation of other knowledge), as well as to challenge racism in all its forms.
Look out for more exciting work in this area coming in Term 2, and drop me an email if you’d like to be involved!