Are UK Universities Racist?

Allegations of racism have plagued British universities for years, from an Oxford University student wearing a Ku Klux Klan fancy dress costume to campus security (again at Oxford) accusing a former Black student of being an intruder and security guards at the University of Manchester racially profiling a student. So how safe are universities for Black and ethnic minority students?
This is the question asked by BBC reporter Linda Adey in a new BBC Three documentary set to air on Wednesday 28th April. In Is Uni Racist? Adey investigates the experience of Black and ethnic minority students at British universities and examines what happens when victims of racist abuse at university want to complain.
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She starts in Manchester, where 19-year-old first-year student Zac Adan was confronted by university security staff demanding to see his ID because, according to Zac, they thought he was a drug dealer and not a university student. A video of the incident went viral last November, showing security staff pinning Zac against the wall – an experience which left him feeling traumatised.
Zac says he was approached by three security guards who asked him if he was a student there. "And I said, 'Yes, is there a problem?'" he says. Zac was then told by the security guards that there had been a lot of drug dealing happening on campus. "I was like, Woah," Zac says. "I just pulled out my ID and showed the security guard who was talking to me, like, Look, you can see my card very clearly here. That's me, that's my name." But the security guards didn't accept it.
"They were like, Give us your card, give us your card," Zac says. "They pinned me up against the wall and [were] asking for my card over and over again."
He continues: "I was trying to get home. My door was literally 10 metres from where it happened. I was just in shock, I just couldn't believe it. I didn't know what to do."
Zac has never dealt drugs and was shocked that he was targeted by security guards. "Would I travel 250 miles to a Russell Group institution to deal drugs? No, never," he continues.
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Would I travel 250 miles to a Russell Group institution to deal drugs? No, never.

Zac adan
When Zac reported the incident to the university, he was told that nothing could be done until the following Tuesday, four days later. "I was just looking for the uni to help me and resolve the issue as soon as possible, and give me confidence that they were dealing with the issue and to reassure me that something like this would never happen again." When asked if he felt safe on campus, he says: "No, not at all."
Manchester University only launched a full investigation into the matter after Zac's friends posted the video of the incident on social media. The university then published a statement, saying that they had spoken to Zac and had launched an investigation. "I hadn't even spoken to anyone," says Zac. "I had just been informed that they were going to deal with the issue. I didn't know anything [about the investigation]."
When approached by students about the incident, security guards said that Zac matched the description they had been given. "I don't know any white drug dealers. White female drug dealers," a security guard is heard saying on the video.
"When I saw that video," Zac continues, "I wasn't surprised and it made sense as to why I was stopped because it showed me that the security team had been given some kind of description to stop students at the university."
What happened to Zac is not an isolated incident. Adey travels to her former campus at Nottingham University and discusses how her race impacted her course, recalling that she and fellow Black students were rarely listened to. "Black students came up with the ideas that Black people cared about," she says. "We ended up having a debate with this tutor because he was convinced that a Nottingham audience wouldn't care about this story. In my head, he was saying this story was Black and people don't care about that."
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Adey speaks to other students across the country who all share their experiences. One young woman claims that the boys who lived next door to her "went to touch my hair", while another student says she would be ignored. "Life is like a microaggression because all the other students in that room were not POC or Black and they were listened to, they were respected."

Another student witnessed a racist video that went viral on social media, in which students can be heard shouting: 'We hate the Blacks.'

Another student witnessed a racist video that went viral on social media, in which students can be heard shouting: "We hate the Blacks."
Natasha, a medical student at Cardiff University, complained about a play put on at the university in 2016. In the run-up to the performance, students released an attention-grabbing trailer in which the main characters were parodies of lecturers and one white student wore blackface, with a large black dildo hanging out of his trousers. In the footage, the lecturer is described as "walking very gingerly as if he was smuggling several bags of drugs and butt plugs."
"It's almost this weird fetish of how many things can we put into this character to just rip him apart," Natasha says. Another character in the play was described as "really racist", with one video purporting to show his white adoptive parents saying: "We couldn't love him more if he was our genetic son. We just thank God every day that we managed to rescue him from that barbaric Hunger Games in South Africa."
When Natasha and seven other students complained, the university sent an email to students, informing them that "people of African descent" had complained. "We were like, Wow. There's only a certain number of us, so then we became visible," Natasha says. "People knew who we were. That meant we got a lot of harassment and bullying because we were the African girls who had complained about a racist play."
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Cardiff University said they were not aware of the email, citing its Dignity At Work and Study policy, which read: "You will be informed of any outcome which relates to your complaint." But Natasha says she felt frozen out of the process. "I have yet to see the apology letters, and for years and years I've been asking the university to have a look. They say because of data protection, I can't see them."

I would be sleeping an hour a night, I lost so much weight and went down three dress sizes. I had panic attacks at university, which is why I had to leave. It broke me.

Natasha
She continues: "It singled me out and emboldened other students to attack me." The abuse Natasha received had a severe impact on her mental health, leading her to take the rest of the year out. "I didn't know if I was going to get physical attacks from people, from the messages I had received. I started having severe panic attacks, about four or five a day. Something that could've had such a quick and easy resolution was blown out of proportion to cause this incredible impact."
Natasha eventually had to leave Cardiff University altogether. "It was really taxing for me," she continues. "I would be sleeping an hour a night, I lost so much weight and went down three dress sizes. I had panic attacks at university, which is why I had to leave. It broke me."

Institutional racism is where there are systemic issues that are impacting a disproportionate number of members in your community that need to be dismantled and it's clear that there are.

professor david richardson
A spokesperson for Cardiff University said: "We are not aware of the subsequent request to view the apology letters and would be happy to make arrangements for this to take place under the same conditions."
So are universities institutionally racist? "Yes," says University of East Anglia Vice-Chancellor Professor David Richardson. "Institutional racism is where there are systemic issues that are impacting a disproportionate number of members in your community that need to be dismantled and it's clear that there are."
He continues: "There are mixed experiences but many aren't good. There's a lot of evidence pointing to universities perpetuating systemic racism by being institutionally racist. I have acknowledged that on behalf of the sector."
Is Uni Racist? airs at 10.45pm on 28th April on BBC One and will be available to watch on iPlayer shortly after.

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