Black Lives Matter: Our Commitment to You

Anti-racism work isn’t a trend, it isn’t a campaign or manifesto commitment that runs its course over the next year, anti-racism work is an integral part of the Students’ Union that we need to address through the lens of both our representative and commercial functions.

There are systemic inequalities in universities that have come to the forefront of discussions in the Higher Education sector over the last few years. The starkest and most shocking of these inequalities is the black attainment or awarding gap.

At Royal Holloway, the latest Access and Participation Plan puts the black awarding gap at 15%, meaning if you are a black student you are 15% less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 degree than white students.

This statistic takes into account prior grades and qualifications as well as measurable information on student backgrounds to arrive at an ‘unexplained’ gap. Except it isn’t unexplained, it is systemic inequality.

There is no quick fix solution to addressing the awarding gap, with the National Union for Students and Universities UK ‘Closing the Gap’ report highlighting the complexity and nuances of addressing this inequality.

There is rightfully a priority in the sector to address the awarding gap, but race inequality is experienced in numerous other areas at the University that need to be addressed as well.

The Student Voice Report we produced earlier this year listened to the voices and experiences of black students at Royal Holloway, alongside the voices of Asian and minority ethnic students, in order to produce a series of recommendations for both the Students’ Union and the University to implement.

These recommendations don’t focus on specific ethnicities within the wide and diverse BAME community. The report itself touched on the different experiences had by different communities, but we could have done more to address the specific needs of the black community at the time.

We understand that in the past, both the Students’ Union and the University haven’t got it right when it comes to anti-racism work, we sincerely apologise, take responsibility for our past failings and recognise that we have a long way to go to improve. We are dedicated and determined to resolve these on-going issues on our campus.

As we stated last week, anti-racism work is a marathon, not a sprint, but we hope that working collectively to introduce these recommendations over the next few years will be a significant step towards improving the experience for black students at Royal Holloway.

Below is our action plan for the next 12 months, building on the recommendations produced by the report, to tackle racism and support our black students, as well as our Asian and minority ethnic students. The full list of the 25 recommendations can be found on our website.

Some of our priority actions for the next 12 months

  • We are lobbying for clear ownership and accountability on anti-racism work, and measures to reduce the black awarding gap, by the University’s senior leadership team.
  • For a number of years, we have been lobbying the University to implement a coherent and easily accessible reporting platform, including different levels of action for students to report abuse. The lack of progress in this area by the University isn’t good enough, this is a priority to protect students and ensure accountability on campus. We will continue to lobby for the introduction of this platform.
  • We will be more proactive in reaching out and working with students who are celebrating, acknowledging or developing events. This includes liberation events, such as Black History Month, as well as cultural celebrations, such as Diwali. We formed the BAME Student Collective to inform this work and this will continue.
  • We will be lobbying the University to break down data on student ethnicities into smaller groups where possible. Ensuring that data is collected and analysed on a module, course and departmental level allows identification of priority issues and a wider acknowledgement of structural inequality across the University. Collecting this data is a significant step towards implementing initiatives to resolve this inequality.
  • We will be lobbying the University to introduce mandatory unconscious bias and active bystander training for all staff and students as well as introducing training for all Students’ Union staff members.
  • We will conduct a full review of our venue security operation, listening to the voices of BAME students to understand the issues they face and the changes needed to address these.
  • Where it may be possible for us to run events (due to the current Coronavirus situation), we will work with students to introduce commercial services and extra-curricular programmes that provide for our black community.
  • We will be increasing the training for our academic reps on identifying areas where diversity can be increased and empower them to challenge curricula and teaching practices through decolonisation work.
  • We will work with our BAME Collective to ensure that representation within our communications is more diverse and lobby the University to do the same.
  • We will be undertaking work on understanding why people of colour do not apply in equal proportion for positions, and implement actions to reduce the BAME recruitment gap, and we will be lobbying the University to do the same.
  • We have already made changes to our signposting on food products, to ensure you know when an item we provide is halal. We will continue to improve this and lobby the University to do the same.

The University have welcomed the report and expressed their commitment to continuing to implement the recommendations. It is clear that more needs to be done to support our black students and we are awaiting a developed plan from the University on how these changes will be implemented in the near future.

RHSU is continually committed to anti-racism work and supporting our black students. We will be updating our BAME Inclusive Student Experience Student Voice Report webpage with a tracker showing progress made against this action plan.

 

Article cover photography: James Eades on Unsplash