anti-racism statement

uea(su) anti-racism statement

This statement gives an outline of where we are with our anti-racism work, with reference to our history, current activity, and our plans moving forward. As an organisation with primarily white staff, our knowledge and lived experiences of racism are limited. Therefore, whilst we must each do more as individuals, our responsibility to tackle systemic racism within the SU is also a collective one.

2020 was a turbulent year with the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted and exacerbated existing systems of oppression, and the global prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which led to a greater awakening in social consciousness for many regarding racism and the oppression of Black and other marginalised communities. Whilst it should never have taken this long, the SU has been critically reflecting on the support and opportunities we offer for Black students and students of colour, as well as how we engage Black students and students of colour in general.

We know this transformation to becoming a truly anti-racist organisation is one that will take time, scrutiny, and acknowledgement of where we have upheld racist structures and failed to tackle racism within the SU.

Black students and students of colour are not only impacted by racism, but can also experience discrimination and oppression based on disability, religion, gender, sexuality, and many other aspects of their identity, so our response must be holistic and account for the full range of experiences of Black students and students of colour. We recognise that Black students and students of colour stand at the intersection of various systems of oppression and no two students will be affected by them in the same way, as they are multi-faceted and will have come from various backgrounds and contexts. When we refer to Black students and students of colour, we do so with this in mind.

Working towards becoming an anti-racist environment also means acknowledging that we have failed to support our Black students and students of colour, and have not understood their lived experiences or how they exist in both a university and global context. We have been called out for being slow to speak up when the Black Lives Matter movement gained further traction, as well as not speaking up about the EndSARS protests and other grassroots movements happening throughout Africa. We apologise and take responsibility for this and we understand how our silence elicited pain, anger, and frustration amongst the Black community at UEA.

Whilst we strive to build relationships with all societies at uea(su), we know our relationships with cultural societies have been inconsistent, which has led to further distrust in us as an organisation that is here for Black students and students of colour. This lack of knowledge and support has resulted in low representation in student roles and positions. Of the 114 people to serve as SU Officers from 2012-20, just seven of them (6.1%) were Black.

We apologise for failing you in this way. But we also recognise that you have heard apologies like this before, and they have often been empty words. This apology must – and will – be followed through with actions.

Whilst we have worked alongside and learned from student leaders through projects such as the BAME Ambassador scheme, which has now expanded into more schools, and campaigns such as Eradicate Hate, Black is Power, and Decolonise UEA, we still have work to do. These projects have been driven by grassroots student action because we have failed to prioritise this work ourselves, and we recognise this has placed the burden of emotional labour on Black students and students of colour as a result of the distrust our inaction has caused.

Two key parts of our problem as an SU are the structural barriers to engagement that we uphold, and the whiteness of the organisation, which has resulted in knowledge gaps. Therefore, the work we will be doing includes both internal work within the organisation, and external work, directly with and for students, such as our role in the Vice Chancellor’s Taskforce on Tackling Racism in the University and our ongoing work on racial harassment and hate crime through the Changing the Culture project.

In addition to our anti-racist work with the University, we are working towards improving the ways in which we work, support our staff, and deliver services to students. In every area we are looking at which groups of students engage with our services and which don’t, what the barriers to engagement might be and, crucially, what we can do to remove them and make the SU more accessible and inclusive. In particular we have dedicated resource to understanding Black students’ levels of engagement and participation in our democratic structures and our clubs and societies, to better understand the ongoing lack of representation of Black students in leadership roles.  

A large part of our commitment to being an anti-racist organisation lies in becoming a less white organisation through diversifying our workforce; this includes both our student staff and our career staff. To this end we will be drawing on best practice in recruitment and selection, and looking at how we can become a more welcoming and supportive employer. This work will include committing to policies such as the Halo Code, which tackles discrimination in the workplace. Furthermore, we will continue to roll out and update training for all staff on equality, diversity and inclusion, particularly focusing on concepts such as white privilege, unconscious bias, and allyship, to raise awareness of racism and better equip our workforce with the knowledge and skills to challenge it. We are creating an organisational action plan to tackle racism, to which we will offer students the opportunity to contribute to ensure we prioritise the right things. But we recognise this will be a long-term commitment, and we will include our anti-racist work in our ongoing strategic plans, with clear goals and measurable targets for improvement.

It is important that whilst we listen and learn from the experiences of Black students and staff members, and students and staff members of colour, we as an organisation take the responsibility of practical action to continually develop and improve. In order to better understand the existing barriers to engagement for Black students and students of colour, we have begun facilitating paid workshops and are analysing survey data to understand student experiences and how we can work towards a more inclusive SU. As part of our work to make leadership roles more accessible to Black students and students of colour, we will be running skill-building and leadership-building workshops for Black students and students of colour throughout the academic year. We will endeavour to become less euro-centric in our communications, and be more vocal about current affairs that affect Black students and students of colour.

Our immediate priorities are building trust, improving our relationships with cultural societies, and listening to and uplifting the voices of Black students and students of colour. We know the responsibility for this transformation is ours, but we welcome and value your input, whilst appreciating the emotional labour this involves. If you would like to get in touch with comments, experiences, or ideas, please do e-mail us.

Callum Perry
Chair of Trustee Board

Toby Cunningham