Tackling racism

Published on 5 August 2022

Despite our many policies regarding racial equality, diversity and inclusion, the results of our Race Equality survey showed that this had not been enough. We must do more.

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“I apologise on behalf of the University to every member of our community who has been a victim of racism while living and studying here. It is unacceptable in our society that people should experience this, and we must show zero tolerance of such attitudes and behaviour.”

Professor Iain Gillespie, Principal & Vice-Chancellor, June 2021

That apology was issued one year ago in the wake of a survey of staff and student attitudes to race equality, which showed striking differences in attitudes and experiences regarding race and ethnicity issues.

The survey was conducted as part of the University’s submission for the Race Equality Charter, and at a time when the core issues had been brought back to global prominence by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Principal was clear at the time that we needed to redouble our efforts to tackle the menace of racism.

"My absolute commitment is that this survey must be the start of a process of acceptance of the issues which are laid out in these results, and lead to greater actions to make the University, the city and Scotland a truly fair and equitable place for all, regardless of race,” he said. "The University has many policies in place regarding racial equality, diversity and inclusion. We have taken positive steps over many years to ensure fairness and a welcoming environment for all. The results of this survey show that it has not been enough. We must do more."

What has happened since then?

Race Equality Charter Bronze Award logo

In January we were awarded the Bronze mark of the Race Equality Charter (REC), for a period of five years.

The award is granted by Advance HE via a peer review process and recognises the work the University has done so far to meet the standards of the Race Equality Charter and improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students.

The REC provides a framework through which institutions like the University can work to self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of minority ethnic staff and students.

The student view

Zechariah Laari, Vice-President Academia of Dundee University Students’ Association, said the award of the bronze mark of the Race Equality Charter was a boost to all students from all backgrounds and ethnic groups.

"The race and equality survey revealed evidence of racial abuse in our university environment, which was very concerning for everyone,” said Zechariah. “Since then DUSA has worked hard with the University to make significant improvements in this area by institutionalising policies, initiatives, and key performance indicators to deal with some of these existential behaviours.

"This contributed massively to the University’s REC award and, together with actions now being taken on as Hari has described, I think has boosted the confidence of the BAME student population at the University that these issues are being taken seriously and we are all working to make it a better place to be for everyone."

Professor Hari Hundal, the University’s Race Equality Charter Lead, said, “Achieving the REC bronze mark is a milestone for the University. It shows real recognition of the issues at hand and, crucially, is driving plans to tackle these in meaningful ways that will improve diversity and give us greater race equality in all we do.

"But the Charter is not a static award, it isn’t simply the case of getting a badge and sitting back and thinking our work is done. We are constantly challenged to show evidence of progress against a wide-ranging action plan.

"There is a lot of work for us to do and there is no question it will be challenging but the determination and drive to do it is very strong."

One of the first actions was to establish an REC Implementation Team, which is now up and running.

"That is vital, as we need clear ownership and accountability to make sure this continues to be an area of priority and focus," said Hari. "The University is a large and complex organisation and it can be overwhelming to get to grips with everything that is going on across the institution, but we are making good progress.

"We have established new channels to enable open and respectful discussions on issues of race and equality. We have commissioned research into the history of the University and our founders, examining any links to the slavery trade, on which a report is due this year.

"We are increasing the nomination of BAME staff to management and leadership programmes, with the aim of ultimately improving diversity at senior management level. We are also looking at providing new scholarships to widen access to BAME students from underprivileged backgrounds.

"Those are just some examples among dozens more action points which are being followed up.

"It has been hugely encouraging through all of this to see how the University community is responding to these issues. This year has seen the election and installation of Keith Harris as our first Black Rector, and we have an incoming student executive at DUSA that is very strong on African-Caribbean representation, which I do think speaks to a strong reaction to the more troubling aspects of what we have seen in our survey and more widely across some areas of society."

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