Universities must do more to tackle racial harassment on campus, report says

Efforts from senior leaders are 'simply not good enough', minister warns

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 09 October 2019 09:08 BST

Universities must do more to tackle racial harassment and hate crime on campus, according to a new report.

Institutions have been prioritising sexual harassment and gender-based violence but less status has been given to race-based incidents, according to the findings from Universities UK (UUK).

Universities minister Chris Skidmore is now calling on all vice-chancellors to prioritise “a zero tolerance culture” to all types of harassment and hate crimes.

He warned it was “simply not good enough” that some senior leaders were not tackling the issue.

The report, from the body representing vice-chancellors, says efforts to tackle other forms of harassment and hate incidents remain “relatively underdeveloped” across the sector.

It comes after an investigation by The Independent revealed that the number of racist incidents in universities across the UK surged by more than 60 per cent between 2015 and 2017.

Black students’ experiences have been in the spotlight in recent years – with racist chants in student halls and a banana being thrown at a black graduate hitting the headlines.

The new report says addressing racial harassment will require further support, time and resources to achieve the same focus as issues like sexual misconduct and gender-based violence.

Nearly two in three institutions surveyed said they had introduced consent training for students to address sexual harassment on campus,

However, reports of hate incidents tend to be low, the report said, as a normalisation of behaviours in society, as well as lack of understanding of what constitutes racial harassment, has led to underreporting.

UUK has said it will develop guidance to address racial harassment and race-based hate incidents and crimes experienced by both students and staff to address concerns.

The report also calls on university chiefs to move accountability for tackling harassment and hate crime to the senior management team, adding that all forms of harassment should be prioritised.

Some universities have already introduced measures to tackle issues – including putting behavioural expectations in student halls and introducing “inclusivity" quizzes on registration.

Professor Julia Buckingham, president of UUK, said they had seen “a dramatic increase” in public awareness of sexual and racial harassment since 2016.

She said: “The higher education sector recognises its shared responsibility to eliminating hate crime, which is unacceptable in our society, and in our universities. We are committed to ensuring we create welcoming and inclusive environments for students of all genders, backgrounds and ethnicities to flourish and this research shows significant progress towards that.

“However, it is clear that there is a long way to go in ending harassment and hate crime for good in higher education."

She added: “While it is understandable that there has been a particular focus on addressing gender-based violence, it is time for us to step-up and make sure the same priority status and resourcing is given to addressing all forms of harassment and hate.”

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Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, the higher education regulator, said that “more must be done” to address harassment, assault or discrimination facing students.

“These improvements need to be taking place across all universities,” she added.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: ‘Universities should be safe spaces for all staff and students, free from harassment and discrimination, but this report shows there is still much work to be done to make this a reality. The minister is right to call for a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of harassment and hate crime, but he must be ready to back this up with sanctions where the sector fails to act."

Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, said: “Statements of zero tolerance policies towards racism while welcome, are not enough. They depend on disclosure and the effectiveness, transparency and credibility of mechanisms for reporting and dealing with complaints of racism."

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