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Monday, April 12, 2021

Why universities are failing to address rampant racism on campuses

Incidents of racism even in universities like Oxford are simply not being brought to the attention of the university authorities. Until students feel free to go to senior management, these racist incidents will not have an end.

India will take up incidents of racism in the United Kingdom with the British government, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Monday while commenting on the Oxford University Rashmi Samant issue, where the Indian woman quit her post after facing racist comments. “What I do want to say is that we have strong ties with the UK, we will take up such matters with great candour when required. We will monitor these developments very, very closely,” he said. “We will raise it when required and we will always champion the fight against racism and other forms of intolerance,” Jaishankar added.

He further said: “I do want to say that as the land of Mahatma Gandhi, we can never ever turn our eyes away from racism, wherever it is, particularly when it is in a country where we have such a large diaspora. As a friend of the UK, we also have concerns about its reputational impact.”

A BJP lawmaker at the Parliament’s Zero Hour also referred to the issue of alleged racism within the UK royal family that was brought up in a recent interview by Meghan Markle, the wife of Prince Harry. Noting that the behaviour of a society is a reflection of its beliefs and value systems, the BJP lawmaker said: “If such practices of racial discrimination are followed at the highest level in a society, what would be the following at the lower levels?” He also stated that migrants were poorly treated and segregated in the UK and this was a matter of concern in India because of the large number of such people in Britain. BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Ashwini Vaishnaw also claimed a recent report had said that the death rate among people of Asian origin because of COVID-19 was higher than the death rate of other communities in the foreign country.

The Indian woman quit as student president of the Oxford University Student Union after the emergence of old social media posts that were deemed to be “racist” and “insensitive” by groups representing Asian and Jewish students. She apparently had also upset others by comparing imperialist Cecil Rhodes to Adolf Hitler in a Student Union debate and separating “women” and “transwomen” in an Instagram caption. She initially offered an apology for her social media posts, some even dating back to 2017, but later stepped down as president-elect after facing continued criticism at the university. Since returning to India, Samant has claimed she was unfairly targeted.

What happened to Rashmi Samant?

Samant told Republic TV, “I think this time last month, I was campaigning for my elections. I run on a very beautiful platform of decolonisation…and to remove Imperial statues on campus, statues of slaves on us which are still around in the guise of philanthropy or in the guise of having their legacy preserved.”
“I won the election to become the first Indian woman in the office and then it was just chaos everywhere. I was discredited, bullied, and effectively cancelled ultimately to my resignation. There was a vicious attack from all fronts…I was forced to deactivate my socials for the sake of sanity and resign,” she added.
Samant also said that the occasional social media posts “eventually started getting picked up. These tweets were literally misinterpretation and they were very provocative and an apology was demanded. When I finally did make an apology, it was deemed unfit by the same group and I was pretty much cornered into resigning.”

Racism on campus is rampant

The findings of a 2019 report, commissioned by Goldsmiths, University of London, into racism on campus found that 79 per cent of the university’s students simply did not know who they could report racism to. Even staggering are the sector-wide figures on how many students report racism to their universities. According to a 2019 report by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, there were merely 559 complaints of racial harassment in UK universities over a period of three and a half years. The authors noted that this is the equivalent of one complaint per 4,100 students since the start of the 2015-16 academic year, as per a survey finding in 2019 that in the prior six months, eight per cent of students had experienced racial harassment. The survey also found that only one-third of those students, which is quite shocking reported incidents to their university.

This easily implies that racist behaviour, incidents of racism even in universities like Oxford are simply not being brought to the attention of the university authorities. In the Oxford University Rashmi Samant issue, what became a shocking revelation was that she alleged the faculty’s involvement in the racist incidents. Samant explained to Republic TV that “a man almost twice” her age and having an academic career as long as her age, “found it suitable to stalk, harass, and publicly defame me because I’m a Hindu. My home state was dragged into it. The university where I pursued my bachelor’s degree [Manipal Insitute of Technology (MIT), Karnataka] was ragged into it. And to make it worse, parents were the topic of the entire discussion there.” She also expressed disbelief over a “man capable of harassing a student like that” being a teacher at an eminent University such as Oxford in the UK or any other institution for that matter and “continue to hold that position despite everything that has come to light.”

However, Samant said she’s looking to change this scenario and ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. “There’s been outpouring support from everywhere. I have filed a complaint with the university but they are yet to do something. And I’m looking at all perspectives that can be pursued to make sure that this man will not do the same thing he did to me and that another Rashmi will not be cancelled,” she added.

But is it this easy? The real question is whether educational institutions are responsible and equipped enough to combat racism on campus. Are students comfortable reporting racist incidents freely? What actually happens when a student reports racism to faculty? All these have to be answered with time and looked at with patience.

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