Students are calling for the University of Sheffield to show more support for its Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students, with the University yet to make a public statement in the wake of protests against systemic racism and police brutality.

An open letter addressed to Professor Koen Lamberts, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, calls for the University to publicly address the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Belly Mujinga, the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the BME community and the racism and xenophobia faced by many Asian people as a result of the pandemic.

A online petition accompanies the letter, and includes three additional aims: to promote and establish an anti-racist culture; to develop a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy to racism; to create and support representation initiatives for both students and staff.

While neither the University nor the Vice-Chancellor have made a public statement on the issues, a series of tweets were uploaded to the @sheffielduni Twitter account on 2 June, offering support to those affected by events in the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement.

However, the Students’ Union’s BME Student’s Committee criticised the tweets, after the University appeared to signpost the committee as the first port of call for students seeking support, ahead of both the Report and Support System and the Chaplaincy Centre, despite the representative committee being volunteer-led.

The tweet has since been deleted.

The Committee tweeted: “It is insensitive during this period to simply refer affected students to the BME committee. We are also students.

“We feel that the university has done very little to reach out to BME students and acknowledge the disparities in vulnerability to Covid-19 based on race and ethnic group. Referring BME students to “talk and listen” is not enough. The university needs to be proactively anti- racist and show active means of support.”

While steps have been taken to progress race equality at the University over the past year, such as the formation of a Race Equality Steering Group and the implementation of a Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan, it’s clear that some students feel more concrete action needs to be taken.

Rosa Tully, Women’s Officer at the Sheffield Students’ Union, said she understands the frustrations of BAME students.

She said: “Universities have always been sites in which the ideologies of anti-blackness have been allowed to thrive, and it is the duty of Universities to put an end to this, to challenge racial injustice and to champion anti-racism within their institutions.

“We [the SU Officer team] support the petition launched by our student community and will continue to champion the demands in our work with the University.”

When contacted for comment by Forge Press, the University referred to a statement made by Professor Susan Fitzmaurice, Chair of the University’s Race Equality Steering Group.

She said: “It is clear that the University needs to do more to offer dedicated, proactive support for our BAME communities. This is not something that we can change overnight, but we will make changes and we have begun working with our communities to make our provisions better.”

The open letter and the petition can be found through the link below: https://www.change.org/p/koen-lamberts-vice-chancellor-of-sheffield-university-university-of-sheffield-stand-against-racism

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