It doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is. We all have a part to play in stopping it, so it’s crucial we make something clear: there is no ‘ban’ on white students contributing to our race equality work.
But what is important is that, as part of this work, we really listen to the voices of those who statistics tell us are likely to have experienced racism in their lifetime – our black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community.
Sadly, the intention behind a planned focus group specifically for these students has been deliberately misrepresented in the press, with reports suggesting we were ‘banning’ white students from our efforts to create an anti-racist campus. This was not and would never be the case.
A focus group is by the very nature of its name intended to do what it says on the tin – target a focused group of people. We wanted to hear our BAME students’ lived experiences of racism in a forum they felt comfortable talking freely in. It was about inclusion for a group of students, but the media has presented it as a case of exclusion. This wasn’t about a ‘ban’. It was about listening to a focused group of voices. Nothing more, nothing less.
What hasn’t been reported is the fact that this work is part of a wider race equity audit that Sheffield Students’ Union is one of the first in the country to be doing. We’re really proud to be partnering with the NUS on this in a bid to improve race equity across our organisation and we hope we’ll be a trailblazer and encourage many other Students’ Unions to do the same.
We’ve already done lots of work in this space. This has included creating a dedicated Report Racism email address so students can raise any issues, from uncomfortable “banter” or overheard comments to incidents that have left students feeling upset and vulnerable.
Our staff have attended race equality training and we’ve held inclusion training, including for student societies and sports clubs. We’ve organised anti-racism workshops and forums with dedicated discussions on race equality.
We’ve held anti-racism campaigns to raise awareness of what constitutes racism and the seriousness of it and shared new anti-racism videos and talks which are timetabled into the schedule for all new students.
We’re working to decolonise the curriculum and are holding workshops where race-related issues can be discussed in a safe and productive setting.
But there’s always more we can do. Focus groups like this form part of our ongoing commitment to ensuring our campus is one that all our students feel safe and welcome in. Listening to the voices of our BAME students is a crucial part of this.
The offensive fake sign ups and social media trolling that has come as a backlash from the misleading coverage, as well as the upset this has unnecessarily caused our BAME community, just further demonstrates why this work is so important.
As a Students’ Union, we only exist because of the student body we represent and that includes all 130 nationalities and all creeds and colours.
We all have a part to play in making our community a safe, inclusive campus and one that our students are proud of. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: combatting racism is a task for everyone.