Last week UCL was awarded the Race Equality Charter Mark, a sign that management has committed to the ‘need to take responsibility for advancing race equality’ – news uncritically echoed on the UCLU website. Yet, reports presented by the student union on Hawkridge House provide evidence that this pledge was broken long ago.
Over forty official complaints by residents at Hawkridge – which predominantly houses overseas students – sent to UCL in May state that, “Students reported that workers were making racist comments [about residents],” during construction works there earlier this year.
Despite the sheer volume of complaints, UCL management have made no comment on the matter. Evidently, no serious investigation has taken place. Had management been truly committed to protecting students from alleged racial abuse, Hawkridge residents and contractors would have been questioned and other visible measures would have been taken. In this case, students who dared report racist comments were simply ignored by management.
Not only has UCL instantly broken its pledge to the Race Equality Charter Mark; the Equality Act 2010 requires public institutions to have “due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation.” Furthermore, UCL’s own Equal Opportunities Policy Statement makes clear that “UCL is committed to provide a learning, working and social environment […] which is free from discrimination, prejudice, intimidation and all forms of harassment.”
Although it could be considered shameful that these polices’ lack explicit mention of countering or dealing with specifically racist abuse or oppression, failing to even speak out when scores of residents in one hall report racist comments is utterly disgraceful. However inadequate UCL’s Equal Opportunities Policy, the bosses have apparently shown complete disinterest in enforcing it.
Had this been addressed in the official response to the Hawkridge complaints, or if attempts had been made to discover the extent of this discrimination, then there could perhaps be some reason to believe that management is committed to its own policies. However, no such steps have been taken.
By turning a blind eye to these reports, management has strengthened the longevity of structural racism in society. When discrimination passes unremarked it sends implicit signals to the abuser that such acts and language are tolerated, despite rhetorical blusters to the contrary by institutions and policy-makers.
Here, UCL is revealed to be a Janus-faced hypocrite. Whereas on the one hand UCL’s Equalities and Diversity Strategy states that:
common manifestations of institutional discrimination are […] failing to incorporate equality and diversity issues within day-to-day practice, procedures and mainstream activity [and] a weak commitment in practice, to implementing the policies that institutions subscribe to on paper
On the other hand, when reports of racist abuse are made, not even the most basic actions are taken. Harrowing as this hypocrisy indeed is, the greatest tragedy of this situation is that students who were subjected to, and who dared report racist discrimination have been forced to carry on without justice and with their dignity and self-esteem damaged by both their abuser and their university.
This case demonstrates that flowery promises made by management are not to be trusted. The wealthy managers who run our university have vested interests in presenting UCL as an attractive brand, a ‘global university’, but little interest in actually protecting our rights or destroying racism. These incidents have come to light thanks to the brave reports by victims who are far too often silenced and ignored in an undemocratic education system run for profit, not for people.
The new union Black and Minority Ethnic Students’ Officer unfortunately declined to comment on this case. Nevertheless, the picture developing at Hawkridge continues to indicate that students and UCLU more than ever need to stand up for our rights to be free from discrimination and racism, because management just don’t seem to be on it.
Featured image: Chris Bethell, protest against institutional racism demanding that one of UCL’s few black lecturers be reinstated