University of Glasgow publishes action plan to tackle racism and racial harassment on campus

Content warning - The content and discussion in this news story and report covers themes of racism and racial harassment, including detailed accounts of lived experiences of racial harassment from staff and students and the detrimental effects of this to physical and mental health. Although a challenging read for all, this report may be  particularly difficult for those who have experienced racism or harassment. If you require support relating to the themes of the report, please visit Equality & Diversity Support and Resources to find both internal and external resources. If you have any comments or suggestions to make on the report, please email the University’s Race Champion Bonnie Dean: racechampion@glasgow.ac.uk

The University of Glasgow has published a comprehensive action plan to help tackle racism and racial harassment on campus as part of its effort to address racial inequality.

The plan is part of the recommendations, including practical steps, found in the University’s Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures.

The University of Glasgow investigation and report was prompted by a study from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into racial harassment faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students and staff in UK universities.

As part of the Glasgow report, around 500 students took part in a survey and very in-depth interviews were conducted with 20 ethnic minority staff to ask them about their experience of racism while studying or working at the University of Glasgow.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, who as chair of the University’s Equality and Diversity Strategy Committee commissioned the investigation into student and staff experiences of racism, said: “The report is a very difficult read and outlines challenging experiences of racism or racial injustice.

“On behalf of the University of Glasgow, I want to apologise unreservedly to my colleagues and our students who have been impacted by racism or racial injustice while working or studying here.

“I want to also recognise the detrimental impact these experiences have had on inclusion, your wellbeing and your sense of belonging – for a University which prides itself on its values and reputation this is unacceptable."

He added: “While tackling racism is a problem that extends far beyond the University of Glasgow, following the 2019 EHRC report we resolved to act and launched a major review of our policies and procedures concerning racial harassment.

“This report and action plan is the result of this investigation. I want to thank our colleagues and students for bravely speaking to us about their experiences.

“We are determined to use this report as a catalyst to effect change. Already through the University’s leadership team in collaboration with colleagues and students we have begun to implement the report’s action plan. We hope that all our staff and students will join us as active participants in driving through these necessary changes.

“While we recognise that tackling racism remains a problem for society at large, to be the institution we aspire to be, the University is clear that we must act and act decisively. This report and the accompanying action plan offers us a way forward to deliver real and meaningful change.” 

The University of Glasgow’s Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures’ report found:

  • One in two ethnic minority students had been racially harassed highlighting a significant variance with the handful of student racial harassment cases captured by our University processes.
  • Half of all ethnic minority students reported being harassed between two and five times since beginning their studies at the University of Glasgow while one in 20 students reported more than 20 separate incidents of harassment.
  • A reluctance to report such harassment because of a lack of confidence that such incidents would be treated seriously combined with a fear of reprisals from fellow students and staff.
  • Among staff, coded forms of racism were more prevalent than overt racism. Such coded but persistent racial harassment has a corrosive and scarring effect on the physical and mental health of ethnic minority staff.
  • More than a quarter of ethnic minority students who took part in the survey say the University of Glasgow has a serious problem with racism.

Professor Satnam Virdee, Co-Convener of the Race Equality Group & Co-Author of the URTUC Report, said: “I want to thank all those students and members of staff who took part in this study and who spoke so bravely, openly and honestly about the racism and exclusion they have suffered. The lived experiences that were shared in the surveys and interviews make for difficult reading, but they also demand that as an organisation, the University of Glasgow does better to uphold and actualise the principle of racial equality.

“I'm pleased the leadership team at the University have pledged to work through the comprehensive action plan set out in the report and introduce mechanisms and measures that will tackle both structural disadvantage and interpersonal racism."

Bonnie Dean, Race Equality Champion & Co-Convener of the Race Equality Group said: “This report marks an important step in our journey towards becoming an anti-racist institution at the University of Glasgow. As Race Equality Champion, I want to assure our staff and students that the work does not stop with the report's publication; we are committed to undertaking the extensive and long-term actions within our Action Plan to ensure ongoing and genuine progress is made.

“As we release this report, it is important to recognise that racism is not a static issue but one that is complex and changes over time and in different environments. For this reason, I will be regularly working with students and staff through the REG and EDSC to ensure that the grassroots voices and experiences of our community are heard and considered in this journey.” 

Liam Brady, President, Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council, and Ella McCabe, Vice President Student Support, Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council, said: “While the report highlights the fact that we are sadly a long way from being the wholly inclusive and equitable institution that we wish to be, we are really encouraged by the publication of this report, and are determined to take forward the actions that relate to how we as an organisation can help tackle racial harassment and make our student body an inclusive space for all, and one which fully celebrates diversity.”

Alongside interpersonal racism, the report also found evidence of structural disadvantage facing ethnic minority staff and students including:

  • A statistically significant degree awarding gap between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students in 2018/19 of over 10% in comparison to their White peers.
  • The disproportionate precarity of our ethnic minority staff who are between two and three times more likely to be employed on fixed term contracts.
  • No ethnic minority representation on the three major decision-making bodies of the University – Senior Management Group, Court and Senate.
  • Building a strand of decolonising the curriculum into the University’s next Learning and Teaching Strategy.

The resulting recommendations in the agreed action plan include:

  • Senior Management Group to publicly commit to taking an anti-racist approach to University processes and systems, promoting a zero tolerance policy to racial harassment on campus.
  • Devising and developing pre-entry courses for staff and students on acceptable codes of behaviour at the University.
  • Racial equality/Anti-racism campaign on campus.
  • Specific reference made to racial harassment in the University’s:
    • Equality and Diversity Policy
    • Dignity at Work and Study Policy
    • Student Codes of Conduct
    • Complaints process
  • Recruitment of new Respect Advisers to ensure ethnic diversity.
  • Anti-racist and cultural awareness training for all staff, prioritising those involved in staff or student investigation processes.
  • Implementation of further anti-racist training beyond the mandatory requirement for the certain roles including the Senior Management Group and the University’s Senior Leaders Forum.

The racism report comes two years after the University published its report into its historical links to slavery and began work on a significant reparative justice programme.

This body of research and programme of reparatory justice has provided a foundation for the University to refocus and address current staff and student experiences of racism and racial inequality.

The Glasgow investigation was launched as a direct response to a 2019 Equality and Human Rights Commission report which uncovered widespread evidence of racial harassment on university campuses.

Full report

More details are available at Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures.

In October 2019, Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged report was published. On the back of this report, the University of Glasgow commissioned its own investigation.

First published: 16 February 2021