'Racism Doesn’t Happen in Scotland, That’s an American Thing'

Image of the main building from Kelvingrove park

By Kristyn, a UofG student and member of the working group for Understanding Racism, Transforming University Culture Report

‘Racism doesn’t happen in Scotland, that’s an American thing.’ ‘Racists aren’t part of the University of Glasgow community; you’ll be safe here.’

Perhaps the most common phrases spoken to me, upon entering the University of Glasgow community. So often, honesty about racial bias and harassment goes undiscussed and underreported due to several factors, it begins with the aforementioned statements.

For those unaffected by racism, it is easy to believe that racism is not part of the University of Glasgow community and, on an even larger scale, is not part of Scotland. However, the ‘Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures’ (URTUC) report tells a different story.

Qualitative Data

The report author’s present qualitative data describing the experiences of 500 students and 20 staff members from across the University of Glasgow.

The data taken from these interviews provide evidentiary support to the claims that racial harassment goes largely unreported and that Black, Asian, and Minority ethnic (BAME) members of the University of Glasgow community suffer greatly compared to their white counterparts.

In summary, racial harassment occurs, in all its forms (i.e. microaggressions, exclusionary behaviour), and the incidents go unreported due to the threat of negative consequences, including career hinderances and being ‘labelled a troublemaker’, and that the University was ‘not designed to treat individual acts of racialised incivility seriously’.

Holistic Approach

While the report author’s describe the impact of racial harassment and how the current reporting system is not working, they also state that to truly improve the rate of reporting of these incidents, racism must be understood holistically.

They quote, Andrew Smith’s Racism and Everyday Life - ‘Building trust in our reporting mechanisms requires understanding of both the social power dynamics involved in reporting incidents and developing a more nuanced understanding of what racism is.’

To begin the work of improving the University of Glasgow community, the report author’s detail statistical analysis that demonstrates how disadvantaged BAME students and staff are in terms of degrees awarded, pay grade, and appointments received. They then go on to provide a detailed action plan containing descriptions, rationales, timescales, appointee, and success measure.

Excellent First Step

The URTUC report and action plan is an in-depth analysis identifying various issues within the University of Glasgow community and provides detailed steps to address said issues.

This is an excellent first step in addressing the problems made visible via the report, but the work needed to be done, as outlined by the action plan, will require serious effort.

As a Black student who has never reported her experiences of racial harassment due to fear of possible repercussions, I hope the URTUC report will shock the University of Glasgow community and encourage all of us to reflect on how we can improve.

High Expectations and Faith

Downstream of this work, it is my desire that future students and staff find the support and strength to report their experiences and trust that the University will take them seriously.

I hope the University is vocal enough about being anti-racism and establishing a zero-tolerance policy so that people from all backgrounds feel visible and protected. Perhaps most importantly, I look forward to the resources the University will provide on racism and racial bias, as outlined by the report, aimed to educate those who are unaware and unaffected.

I have high expectations for the University of Glasgow, but I am not naïve to think these changes will occur overnight or even in the next year. However, I have faith that the University of Glasgow will put for the effort to enforce real change.


If you have any comments or suggestions to make on the report, please email the University’s Race Champion Bonnie Dean on racechampion@glasgow.ac.uk

To learn more about Understanding Racism, Transforming University Culture Report and Action Plan, you can visit its website.

First published: 17 February 2021

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