For too long, institutions have swept racist incidents under the carpet for fear of bad PR. Now black students are speaking out
• Shakira Martin is the president of the NUS
Racism is rarely seen as “our problem” in the UK – in contrast to, say, the US where laws, states and legislation were used to exclude African-Americans from public spaces. The very word and its connotations are unsettling. People would rather not talk about it. Nowhere is this more evident than in universities. Brochures, websites and the Department for Education would have you believe that our institutions are beacons of equality and diversity. And while some may appear to be on paper, the reality is very different. The past year alone has seen a string of cases involving black students faced with abuse and vile treatment at their universities. The media may be slowly waking up to the fact we have a race problem, but it has been a huge problem in educational environments for decades.
A product of widening participation has been that more than 40% of young people now go on to university. So if our institutions are the most diverse they have ever been why are black students having such a tough time? It’s not just physical, overt forms of racism that plight the lives of black students, a recent poll found that half of students have witnessed racism during their studies, the majority being verbal, offhand or “casually” racist comments.
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