News and Events
Staff BAME Network news and events.
On 12 June 2020, we sent the following letter to the University Principal and the Senior Leadership to demand that the University take concrete actions to address systematic racism at the University. For a complete list of signatories, please go to this link.
"Dear Principal and Vice Chancellor Mathieson,
We are writing to you to express our concern as BAME staff and allies over the recent killings in the US of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the U.K. police's closure of the investigation of the death of Belly Mujinga – four events emblematic of the institutional legacy and continued proliferation of anti-Black racism. As universities around the world reckon with their complicity in making this moment possible, we urge that the University of Edinburgh look closely at those ongoing issues of anti-Black violence and racial injustice that characterise its systemic practices of exclusion.
We write this letter with three aims in mind: First, we write in support of and in solidarity with the students of the BlackEd Movement who have written to you. Second, although we appreciate the statement issued by the University in response to these events, we contend that the actions listed therein, while a good starting point, do not address the structural, institutional, and systemic practices of racial inequality and injustice that confront Black and other racial minority students and staff across the university. Third, we put forward in this letter an additional set of recommendations signed off by the signatories of this letter.
Edinburgh admits very few Black students every year. In fact, according to data released by the Sunday Times in 2017, Edinburgh ranks the worst among all Russell Group universities in admitting Black students. Consequently, less than one percent of the Edinburgh student population is Black. Moreover, as your statement notes, a racialised degree-awarding gap also persists. Black British, British Asian, and other racial and ethnic minorities are also significantly underrepresented amongst postgraduate students, professional staff, and academic staff, as well as within the Senior Management Team where policies are decided.
Therefore, in response to your statement, we note the following:
1. With regards to the degree-awarding gap: We contend that this issue is cultural and structural, including curricular and pedagogic. We, therefore:
- fully support the student call to establish a ‘Decolonise Curriculum’ group, and,
- request that appropriate resources be allocated for race-centred pedagogical training and innovation, and for BAME student mentorship programs.
2. With regards to the process of restorative and reparative justice: We contend that this cannot merely be a historical investigation and that reparative justice must be intended towards Black communities in Britain today. Accordingly, we request that:
- scholarships be established for Black British students to study at the University at all levels, proportionate to their underrepresentation;
- adequate resources be allocated for the recruitment, retention, and progression of Black British students and staff at all levels;
- concrete steps be taken to recruit and retain BAME applicants for professional services and academic staff positions, and,
- concrete steps be taken to close the pay gap between BAME and non-BAME staff.
3. With respect to listening and learning from BAME staff and students: We contend that this labour is both intellectual and pastoral, and must be recognised accordingly. We request that:
- all such labour, at all levels, must be adequately compensated in terms of time allocation and financial rewards, and,
- a top-level, cross-College committee of BAME staff and students be established to guide the University on policies and practices that further racial equality and justice.
4. Finally, in support of the statement by the BlackEd Movement, we request that the University:
- release a more comprehensive statement that acknowledges institutional racism and historical racial injustices, and,
- detail the University’s initiatives and timeline to address the above requests.
As the University is doing the best it can to overcome the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, we also urge the University to not separate the issues of race and reopening the University. BAME students and staff will be the most severely impacted group. We urge the University to also carry out equality impact assessments on the decisions that you are making about resuming teaching and learning in the autumn.
In closing, we urge you to make combatting racism at Edinburgh a top priority and request an urgent meeting to address the above requests as well as outline further actions to address racial inequality at the University of Edinburgh. We look forward to your response.
Staff BAME Network"
On 19 June, 2020, we received the following response from the Principal and the Senior Leadership Team:
"Dear Staff BAME Network
Thank you for taking the time to write to me about these critical issues and please accept my apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I do share your abhorrence of recent events in the United States and your deep concern about the division and pain caused by societal and systemic racism.
That said, I do fully acknowledge that we have much more to do. Tackling these issues will be a complex task, requiring a sustained and long-term approach. This is not a “quick fix” situation. However it is clear that the University, through its staff and students, has not only the energy but the expertise to ensure that we maintain momentum and deliver real change. The University has already been looking at issues relating to our BAME communities so we are not starting from zero, we now need to accelerate and amplify our efforts.
As a higher education institution, we want to be part of the solution. While much work has taken place in recent years to address these issues, we acknowledge our own historic and current failings in this area.
In order to better understand and evaluate the challenges, the University commissioned a report in 2018, examining the experience of BAME students and staff. Its findings contained a number of recommendations which we are taking forward. The report can be found here: Thematic Review 2018-19: Black and Minority Ethnic Students
Within the Institution, our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee is a core University committee, tasked with driving forward change on: addressing the awarding gap; increasing racial literacy among staff; better supporting students and staff if they experience racial harassment; taking steps to enhance and support our BAME student and staff sense of belonging; the recruitment, retention and reward of BAME staff both Academic and Professional Services; and looking at how the curriculum and our learning and teaching forms part of the transformation needed. Wider engagement with all of this work will be key and improved training for staff, including in the Counselling Service, is already underway.
The University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee has now set up a Race Equality/Anti-Racist Sub-group where there is significant BAME staff and student representation. The aim of this group is to ensure and promote activity across the University to end systemic racism and the inclusion of BME staff and students. The membership is wide and there will be many different routes for staff and students to inform and contribute to the work of this sub-group.
The University of Edinburgh takes the legacy of slavery and colonialism very seriously. We have been working to address this legacy for some time. Academics and students have helped deepen the wider understanding of Scotland’s links with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. A recent example includes the UncoverEd project, which saw researchers and students retell the stories of graduates from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, and the Americas, who studied in Edinburgh between 1780s and 1980s. We are now looking at how we sustain this work.
The University is also addressing its connections to slavery as part of 'Universities Studying Slavery' - an international group of higher education institutions that have come together to address historical and contemporary race and inequality issues. Over the next few weeks we will set out a process of reparative and restorative justice, through which we will involve the entire university community as well as engage with affected communities as we seek to gain a more critical understanding of our history and address it.
In the past week, we have launched a cross-disciplinary hub, RACE.ED, for research and teaching on race and ethnicity, which is the product of more than two years of academic work and engagement across our community. This hub brings together academics and students to explore issues of racism and be part of a University network taking forward anti-racist initiatives within our University.
As the University prepares for the new term, we will ensure that all staff and students can work and study in a safe environment. We are ensuring Equality Impact Assessments are conducted as we move forward through the pandemic. Covid-19 presents us with a range of new challenges, and clearly there are racial/ethnic aspects to our response. We are determined to meet these challenges as best we can.
These are just the initial steps in what needs to be a fundamental change in the way institutions such as ours think about, and confront personal, cultural, institutional and systemic racism. We continue to work through our immediate response with some urgency, this week the University’s approach has been discussed with the University Court, the University Executive and the Heads of School and College. It is important that we make our approach, commitments and progress visible to the University Community and we are working on how best to achieve that just now.
I do share your concern and wish to emphasise that combatting racism is a top priority for me and my senior team, your contribution in helping us achieve these aims is both welcome and crucial.
With best regards,
Professor Peter Mathieson
Principal & Vice-Chancellor
University of Edinburgh"