Racism experienced at the hands of educational establishments is a common reality felt by many BAME students.
Institutional racism means time and time again educational spaces uphold the alienating practices that results in disenfranchised students of colour.
Despite limited decolonial efforts set up in recent years to tackle latent colonialism, many activists have faced kickback in addressing racist practices in UK universities. Some have pointed out that the resistance of these institutions may come from the vested interest many of them still have in keeping the colonial state alive.
In 2018, UCL was heavily criticised for a secret Eugenics conference that hosted notorious White supremacist speakers and had prominent MPs in attendance. Moreover, in 2019, St. John’s College in Oxford launched a research post to investigate Oxford’s role in creating and maintaining the British empire.
Yet, this issue doesn’t just lie with more formal and academically rigorous universities as well-known “liberal” arts universities such as Goldsmiths have come under fire for its rampant discriminatory practices. In 2019, students at the South London university protested for more than 100 days to force Goldsmiths to tackle the institutional racism prevalent in its system.
Just last year, responses to freedom of information requests by the Guardian showed that students and staff in 131 UK universities made at least 996 formal complaints of racism over the past five years.
The violent racial bias that many students and academics have to deal with has caused many to turn to activism and social justice in order to find more radical ways of voicing their concerns. Organisations such as Lounge Akademics seek to amplify disruptive voices within higher education and actively deconstruct the colonial state that is so evident in academia.
Other activists and graduates are also using social platforms to speak up about their experiences and prepare prospective students. The podcast, Over the Bridge, details the experiences of four Black or Mixed race Cambridge graduates and has been a crucial source of experiential knowledge for many potential Oxbridge applicants from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds.
Similarly, A Fly Girls Guide to University, a collection of memoirs, essays, poetry and prose from four women of colour who attended Cambridge, gives support and advice to an incoming cohort of students who may not be prepared for the cultural hegemony and alienation they unfortunately may experience in many of these institutions.
The efforts of global activists and academics in the past few years has highlighted the considerable change still needed in university spaces and that the most impactful work in doing so will come from the colleagues that work and study in these spaces.
Despite apathy from universities, grassroots activism has already begun to take effect with Dr Arun Verma, an innovative BAME researcher, leading the UK’s first intersectional anti-racist action policy, with more than 60 co-authors representing 30+ UK universities, to dictate change across the Higher Education system.