There have been several complaints from University of Exeter students and staff members regarding racially motivated verbal abuse, following the EU referendum vote favouring Brexit.
When the University’s deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Nick Talbot was questioned on one incident, he referred to it as “terrible, reprehensible, and awful.”
However, professor Talbot believes that opinions expressed by the abusers are not part of public opinion as a whole, as he presumes that most people would “overwhelming reject that type of activity.”
Similarly, a spokesperson on behalf of the Russell Group institution views such incidences as “isolated” occurrences “that have taken place away from campus.”
It was nonetheless emphasised that “the university deplores any example of this behaviour.” Advice given by the spokesperson to any victims of such racial discrimination was as follows:
“As well as offering all necessary support, we also encourage anyone who experiences incidents of this nature to contact the police immediately.
“Exeter prides itself as being a friendly, inclusive, and welcoming community, and all our staff and students play a positive role, not just at the university, but for the city as a whole. We will continue to ensure everyone at the university feels welcomed, supported, and valued.”
A second year law student at the University of Exeter has reported her recent experience with racism in Exeter, in an exclusive interview with Exeposé. The incident occurred on the 4th July during the early evening hours.
Ekaterina Vasileva experienced racist remarks from two men who were driving past her in a van, whilst she was walking down Queens street, in the centre of Exeter. The student at hand was wearing a souvenir t-shirt from Greece, whilst the two men shouted “if you love Greece so much, just go back there.”
Vasileva commented on her experience with disappointment:
“I personally found it amusing because I’m a light-hearted person and I’m not even from Greece. At the same time, I also think it’s ridiculous and shocking that these people who are being racist are legitimised now through all the momentum that Brexit has gained.
“I have heard and seen racism and xenophobia but not to the extent that it is occurring in this post- referendum period. I don’t think it’s a coincidence as the attacks around the country have triggered fear and isolation amongst non-British nationals, people are afraid to go out and speak their language. Bigotry has been legitimised under my nose and all the targeted abuse is appalling.”
Another student from the University shared her concerns about the referendum results with Exeposé. Third year modern language student, Elly Angelova said:
“Ever since Cameron promised the referendum and then won the general election last year, I have been worrying because I’m terrified of the UK will scrutinise my presence here. I’m frustrated at the notion that I would have to prove I deserve to live in the country I’ve come to love as my second home.”
The modern languages student claims to enjoy being in England, without having witnessed xenophobic behaviour from her friends at University, or from the local community, up until the referendum debate commenced.
“Ever since I came to the UK to study, I’ve ended up loving the country and made amazing friends. Everyone has been really nice to me but I never realised how much the referendum divided the country until I experienced it myself.”
“A friend of mine who I’ve known since first year told me that they were voting ‘leave’ because Britain should only be available for the enjoyment of nationals. I was even more shocked when I was told that if two people who were equally qualified applied for the same job, the British national should get it because it’s in their country.”
Angelova spoke about the intent behind voting to leave the ‘EU’ and the implications it has on individuals who take a personal offence on the matter:
“Most Leave voters might tell us “it’s not personal” that they’re voting leave, but it feels personal to us. It makes quite the difference whether you’re accepted and welcomed by default or whether you have to keep proving you’re worthy of being a resident”
The University of Exeter has sent several emails out to students in order to address concerns over possible consequences of Brexit. Professor Sir Steve Smith, the University’s vice chancellor has admitted to the uncertainty of the future, however he reassured students that there will be no immediate complications to the higher education sector.
He encourages students to take an active role in decision-making:
“I would please ask everyone to participate fully in any future discussions we will have as there will be considerable time and opportunity to influence future higher education policies, and, therefore, to ensure the UK’s exit from the EU is managed as successfully as possible in this area.”
Concerns held by EU students have been addressed by the University and College Union (UCU), as the union has pledged the Government to “make a firm commitment” towards EU students who wish to remain in the UK. According to Sally Hunt, the UCU’s general secretary, EU students should be able to remain in the UK, without the requirement of residency negotiations, as suggested by Theresa May.
A call for a clear decision regarding the residency status of EU citizens within the UK, was made by Sally Hunt as she sad: “It’s simply not acceptable to try and use EU nationals who have been living, working, and paying tax in this country as pawns in any Brexit negotiations.”
Exeter’s Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has also been the subject of verbally abusive content, during the month of July 2016. A 37 year old man was arrested in Exeter, for an alleged death threat, which was sent to Bradshaw’s phone at his Westminster office.
When asked to speak at a victim’s impact statement at Exeter’s magistrate court, Bradshaw mention that he had previously received such threats, but is more concerned about the safety of his staff in Exeter. Bradshaw spoke out about the implications of Jo Cox’s murder on newly established security measures:
“The security of MPs is constantly reviewed and of course it has as a result of Jo’s murder.
“I do think we should use this as a moment to reflect as a nation on the political culture we create… We all must live with a constant sense of vulnerability and this has made us that more acute. I can remember being attacked a couple of times physically during the hunting debate and most of my colleagues have had death threats over the years.”