Students propose anti-racism initiative in open letter to Guild and University
An open letter to the Students’ Guild and University management seeking to “fully diffuse anti-racist rhetoric and policy into the University” has been signed by over 1200 students, academics and alumni.
Written by a group of students named The Unlearn Collective, the letter sets outs a list of working suggestions, including “recognition that there is a racism issue on campus” and “transparency in investigations of harassment and abuse.” They also call for BAME representation within management and wellbeing services, as well as compulsory diversity training for all societies.
The letter highlights the frequency of racist and homophobic incidents at the University of Exeter – one line reads: “Every word in this sentence hyperlinks to incidents of bigotry here. And this only within the last four years.”
Their primary demand is the creation of an initiative they call “Learning to Unlearn” in order to “amplify BAME voices and encourage the presence and education of white students on effective allyship.”
It’s about recognising that it’s not enough to post a black square then go about your business – it has to be sustained.Lewis Brusby, The Unlearn Collective
The authors note their inspiration from the increased focus on race relations following the murder of George Floyd, saying “the impetus on white members of the University, both student and faculty, to educate themselves on their privilege and their need to be better allies has never been higher”
Bryan Knight, a third-year History student and member of the growing collective, explained in his BBC Spotlight piece: “tackling racism is no small feat – but in order to enact long term change everyone must come together with an open mind and a willingness to both learn from the lived experiences of others and unlearn their past assumptions.”
Almaz Akainyah of the collective noted that “what we are concerned about is hate speech and racist activities and basically discrimination from students to students or staff or whichever way it goes. I don’t necessarily think that in of itself is going to affect anyone’s freedom of speech, although there may be some who argue against that.”
Lewis Brusby, another member of the group, said about allyship: “it’s about recognising that it’s not enough to post a black square then go about your business – it has to be sustained.”
In the interest of fully diffusing anti-racist rhetoric and policy into the University, we would strongly implore consideration of our proposed actions detailed herein – efforts thus far still have not gone far enough.Learning to Unlearn, The Unlearn Collective
In an email to all students on 5 June, Vice Chancellor Sir Steve Smith acknowledged that “We must do everything in our power to root out all forms of racism and hate crime in our community.”
He also explains: “it is not just our words but our actions that matter and we must be visibly and actively anti-racist: not merely non-racist, but actively anti-racist.”
The full open letter can be read here.