Landmark report on racism in the NUS exposes ‘institutional failings’

The organisation has an atmosphere of ‘caution and distrust’ – but contains nothing on anti-Semitism

The National Union of Students has been naive to racism even though some victims have been targeted for years in their own organisation.

Accused of “considerable shortcomings”, the report was intended to establish whether the NUS is institutionally racist. Led by Malia Bouattia – who remains at the centre of accusations that she is anti-Semitic after she called Birmingham Uni a “Zionist outpost” – commissioned the report after complaints while she was Black Students’ Officer last year.

Despite a government report saying Malia and the NUS do not take anti-Semitism seriously, it is believed the report contains little or nothing on the problem within the union and how to tackle it. Insiders are concerned at this lack of attention to a very current problem amid what the report calls an atmosphere of “distrust and caution” – which prevented the report from making a full investigation.

The NUS made the unusual step of asking an external organisation to look at racism within the union. The Runnymede Trust, an equality think tank, compiled the report and have issued a list of recommendations to senior officers – which have been leaked to The Sun. The Trust said there were “often painful accounts from victims who had been targeted for several years.

The report appears to focus on racism against black people and their treatment by white staff. It highlights how some white people they spoke to acted as “allies” while others commitment to race is “short sighted”: “There remains no doubt in our minds that NUS as an employer has failed to seriously support Black staff, officers and volunteers and has considerable work to do to address the poor understanding and engagement of race and racism amongst white staff and associates.

“While the keenness of some white respondents to act as allies is to be welcomed and should not be overlooked the tendency, on the part of others, to assume liberal, well-meaning and intent sufficient evidence of commitment to race and racism is, at best, short-sighted. Our findings indicate a gap between the intention of racially just practice and the reality for those racialised as Black and a lack of understanding of racism in its more subtle or covert forms.”

The report, which is due to be released in full early next year, was unable to conclude “definitively that [the] NUS is institutionally racist,” because some had been unwilling to give evidence.

Malia has said the report has only reaffirmed her “absolute commitment to tackling all forms of racism,” and has promised to lead the organisation to eradicate the problem after her own allegation started the review. She bemoaned the “systemic discrimination” in society but urged members to reflect on the findings and “work together to create a robust action plan to… create real positive change.”

An NUS spokesperson said: “NUS recognises that Black staff, officers and volunteers have been let down on many occasions over the years due to institutional failures around race and racism. This must be tackled immediately. We at NUS accept, without reservation, the recommendations of the independent review into institutional racism in our Union.

“We recognise that change must happen throughout NUS, it must happen quickly and it must dismantle structures and processes that have allowed racism to thrive. We are fully committed to this and will be focussing our energy on an action plan to deliver the kind of radical change required to shift culture and practice around race and racism.

“NUS recognises the contributions made by Black staff, officers and volunteers, who have overcome a great deal to take part in this process, acting with bravery and integrity in sharing their experiences. We will now be focusing our efforts, resource and capacity on change within our organisation and creating an NUS that is free of prejudice.”