Muslim students slam Bristol SU for ‘complete failure to support’ them

‘We declare our complete lack of confidence in the organisation or its officers’

Muslim students have slammed Bristol SU for a “complete and continued failure to support Muslim students” at the uni, as a row breaks out over Islamophobia at UoB.

At Bristol SU’s annual AMM last night, Muslim students did not hold back in condemning Bristol SU and the Sabb Officers for what they say are ongoing failures related to Islamophobia – in particular the omission of Islamophobia from an SU “Open Letter on Racism”.

Omar Chowdhury, Chair of the BME Network, claimed that “there was no consultation from the SU and the entire officer team” on the Open Letter on Racism at the uni, stating that he found out “at the same time as the other network chairs”, when the letter was released publicly.

“The SU has been pressuring me not to say anything. They told me categorically ‘no admittal of wrongdoing or apology publicly’, and they will not retract the letter,” said Chowdhury

He claimed that the Sabb Officers, as trustees, were legally prevented from criticising the SU. Bristol SU deny this, calling it “factually inaccurate”.

He added that the open letter was “racist, because the letter does not represent BME students, because it was not done in consultation with the representative of BME students.”

Jason Palmer (ELA Officer) responding to criticism

During the officer accountability portion of the meeting, Hussain Abass (President of UoB Islamic Society) laid into Jason Palmer (ELA Officer) for lack of support with Islamophobia Awareness Month, following a controversial event held by the Conservative Association, and failures to support Muslim students.

Abass said: “We don’t have any faith in you or in the officer team. How can Muslim students have confidence in you and your ability to look after us?”

Student Khadija Meghrawi also passionately criticised the SU and the Officers, saying that “we’re not being the unreasonable people”.

Speaking directly to ELA Officer Jason Palmer, she added: “You can’t speak for a minority when you don’t contact them.”

In a condemnation lasting over two minutes, Meghrawi said: “How many students like me are going to have to burn out before the SU starts taking our concerns seriously, and actually fighting for us?”

Students held officers to account during the AMM

In response, Palmer stated: “Very simply, nothing more should have to happen for us to be fighting for you.”

He listed various examples of attempts to reach out to the Muslim community and work that had been done, however he said: “I am happy to personally apologise that I did not give as much support as I should have for Islamophobia Awareness month”.

He cited personal circumstances around the time of those events, and reiterated that he and the team were fully supportive of their efforts.

The University of Bristol Islamic Society posted a damning statement on its Facebook page on Saturday night, slamming Bristol SU for failures including “little support for Islamophobia Awareness month”, not properly lobbying the university on Islamophobia, and failing to stop events with speakers they allege are Islamophobic.

They claim that the SU is in violation of the “APPG definition of Islamophobia that the SU adopted into policy last year” by allowing Richard Kemp, a former Colonel in the British Army, to speak on campus, and by not reaching out to Muslim students following the event.

In our role as the representative body for Muslim Students at the University of Bristol, we at Brisoc must publicly…

Posted by University of Bristol Islamic Society on Saturday, 22 February 2020

They closed their statement by declaring their lack of confidence in Bristol SU and the elected officers.

They said: “The SU’s lack of care for Muslim students is systematic and institutional and we declare our complete lack of confidence in the organisation or its officers to ensure the safety of Muslim students at the University.”

In response, Bristol SU defended itself, saying it has worked hard to combat Islamophobia at UoB. However, it also acknowledged responsibility for actions that had “not been perfect”.

A spokesperson said: “We are deeply concerned by the points raised by our Islamic Society in their recent statement.

“In each of the cases raised, we have worked to engage student leaders, in collaboration with the Bristol SU BME Network, and are working to ensure that their interests are effectively represented. In general through regular interactions and meetings, we are working with all parties to give them the best opportunity we can to shape our actions on racism and Islamophobia at the University.

“However, we acknowledge that this has not been perfect, and we take responsibility for those actions that have left our students feeling this way.

“All forms of racial discrimination including Islamophobia, on campus or anywhere else, are unacceptable. Over the last few years Bristol SU has worked passionately to improve support for marginalised students at Bristol.

“We have published leading research on the BME Attainment gap in Higher Education, and we compiled the first ever Bristol BME Powerlist to celebrate the city’s BME community, working with our BME student representatives. We are now engaged in a full review of the effectiveness of our democratic structures for students from minority or liberation groups, consulting with their student representatives.

“Our officer team have secured a commitment from the University to create a joint action plan to tackle racism. As we seek to confirm the details of this action plan, we will be liaising with all representatives of students affected by racism at Bristol. We will be reaching out to ISoc to further understand and address their specific concerns as a matter of urgency.”