Bristol Uni to review and ‘debate’ the renaming of buildings connected to the slave trade

The uni told The Bristol Tab they ‘welcome the debate’ between staff, students and alumni

The University of Bristol has announced in a statement that they are committing to review and “debate” the names of their buildings named after families with links to the slave trade, as well as their university logo.

This comes in reaction to the recent Black Lives Matter protests, which saw the Colston statue pulled down and petitions arise for the university to rename some of their buildings.

In the statement, the university said: “We are committed to ensuring that our university is an inclusive one, and that the experience of studying and working here is positive and welcoming for everyone, of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

“As an institution founded in 1909, we fully acknowledge that we financially benefited indirectly via philanthropic support from families who had made money from businesses involved in the transatlantic slave trade.

“We are aware that racism is still very much part of everyday life for many people in our community. We must all make the effort to learn, understand and take action to bring about real change and dismantle racism in our community.”

The university acknowledged that their logo carries symbols of the Colston, Wills and Fry families who benefited from the profits of slavery: “We know that the Black Lives Matter campaign has served to amplify existing concerns about the University’s history and whether we should rename the Wills Memorial Building, and other buildings named after families with links to the slave trade.

“We commit to reviewing the names of these buildings.  We will also review our University logo, which carries the Colston, Wills and Fry crests.”

The university have said they will “debate” this issue with staff, students, alumni and wider communities.

The university is creating a “Steering Group” to “develop strategies to address individual, cultural and structural racism across our institution and to educate us all in how we can be an anti-racist organisation.”

They also referenced the new appointment of Olivette Otele as Professor of the History of Slavery as a way of confronting the university’s past connections to slavery: “Professor Otele is already working with staff, students and communities in the city of Bristol to help the University better understand its past and use that knowledge to shape a wide range of race equality measures that will create a more inclusive University.

“It is the responsibility of us all to eradicate racism. We will continue to challenge this through our research, our education, and our civic engagements. We are fully committed to working with our staff and students, our Students’ Union, and the wider community to continue to address issues of racism and inequality.”

The university also stated that they are committed to attracting students from “diverse backgrounds” and “increasing the proportion of Black students at Bristol, ensuring they succeed in their studies and beyond university into their careers.”.

They also noted: “In the past five years we have seen a 44 per cent increase in BAME student enrolments and we are committed to continuing this work to further diversify our student intake.

“We are taking a long-term view on effecting real change across our university.”

What does the uni think about protesters pulling down the Colston statue?

The Bristol Tab asked the university what they thought about the pulling down of the Colston statue, to which they acknowledged Edward Colston’s “controversial” legacy who has “divided opinion” in Bristol for many years, but did not say whether or not they approved.

What is the uni’s reaction to calls to rename buildings, such as the Wills Memorial Building?

We also asked what they thought about calls to rename buildings, to which they said they “welcome the debate”, but made no commitment to change.

They say they will “consider the arguments for and against renaming and naming of our university buildings, both to reflect our past and to symbolise our current values.”

What is the uni doing to increase the number of black/BAME students and staff?

In a statement from the press office, Bristol University said they are trying to increase the number of black/BAME students on campus, with targets to “double the proportion of Black students in our undergraduate intake by 2025”.

They mentioned their “Insight into Bristol” program which aims to reach out and recruit BAME students with a “fully-funded residential summer school” being taught by Bristol academics and experiencing the city, along with support throughout year 13.

They say that in 2019, 90 per cent of the 223 participants were from BAME backgrounds. This year, it will only be run with students from BAME backgrounds.

Only one per cent of professors in UK universities are black, which Bristol Uni calls “an area of real concern”. They list numerous initiatives to recruit more black/BAME staff, including establishing a staff BAME network, running workshops and reach out to colleges in an effort to recruit further, and launching the “Report and Support” tool.

They are also developing a “Stand Up Speak Out” resource to assist staff in challenging unacceptable behaviour, and numerous other initiatives.

What work is Bristol doing to understand these issues and broaden the Bristol community?

The university again says that Professor Otele’s work will “help all of us to better understand the University’s past and to then use that knowledge to help shape its future.”

Professor Otele will “play a key role in the city’s aspirations in diversity and inclusion, and to challenge the history of disadvantage that has been experienced by ethnic minorities in the city.”

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