‘My university likes to brush racism under the carpet’ – Why Edinburgh’s complaints process is preventing students from speaking out
Haddy Jeng didn’t hear back for months after experiencing group chat racism
When Haddy Jeng got back from the Political Sciences Ball last March, she climbed into bed to reminisce about one of the best nights of her first year.
It was almost 4am, just as she was falling asleep ready for an early shift at work the next day, when she noticed a video had been sent to the group chat for her block at Salisbury Court, the student halls she was living in.
It was an animated song video that repeated the lyric "I hate the n-word" whilst joking about black stereotypes, including derogatory statements about the Obamas.
Over the next two months, Haddy went through the laborious process of reporting the incident to the university, which caused her undue stress during the busy deadline and exam period. Though the case has now been resolved, she still hasn't found out what punishment the person who sent the video received. Unsatisfied and disappointed, she then took to YouTube to tell her story, in the hope social media would spread the word about the racism she feels is entrenched in university life.
"I felt like I was waiting for a racist attack to happen"
After the video had been sent, Haddy stayed awake, immediately feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome in her university home.
"I felt like I was waiting for a racist attack to happen", Haddy said. "About 500 people live in Salisbury Court in total, but in my year of living there I only saw about five other black people. I was the only BME person in the group chat".
The person who had sent the video was living in the flat next to her. After sending the video he promptly left the chat claiming he'd been "hacked". Nobody else in the group spoke up or called out the video for being racist.
The next day, Haddy took action. Feeling "claustrophobic and uncomfortable" in Salisbury Court, she contacted her warden and RA, who arranged for her to be moved to emergency accommodation in Pollock that night.
The complaints process was "long, tedious and annoying"
In the wake of similar racist incidents at Nottingham Trent and Exeter, Haddy, a second year International Relations student and President of the African Caribbean Society, was not going to let the issue slide. With the help of EUSA's Advice Place, she submitted a report to the police as well as an official complaint to the university.
"After drafting and redrafting my complaint several times I finally sent it off to the uni", Haddy told The Tab Edinburgh. "But two weeks later I was contacted by an investigator and I had to expand on everything again. I felt I had to play the same video 200 times."
Haddy had to complete the "long, tedious and annoying" complaint process, and go back and forth between the university and the investigating body countless times – all in the midst of the busy deadline and exam season. This had an adverse effect on Haddy's grades and intensified the already stressful period of the year. "Even though I managed to pass, I didn't pass as well as I could have" she said.
"You, as the victim, are doing most of the work"
Haddy feels that the university's complaint process is inherently flawed, and that it deters victims of hate crimes from reporting them – and her experience is far from unusual. "There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. It makes it feel like you, as the victim, are doing most of the work", she commented.
"I know people who have had experiences of racism at Edinburgh and instead of submitting a complaint they've just let it blow over – and I understand why. You wouldn't want to go to the university because you'd have to go through all these hoops. It's easier to forgive and forget – to ignore it and pretend it never happened. If something like this happened to me again, I would just take straight to social media."
Haddy didn't hear back from the university until two months after she had submitted the initial complaint, and only after she had chased them up asking for the conclusion for the investigation. She never found out the details of the final outcome, or what punishment was given.
"They told me that the student was punished, but because of privacy regulations I can't find out what exactly happened to him. I don't know what kind of punishment he got."
How diverse really is the University of Edinburgh?
In Haddy's eyes, the inefficiency of the complaints process and the stress it creates for the victim is only proof of the wider racism problem at the University of Edinburgh – an institution that, in recent years, has been found to have the lowest percentage intake of black students of all the Russell Group universities at just 0.7 per cent.
"My university like to brush things like racism under the carpet. There's no clear stance of non-tolerance and non-acceptance. Instead, there's a culture of not acknowledging that racism actually happens."
Clearly the system needs remodelling – so that it will actually support and encourage BME and other minority students to speak out about the hate crimes they may encounter in such an overwhelmingly white university environment. Haddy is just one of those students pushing for recognition.
"The university likes to hide behind their international statistics. Fine, you might have a large percentage of international students, but when you break down the demographics, do you actually have diversity?"
A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “We are committed to providing an environment in which all members of the University community treat each other with dignity and respect. Our Code of Student Conduct sets out clear expectations of behaviour.
"The University takes all allegations of discrimination very seriously and we always seek to investigate these thoroughly. On occasion, delays can occur in resolving such complaints, but we would always endeavour to avoid these where possible. Owing to data protection legislation, we are unable to disclose the details of any penalty imposed as a consequence of any complaint case.”
If you have experienced racism at the University of Edinburgh and want to tell your story, please get in touch at [email protected]