The bigoted responses to renaming Sugar is only one part of racism in Lancaster

Even if microagressions may seem ‘micro’, they’re still invalidating and harmful

Since the renaming of The Sugarhouse was announced, not all the responses have been positive. Many of the negative responses are anonymous, spread across confession pages or were submitted to the Lancaster Tab. Even if these opinions weren’t what people consider to be explicitly racist, they were rooted in racist ideologies.

As a person of colour myself, I have dealt with racist microaggressions here, and many of my peers have dealt with far more. Almost every person of colour I have talked to has at least one experience of racism at the university.

Racism at university goes beyond a lack of representation within academia

People of Colour should not have to resort to permanent change to feel safe. This can have a huge toll emotionally, especially if you are a student.

I spoke to Lila, a first year who has had to move flats due to the racism she faced from flatmates. She stated: “I had three flatmates who would constantly harass me. One of those flatmates would constantly pronounce my name incorrectly.” She talked about how it was deliberate and asked him repeatedly to stop and use her nickname, but he ignored her and even said it behind her back.

She continued: “Since then I’ve had to move flats because of multiple other things those three have done… I think the worst part is that covid is already making everyone feel sad, so racism on top of that just makes life harder, especially when you’re stuck with those flatmates 24/seven.”

People often view racism as explicit malice and aggression, but it can take many forms

Even if microagressions may seem “micro”, they’re still invalidating and harmful. They are also incredibly common due to the underlying systemic racism that exists in British society.

It can be difficult for POC to open up about their culture. The word “weird” has been thrown around far too much than I would like, and I have also been interrogated by white people who seemingly wanted to prove if I was worthy enough to be open about my heritage.

I spoke to Emmanuel, who to opened up to a peer about cultural expectations of what he would study at higher education.

He said: “I said that this was something a lot of people from my background had experienced only for to say that this incident showed I didn’t have a rounded enough understanding for my own culture as someone from Nigeria and I’d only seen the suppressive elements: basically committing a huge microinvalidation.”

I have seen many incidents of microaggressive behaviour and hostility towards people of colour

I spoke to Sofia, a second year student, who reflected on how the C-slur was thrown around in discussion to Chinese takeaways. She said: “I had to have a really long conversation about how just because their Chinese friend back home says it’s okay doesn’t mean it’s okay.”

She also said: “Flatmates in first year made fun of my facial features-my nose, my eyes” and “This guy at uni once told me, “you’re super loud for an Asian girl. I thought you lot were quiet.””

There seems to be a trend from these accounts of racism within flats. Just because you’re somewhere private doesn’t mean racist behaviour is suddenly acceptable, and it is still racism whether it is said to a person of colour or not.

For example, she also discussed the racism her boyfriend had dealt with too. She said: “People in his flat have made cotton-picking jokes, not in his presence, and when confronted, they said it was a grey area because it wasn’t actually Racist (i.e., like using a slur).”

From this most recent quote, it is important to mention that white people cannot dictate what is and isn’t racism. As I mentioned before, many people see racism as something explicit and physically violent, but it can take any form. I think this is what majority-white authorities fail to understand.

White people need to realise calling out microaggressions or systemic racism is not an attack on them.

Many curriculums are incredibly whitewashed

There is still a long way to go in implementing a fully decolonised curriculum. The presence of the WIMCW campaign is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we are yet to reach that light.

Earlier in the year, I had a seminar in which people debated whether the murder of my ancestors was valid. Because it focused on someone who is often regarded as a “British Hero”, his actions were seen as morally ambiguous even though he killed thousands of Brown people. This kind of thing is not up to debate.

Many curriculums are whitewashed, with only small elements of non-white issues. I have talked to many students of colour who feel as if these non-white elements were not detailed enough. One lecture or one seminar about decolonising will not change much unless the whole curriculum is decolonised. Each step is a success, but you cannot declare that a curriculum is anti-racist until it is fully evaluated and changed.

While working with LUSU and other departments as an EDI champion, I have learnt of plans and ideas for implementing BAME reps. Though it may take time for these reps to be a full part of academic life, racism won’t wait for anti-racist institutions to be in place.

I am not saying that racism exists in this University and nowhere else

Lancaster is not alone in this. I am not saying that racism exists in this University and nowhere else. It is an institutional issue, no matter what the government says.

I believe that talking about these issues that are still present needs to be more normalised. Talking to my peers can be heartbreaking because racism can harm mental health so much. The smallest things can contribute to the generalised prejudice against non-white people and make them vulnerable to physical violence.

Going back to the responses to the Sugarhouse renaming,  it was shocking that so many people were not listening to Brown and Black people who felt connected to the issue. The university may be trying to improve but that does not mean everything can be solved instantly and the university needs to hold themselves accountable until they are fully anti-racist. Lancaster is not innocent.

University statement

A spokesperson for Lancaster University said: “Racism will not be tolerated at Lancaster and runs contrary to our values. We aspire to be an inclusive community where people are treated with dignity and respect and where no one is disadvantaged because of who they are.

“We actively encourage student input into our curriculum content and this, for example, will be a central aspect of the work in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences that has identified decolonising the curriculum as a Faculty signature project and will be seeking to support and build upon the existing work of the Decolonising Lancaster initiative. Work to continue to develop our teaching practice as ‘inclusive by design’ – including decolonising the curriculum – is highlighted as a priority in our new strategic plan and we have also taken steps to diversify our library collections. An example of this work incudes our Institute for Curriculum Enhancement discussion series, Facing Out, Facing In, which is running an event on May 11th ‘Why ‘decolonise’ the University?’.

“Anyone experiencing racism on campus will receive our full support and we encourage people to report incidents either through the Student Conduct Officer or anonymously via the Unisafe app, available on the iLancaster App. Emotional support is also available through the Student Wellbeing Co-ordinator or Counselling and Mental Health Service. Our Counselling and Mental Health Service can also provide advice and guidance on the options available and support students through any practical procedures, such as reporting an incident.”

Names have been changed to protect their identity.

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