We need to sort out the gross under-representation of BAME people at Leeds Uni
I’ve been stared at in pubs, told ‘you don’t look like you’re from round here’ and that ‘you don’t sound like a black fella’
During my three years at The University of Leeds, I’ve never been taught by a black professor.
This is even more significant when most of my History modules during my undergraduate degree concerned race and colonialism. While they were excellently taught, I couldn’t help but dismay at the lack of BAME representation.
It’s telling that the very first module aimed at researching Black British history was held for the very first time this semester. My coursemates and tutors alike lamented the fact that while this module was being taught, the uni didn’t employ a professor with specific academic expertise in the topic.
While my story is anecdotal, it’s symptomatic of a much wider issue in Leeds, and in academia as a whole
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the recent controversy surrounding Leeds Uni and a series of falsified screenshots that depict the Uni supposedly condoning racism. In response, the uni’s Twitter account tweeted that “We stand with the Black community because #BlackLivesMatter.”
Out of interest, does the University of Leeds employ any black professors? Because in the three years I have been studying here I have not been taught by or seen a single one – even on modules directly linked to the subject of race.
— pez 🍞🇬🇭 (@periuspb) June 3, 2020
But what about the Black academic community in Leeds?
The stats are dire. Out of 3,785 academic staff at the University of Leeds, only 40 of their full-time academics are black, The Gryphon reports. Perhaps even more worryingly, out of the professors that disclosed their ethnicity, 15 were Asian, five were mixed race and none were black.
In 2018, the pay gap between White and Black members of staff of stood at 39 per cent
Don’t even get me started on the city as a whole. Any ethnic minority will tell you of the rampant racial profiling by bouncers on nights out. I’m often singled out from my majority white friend group, asked who I came with, and roughly searched. I’m not exaggerating. It would probably be easier to count the number of times I’ve not had issues with bouncers on a night out.
I’ve also had frequent run-ins with Leeds locals. I’ve been stared at in pubs, told “you don’t look like you’re from round here” and that “you don’t sound like a black fella.”
The police aren’t much better. I’ve frequently been stopped and asked where I’m going, where I’ve come from and what I’m up to. These are only a handful of my experiences, but I challenge you to find a minority who hasn’t experienced similar discrimination.
I wasn’t quite sure about writing this, until a friend noted that as a result of the current climate, white people are currently highly perceptive to black voices. On one hand I thought, this is great, never in my lifetime has there been such open discourse on racism. But then I thought, why now?
Why is it necessary for minorities to utilise tragedy in order to be heard?
These problems existed long before Black Lives Matter was trending and BAME students have been speaking out about under-representation in unis for years. So, what can we do to help address the problem?
I’m only able to speak for the University of Leeds, but universities across the country have all made statements supporting the BLM movement and BAME representation. Have they backed it up with action? I’m unsure.
It’s only through putting pressure on our institutions to put their money where their mouth is and take steps towards rectifying their issues of representation that we can begin to tackle the issue of diversity within universities.
‘Performative wokeness’ is not enough
Most importantly, it’s not enough to support the cause when it’s popular. Ask yourself, will you still be supporting the cause next week? Next month? Next year?
When Black Lives Matter falls out of the current news cycle, these problems will still exist.
Advocating for greater diversity year-round sounds exhausting right? Imagine how tired we are.
I’m not suggesting for you to camp outside the Chancellor’s office until they wave their magic wand and fix the diversity issue, but it’s important that people understand that these problems have existed for years, and will continue to exist until we apply real pressure to our universities. Sign petitions, email your departments, support the UCU – those are real, concrete steps you can take in joining the fight for equal representation.
If you’re not actively challenging instances of racism when you witness them, you’re part of the problem
Now, I’m not encouraging you to fight the battles of your BAME friends, nor am I encouraging you to start a fight with the seven foot bouncer that thinks he’s GI-Joe. Rather it’s more to do with stopping the normalisation of racism. Call out your friends who use racial slurs in public or in private. Be an ‘active witness’ when you see a minority being harassed by the police or bigots. Read up on allyship and antiracism – there’s currently plenty of resources online.
There isn’t a quick-fix to the issue of representation in universities, and we certainly can’t fix the wider issue of racism in wider society overnight. What we can do is call out our institutions and hold them accountable. Collectively it’s our job to make sure that our universities don’t just talk the talk, but they walk the walk too.
Note: I use the catch-all BAME acronym throughout this article, but it’s important to acknowledge that it’s also problematic. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people aren’t a monolith, and we all experience racism differently. However, for the purposes of this article it’s a useful classification.