It shouldn’t take the Varsity banana-throwing incident to acknowledge Sheffield Uni has a racism problem
After 11 days, the university say they are still investigating the incident
When Sheffield Students’ Union was recognised as the number one SU in the UK for the 10th year running, flyers were littered around campus and sponsored social media advertisements bombarded my Facebook newsfeed proclaiming the achievement. They couldn't shout about it loudly enough.
However, when news breaks of a Sheffield student throwing a banana at black Hallam student at Varsity, they're suddenly lost for words.
The statement they gave to us condemns the incident and says they're investigating it. However 11 days after the event the uni say they are still investigating. The hockey team say they've reported the incident themselves to the university. Does this mean they've identified the person who threw the banana to the uni? Whether they have or not, how does the investigation take more than 11 days? Are the uni simply waiting until everyone forgets about what has happened?
As the countless awards show, the SU is fantastic at reflecting popular demand. But it, alongside the university, continues to fail students from marginalised groups with great consequence, and complete culpability.
Above all, the SU and university have failed its Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community, and have shown little evidence of challenging the toxic whiteness of campus. This is despite the repeated efforts of under-resourced and overworked students, such as those involved in the BME representative committee, and the few staff members for whom inclusivity, tolerance and liberation are more than just buzzwords.
The recent, sickening banana throwing incident at Varsity shows the absolute neglect by our institution towards people of colour. When such a toxic, white supremacist, racist culture is allowed to fester in our community, be that our lectures and halls, societies and sports clubs. So much so that any student believes it is okay to throw a banana at a black person, then we must acknowledge that something has gone massively, massively wrong.
With similar incidents occurring at Nottingham Trent, Exeter and Bournemouth, the onus is most definitely on the university and SU to begin living by the supposed values they claim to be proud of, and are extremely quick to market.
Abdullah Okud, President-elect of Sheffield Hallam SU, said the response by the University of Sheffield was not enough and demanded mandatory anti-racism and cultural sensitivity awareness training provided for all sports teams as well as sports officers.
When the Students' Union attitude to liberation (supporting groups on campus who are marginalised in wider society) is objectively assessed, it becomes clear that while its obligation is to change perspectives on social oppressions, the SU will instead focus on selectively choosing (and discarding) elements of liberation campaigns where they are able to successfully marry virtue-signalling, marketable branding and commercial viability.
Whether student leaders and management like it or not, the SU has a responsibility to ensure that it's serious about placing liberation struggles, each and every one of them, at the heart of our Union.
It has a responsibility to ensure there is a genuine effort across the university to decolonise our curriculum. It has a responsibility to provide and allocate sufficient resources to student-led campaigns that assist it in its obligation to educate and raise awareness, be that financial, temporal, manual or otherwise.
And spare me the ‘Varsity Oath’, which promised "fair play, pride, respect and sportsmanship". Especially since our SU doesn't endorse the NUS' ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign against the government's 'Prevent' initiative, which selectively targets suspicion at people of colour and Muslims, simply for being ill or politically active.
When students of colour are let down by the overwhelming whiteness of our salaried leadership, senior leadership team and support staff, how can the SU claim to be true to its supposed values of inclusivity or combating racism?
When out of our Students' Union last 40 elected officers, only one was black, when for such a progressive institution supposedly committed to leading social change, there has only been one black president in decades, it could not be more clear that we are in desperate need of change.
What is truly sad is that it took an incident as despicable as a racist attack against a black student to occur for people to accept that there is a very real problem in our SU and university as a whole.
The NUS' Black Students' Officer, Ilyas Nagdee, told The Tab:
"This is yet another story in a string of incidents across the country that have brought to the forefront the horrific reality of racism on our campuses. Unfortunately, this is the day-to-day experience of students of colour across the country and it has been going on for decades."
In a world where students are treated as cash-cows and with the increased marketisation of our educational institutions, maybe our only hope is the negative publicity hurts the uni's bank balance enough to force them into action.
But I, alongside my BAME siblings, don’t care for your profit margins. Even one student who feels it is okay to throw a banana at a black person is one too many. This is a call to action, to come together and organise, to get involved and lead campaigns in what is our university, and our union.
Because change isn’t given from above, it is won from below.