‘Actions speak louder than words’: Soton students on the Uni’s BLM response

In light of racism on campus, students are accusing the uni of performativity

Southampton students are criticising the University and SUSU’s responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, accusing it of being “performative” and “disingenuous”.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining traction. There have been protests around the world, including in Southampton.

In response to the movement, Soton University changed their social media logos from a blue to a black background on Tuesday.

Yesterday, the Uni released a Twitter thread, saying: “The University of Southampton stands firmly against racism and violence towards members of the black and minority ethnic community both at our University and across the globe. Our University is committed to fairness and equality across all aspects of society and we strive to understand and correct for these inequalities.”

SUSU released a statement on Tuesday, saying they support the Black Lives Matter movement. It says: “SUSU stands with our Black community behind this movement and other movements dedicated to removing systematic oppression. SUSU is aware that racism exists on Southampton’s campus, and we cannot rely on our Black students to do the emotional heavy lifting, we must take action ourselves.”

However, for many Southampton students, these responses are simply not good enough. Students are accusing the University of being “performative“, saying: “Actions speak louder than words”.

These students cite instances of racism on campus. In particular, many drew attention to the investigation into Mayflower FC last year, in which it was concluded a group of students believed to be singing a racial slur were actually singing a player’s nickname.

At the time, the University released a statement, which said: “The investigation has concluded that the racist word was not used, and the students were actually singing the nickname of one of the team members.”

The University said auditory and technology experts were used to work out exactly what was said in the video, and the investigation’s conclusion was based on these findings as well as interviews with people who had been on the bus.

The students The Soton Tab spoke to believe the University is openly supporting the cause of Black Lives Matter “because it seems the right thing to do”, rather than actually supporting the movement through its actions.

This is what Soton students have to say about the Uni’s response to Black Lives Matter:

‘They seem like empty statements to protect the Uni’s image’

Jason Laryea

Jason Laryea, second year Politics and International Relations student at Southampton University, told The Soton Tab the Uni’s statements about the Black Lives Matter movement “seem like empty statements to me because when an actual situation was brought to their attention with evidence to support, there were no repercussions so these statements seem empty and just a front for social media to protect the University’s image.

“If they genuinely cared they would have properly handled the situation and given proper sanctions to all parties involved on the bus.”

Regarding the University’s handling of the Mayflower FC incident, Jason said: “I felt like they were dismissive of the entire situation even though evidence clearly showed the word was used. The use of the word was clear here and the students admitted to their mistakes.

“This made me feel as if the black proportion of students are simply just a statistic for the University to show they’re a Russell Group University who “cares” about black students, yet when actual situations like this happen that are disrespectful to us, we feel gaslit and silenced.

“Ultimately aside from feeling angry, it makes you lose trust in the University and the Union.”

‘Actions speak louder than words’

Mihir Dodhia, a second year Economics student at Southampton, said of SUSU’s statement: “It’s interesting how the SU didn’t support the black students of the University when this incident occurred and the students involved faced no disciplinary action.”

Mihir told The Soton Tab: “Firstly the [Mayflower FC] video speaks for itself. There are not enough words to describe how disgusting and vile it was but what this does tell us is how easily non-black people can get away with racist actions like this.

“It is very clear the n-word was used. I don’t buy the excuse they were chanting someone’s “nickname” because quite honestly that’s a very weird nickname to have especially when it sounds so similar to a racial slur that has terrorised African Americans for 400+ years. The individual who recorded it even made a statement apologising, so was that not enough for the university to take action?

“I don’t believe the University/SUSU did enough. They did not reach out their black students and quite honestly they did not call out the anti-black racism we all know exists but is not exposed enough. With the aftermath of this incident SUSU could’ve really used their platform to educate non-black students who make up majority of the university students but they failed to do that and did not do enough.”

“I believe SUSU do care about racism within the University but just feel their post is very disingenuous. Racism let alone police brutality has been happening for many years. The Black Lives Matter movement itself has been active since 2013 but the University now wants to call it out. Racism in the UK itself is thriving such as the Windrush scandal, police brutality and the failure of the events surrounding Grenfell Tower. But from my knowledge the University/SUSU are silent on these matters.

“Actions speak louder than words. They should be donating to many organisations that help empower black voices all over the world and encourage students/staff to donate as well by sharing pages and websites via all their communication tools. They also need to stop with the virtue signalling and start acknowledging the racial inequality within staff at the university and actively work to combat this issue.”

‘When it really matters they make their stance very clear, but on social media they say things to keep up appearances’

Fega Ibodje

Fega Ibodje, Law student at Southampton, told The Soton Tab: “When it really matters they make their stance very clear, but in the face of injustice on social media they say things to keep up appearances.

“The University of Southampton handled this situation inadequately, making politically correct statements and having “investigations” but not really getting into the real issue which is how black people are made to feel in society and within the education system for simply being black.

“Hundreds of people watched the Mayflower FC video and were able to decipher the offensive statements being made. Despite one of the boys in the video making a weak apology for being offensive, how then can they turn around and tell us nothing offensive was said? It’s disgusting. Why would they take away the opportunity for very important and necessary conversations to occur?”

“I believe statements are performative and until they start to make actual change and punish people who are racist and discriminatory then everything they are saying is useless. I believe a lot of institutions right now are seeing what happens to other institutions when they don’t make statements and are trying to save their necks so they don’t face the same wrath. It’s not enough. Words are not enough. We need action.”

‘The Uni has made a massive mistake, it’s so performative’

An anonymous Southampton student told The Soton Tab: “The University has made a massive mistake by tweeting such a thread. It seems all so performative in following what seems to be the right thing to do, instead of looking at themselves and the mistakes they have made this academic year.”

He says the Mayflower FC video “was disheartening but not surprising to say the least. The way the University has dealt with the investigation on a whole has been very poor. It gives me no faith whatsoever in how the University deals with discriminatory issues going forward.”

“If I were a victim of a similar situation I would expect the University to do exactly the same and dismiss the issue – as this is what has clearly been shown in one of many incidents. It would most definitely prevent me from coming forward to the University in particular, if it ever did happen to me, because all this has shown is they do not condemn those who have these awful deep-rooted issues against those of other races not just black.”

Regarding the University’s statement on social media, the student told The Soton Tab: “I try hard not to judge off social media posts because there is usually a lot of work done behind the media. This however is a poor attempt at trying to “support” a cause because it seems the right thing to do at this moment, but not actually from them truly caring.”

‘They want to appear to be pro-BLM without doing any of the work’

Amam Azike

Amam Azike, second year Law student at Southampton, told The Soton Tab: “The [Mayflower FC] video was terrifying and to see it done so blatantly even made things worse.

“You come to Uni and just automatically except to be protected and cared for in the very least and when it was reported we expected something to come out of it. Then it went into investigation, and all that for the University to basically say “sorry you heard wrong”? It was definitely a slap in the face.

“It was also a point of awakening. The Uni doesn’t care about its black students, and the whole thing drove the point home.

“SUSU on the other hand was completely irresponsible. They are aware of the impact they have on the student body, and they should’ve done more. There’s a lot more that could’ve been done by them but wasn’t. It’s disappointing to say the least.”

Because of all this, Amam believes the University and SUSU’s statements are “extremely performative”. She said: “They want to appear to be pro-BLM without doing any of the work.”

Instead, Amam thinks the Uni “could have started off with an apology, and then reopen the Mayflower FC case and punish everyone involved appropriately. This may seem excessive now because it’s in the past, but that’s only because justice wasn’t served in the first place.”

Amam says the Uni also “should’ve detailed how they’re going to support their black students, and the measures in place not only for students but for staff as well.”

In response to these accusations, a University of Southampton spokesperson said: “As our statement this morning made clear, we stand against all forms of racism and are proud to be part of an inclusive and diverse community in Southampton.

“We want all members of our community to be assured that any racist incidents or allegations of racism involving our students or staff will always be treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated as a matter of urgency.”

SUSU have been contacted for comment.

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