St Andrews’ shallow response to Black Lives Matter proves it needs to do better

From performative activism to a lack of diversity

activism black lives matter blackout Tuesday blm st. andrews student response university

St Andrews did not acknowledge the BLM movement until Blackout Tuesday, which occurred on the 2nd June, eight days after George Floyd’s death. The silence from the university up until that point and the general perfomativity of the blackout Tuesday post shows just how shallow the uni’s attempt at solidarity really is.

Despite St Andrews being a university that prides itself on being the most international university in Scotland, many have been left feeling let down by the university’s response. Others are enraged that the university has such a strong platform to mobilise, but has done less than the bare minimum – days after blackout Tuesday we were sent an email which many found disappointing. A spokesperson for St Andrews has said “several BAME members of our community have responded warmly” to it, but that doesn’t invalidate the feelings of those who didn’t.

When the university did finally speak on the BLM movement, they did so with this post shared on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account:

View this post on Instagram

#BlackOutTuesday

A post shared by University of St Andrews (@uniofstandrews) on

Many students were rightly put out, the post was the bare minimum. A donation would have been appreciated. It’s not like the uni has done nothing in the last five years: In 2018, the university launched a BAME staff network, “with the purpose of providing a confidential forum to share knowledge and good practice through networking, solutions in policy/planning development.” This year it launched a Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Belief Equality Group, which deals with “any issues that are impacting differently on BAME members of the University community.”

Why then, do black students still feel undervalued? One student said black students are used as tokens by the university, leaving a comment which read: “As a black student in St Andrews I would have loved to see a meaningful statement from this is institution. Minorities are more than faces to put on your flyers please stand for something or embrace your silence this is almost disrespectful.”

Comments also highlighted issues such as a lack of diversity within the university, limited academic resources created by POC and the institutionalised racism that the university was built on, the latter of which the university has acknowledged is a problem it intends to tackle.

The activism highlights the lack of a drive by the university to enact change. Yes, they have partaken in Blackout Tuesday, but what next? How will they tackle racism within St Andrews? How will they increase the intake of black students? How will they ensure black students feel supported in St Andrews? All these questions need to be addressed formally by the university.

Maybe we won’t have to wait long for that day to come. The university has said it’s being more transparent this month, with the publication of “a comprehensive set of EDI statistics” set to include an Ethnicity Pay Gap, promotion gap for staff and participation, and a retention and attainment gap for students. The university is also conducting an audit into the curriculum so that “all students, including those who identify as BAME, see themselves reflected in the curriculum they experience at St Andrews.” Things are happening, but it’s taken far too long to get to this point. Is it any wonder students are disappointed?

Until then, the stats we have aren’t exactly flattering: In 2015, of the university’s UK domiciled students only 0.7 per cent were black. While this figure is slightly outdated, it is unlikely to vary greatly today. With such a small percentage of black students, how can the university be held accountable to speak on black issues?

In the university’s Equality Mainstreaming Interim Report, the academic year of 2018/19 BME undergraduate students comprised 9.9 per cent of the student body. However, there has not been a BME breakdown, so it proves difficult to find out how many of these are black students.

In 2018 only six of the professorial university staff were BME, compared to 199 white staff members. St Andrews evidently has an issue with a lack of diversity, which has been reflected in the opinions of many students.

“I don’t know a single black person at your institution who feels like a respected equal. Actions > words,” read a popular tweet. It urged the university to prove its sincerity in showing solidarity with the BLM movement, and doing more to diversify the student body.

A Facebook page called We Are St Andrews critiques the University’s lack of accountability for the current racial disparities which cannot be hidden by a weak attempt at allyship. The students are demanding answers, and hoping for clear initiatives to create a more diverse university community.

Ultimately, students want a proactive approach from the university in creating a more diverse and inclusive environment. Blackout posts and emails are veiled attempts at attracting positive publicity. This has failed and students are now speaking up to hold the university responsible for their shortcomings.

Transparency, clear objectives and accountability are all the students of St Andrews are asking for. A greater focus on diversifying student population and staff members would show the university’s commitment to ethnic and racial inclusion. In order to achieve this, the voices of students must continuously be heard. Even the university has admitted it needs to do better. From comments sent to The St Andrews Tab, it would appear steps are being taken and it’s about time. But this energy needs to be there next year, and the year after that.

A spokesperson for St Andrews said: “We recognise compounded levels of privileges across our institution. But before we can make progress towards addressing the systemic biases that exist at our University and beyond, we need to learn to understand the challenges around us at an individual, local and national level.

“The whole point of the message was to call on our community to prepare to meet this challenge – go read, go study, go learn. It falls on each and every one of us – staff and students – to recognise the impact of racialised privileges on individuals and on our wider academic family.

We are fiercely protective of the ideal that everyone in our community should feel respected, but especially those who have had to overcome discrimination and inequality and who still encounter this in their lives. Respect for each other is a fundamental value of this University.”

Important petitions to sign:

To encourage national change, sign this petition calling for changes in the education curriculum to include studies on racism and British history.

To donate to support anti-racism movements:

• Donate to the US BLM movement here.

• Donate to the UK BLM movement here.

• Donate to The Bail Project here.