‘Insulting and disrespectful’: Students react to St Andrews’ attempt at solidarity
‘Although we are a minority, we still deserve respect
On Thursday, St Andrews emailed all students with a message of solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
Principal Mapstone titled the email ‘St Andrews Covid-19 Update 4 June’ and briefly mentioned Covid-19 before attempting to reach out in support of its students following the recent events in America.
This email followed the university’s participation in Blackout Tuesday.
However, the St Andrews Tab has spoken to students at the university who have taken issue with some of the language in the message and have accused the University of making a performative gesture:
‘The email received this morning is an insult’
Talia Jackman said “the email received this morning is an insult, not only to the black students of St. Andrews, but everyone supporting the BLM movement and striving for equality.” The University of St. Andrews responded to this saying “several BAME members of our community have responded warmly and with thanks for the email.”
The email stated that “tweets and statements in themselves will not change the world, but fact and argument can.” Talia responded to this, saying “the dismissal of the usefulness of social media highlights how out of touch the university has become.” She also said social media is “an incredibly powerful tool for changing mindsets”, emphasizing that it is vital for the next generation.
Talia urged Principal Mapstone to apologise for her use of the phrase “for the most part, you can breathe” in the email. This phrase is closely linked to the last words from George Floyd. Talia told the St Andrews Tab that “it is objectively inappropriate for a person in her position to be making puns on the last words of a dying man.”
In response, a University of St Andrews spokesperson said “we’re deeply sorry for any unintended offense caused to some students, and humbled by the warm responses from others who found the intended meaning. What we were trying to acknowledge was that for the most part, we are a white university and most of our students have never experienced the sort of discrimination and intolerance which the death of George Floyd, and the BLM movement, have brought into such sharp and difficult relief.”
Talia stressed that the language is “incredibly offensive to the black students of St Andrews.” She finished by saying “although we are a minority, we still deserve respect.”
“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”, said a spokesperson for the University in response to this comment.
‘No message of support to the students of colour’
Satene Fenton says the email “fails to recognise the privilege white students have at the university and in their hometowns compared to their black counterparts.” Despite stating that the university values “equality, diversity and inclusion”, Satene said that the email sent by the Principal fails to address the key issues and the “whole point of the movement.” The University told the St Andrews Tab they “recognise compounded levels of privileges across out institution” and defended the email as way to call on the community to “meet this challenge” and encourage people to “go read, go study, go learn”.
Satene also commented on the phrase in the email, “for the most part, you can breathe.” She said it was “insulting and distasteful”, and that it “does not properly acknowledge the racial inequality still present in the university’s structure from the students to staff in the highest of places.”
When asked for comment on this, the University observed that they were part of “an establishment which has perpetuated the structures which support discrimination.” They have a strategy in place to “address those inequalities” which includes full diversity being “a key pillar of the University Strategy”.
The SU President sent out an email Wednesday evening offering “resources on fighting racism”. Satene told the St Andrews Tab she felt the information focuses too much on education and does not put anything in place “to protect and support black students.”
The University emphasised that they did not “agree at all that there is nothing in place”, defending the “several significant steps” taken by the University to support black students. These included launching the “University’s first Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Belief Equality Group” and the “University’s first Staff BAME Network”.
Satene felt overall that the email was aimed at the white student population and failed to support the students of colour.
A Call for ‘Progress’
Prince Chikoma said he would prefer to see “something come out of this email” and that “actual progress is made” as a result.
The University of St Andrews defended their position saying that they are planning to publish “a comprehensive set of EDI statistics to share them with our community and to ensure as wide an engagement with them as possible” later this month. Additionally, in order to make sure the curriculum is “reflective of the students”, the University has “begun an audit of the inclusive curriculum initiatives currently active across the University, with a focus on practice which aims to enhance the curriculum with respect to race and ethnicity.”
Overall Prince said he thought it was good to see an email being sent out, but that the timing was a result of the backlash they faced after they were accused of “saying nothing”.
In response to all of these accusations from students, a University of St Andrews spokesperson stressed “the University has received many responses to the Principal’s email, the majority of them very positive, and many of these from BAME members of our community”.