Just last week, the government released its sixty-odd page Race Disparity Report, commissioned by the Prime Minister Theresa May early on in her tenure. The main takeaway, as the report’s name handily notes, was the general trend of disparity between minority experiences across the board: from education and housing to employment and health.
The ‘shock’ revelation that that Britain could be institutionally racist would likely fail the plagiarism test on Turnitin. This is no novel conclusion here – in fact, this isn’t even the first report this decade to say this (we do live in the centre of the former Empire).
One part of the report notes that some ethnic minority students outperform their white counterparts in attainment levels in compulsory education (GCSEs). Interestingly, this doesn’t necessarily translate to further education – studies of UK universities imply an attainment gap in terms of university performance across the UK with respect to ethnicity. On top of this, curricula often lack an inclusive approach – the recent changes to the Oxford history course come to mind. Here at Imperial, though, raising these kinds of concerns can often be tricky: as a STEM university, excuses like ‘race has no place in science’ and ‘we don’t do that humanities bs’ are very much used in order to avoid conversations that are necessary for the College to improve. One of the more fashionable excuses is the inability to see race (‘I don’t see colour’), usually done in an attempt at appeasement. This, though well-meaning, can be the worst thing to do – refusing to notice or acknowledge a person’s race and ethnicity is in effect wilfully erasing part of their identity.
“How can we claim to be a global institution when the university isn’t reflective of the globe?”
This ability to completely ignore race in a situation is in itself something that can only be afforded to people for whom race has no impact on their way of life – for many, their life experiences are defined by not just their cultural background, but the awareness of being ‘other’ in their home community. Sadly, wilful ignorance of this sort is why we often describe racism in the UK as being institutional; it arises from apathy as opposed to action.
The College’s mission statement and vision incorporate the notion of being not just a world-class university, but a global one. But how can we claim to be such an institution when the university isn’t reflective of the globe?
This is not implying that Imperial must suddenly and abruptly change its admissions policies to ensure equal representation of ‘the races’ according to global standards (that borders on positive discrimination, which by the way is illegal in the UK), but we do need to reconsider how we are perceived, how we engage prospective students, and how we facilitate current students’ experiences in striving for this excellence.
For information on what’s happening at the Union over Black History Month, check out http://bit.ly/2gn5tQ4 . If you have any suggestions you’d like to see, hit Chimdi up at icubme@ imperial.ac.uk