BBC Three documentary uncovers racism at Cardiff University

Racism allegations Cardiff University
Allegations: A new documentary claims Cardiff University has an issue with racism. Credit: Scarlett Griffiths
BBC Three documentary 'Is Uni Racist?' has uncovered allegations of racism at British universities, including at Cardiff University.

By Tirion Davies | Editor-in-Chief

A BBC Three documentary due to be released today, called ‘Is Uni Racist?’, has uncovered that while British Universities are some of the most prestigious in the world, some, including Cardiff University, have a history of racism which greatly impacts its students of colour. 

The documentary, led by reporter Linda Adey, investigates the experiences of black and ethnic minority students at universities across the UK, and investigates what happens to these students when they complain about racist abuse. The universities in question include Cardiff University, University of Manchester, and Oxford University. 

The documentary finds that many of the students who face racism often choose not to report the incidents, with universities often having complicated and unclear complaint systems for students. Many of the students who spoke with Linda Adey noted that their university did not have a complaints system for racism, and that they would often have to provide evidence or justification for why the act they experienced was racist. 

For students at Cardiff University, the documentary has unveiled the extent of racism against staff and students within the university.  

In 2016, Cardiff University medical students performed their annual revue. Though, the 2016 revue showed students darkening their faces in order to portray a member of staff of African heritage. In 2017, an Independent Review Panel at Cardiff University discussed the issue of racial inequality within Cardiff School of Medicine, and announced that a student of African descent, and a parent both reported the revue, Anaphylaxis, to Cardiff University. The initial complaint was soon followed by an additional 7, in addition to complaints of misogyny and homophobia, which ultimately led to a formal investigation from Cardiff University. 

‘Is Uni Racist?’ alleges that the identities of those who made complaints were not kept entirely anonymous, leading to further racist attacks, with one victim creating a fundraiser to fund a lawsuit against Cardiff University. It is alleged that the students involved have still yet to see the apology letters from those involved in the racist abuse. 

BBC Three obtained a copy of the script, and the programme depicts an animatic version of the play, with actual lines from the play included in the programme. 

The documentary raises questions surrounding racial inequality within universities – an issue some believe is no longer relevant. However, an expert from Universities UK claims that there continues to be a concern that universities are institutionally racist, with many staff members and students from various universities across the UK continuing to report racism every year. 

Mustakim Hasnath, a journalist who uncovered the story and aided in the development and production of the documentary, noted his findings of racism and racial inequality at universities, stating,

“We have seen a pattern [in recent years] of the way universities are careful to present themselves on social media. They are very quick to respond to movements such as Black Lives Matter to note they condemn racism, though many of the students we spoke to still note that racism and racial inequality within universities are rarely recognised. 

“It’s concerning how widespread this problem is. It’s leading to students struggling with their mental health, but it can also have a big impact on their future careers.”

In response to the allegations raised in the documentary, a Cardiff University spokesperson has stated, 

“The play, which took place in February 2016, included racist content and characterisation. 

“We deeply regret the student-led play took place and the pain and upset it caused our students and staff. 

“As a University we didn’t seek to hide this serious racist, homophobic, sexist, EDI incident, and took immediate action to suspend those involved from clinical practice, we formally investigated and took 32 medical students through our Fitness to Practice procedures”. 

In response to the allegations that the University’s response to the incident was inadequate, a Cardiff University spokesperson ensured,

“We recognise that we failed to foresee the depth of reaction and feeling amongst the medical cohort of students. We also recognise that we were unable to influence or intervene in a manner that was able to prevent the very deep hurt caused by the breakdown in friendships and peer group relationships that we know impacted so heavily on some members of the complainant group.

“However, we did seek to keep students advised of the process and sought to deal with any issues raised fairly, in accordance with the relevant University policy and in line with duties of care to both our staff and students. 

“We have since established our Disclosure Response Team, a team of specialist University staff trained to respond to disclosures of violence and abuse and established our Race Equality Supervisory Panel, to raise awareness of race equality, provide advice on relationships between staff and students and further encourage the reporting of racial harassment. 

“The issues of racism raised by the event are taken extremely seriously, and at the most senior level of the organisation as we continue to work to ensure a cultural transformation across the University”. 

Cardiff University maintains that apology letters written by students involved in the play were made available in full for the reporting students to read. 

The University has since created the Strategic Equality Plan 2020-2024, which includes actions to develop “an inclusive curriculum that will reassess the learning environment and content of programmes”.

The documentary is available now on BBC iPlayer. 

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