By Charlotte King
On Friday 28th June, a group of university students joined forces with Stand Up to Racism Cardiff to protest against alleged institutional racism at Cardiff University on the steps of the Students’ Union.
The students gathered to protest alleged racial comments made by members of university staff towards BME students and to protest the university’s response to the recommendations of the Bhugra report following an investigation into racial equality in the Medical School in light of the ‘Anaphylaxis’ play put on in 2016.
The protest occurred in conjunction with the release of a document called ‘Sense of Institutional Racism at Cardiff University’ which outlined the details of ‘Anaphylaxis’ and the university’s handling of complaints made by students. The document also included testimonies from students condemning university staff members for racism, for example the document alleged that one student was told to comb their hair because “it’s not professional”.
At the event, a former Cardiff University lecturer announced that the protesters had two asks of the university: firstly, they request that Cardiff University formally recognises that “there is a culture of institutional racism” within the university which they believe prevents the institution from providing adequate services to all students; and secondly, they ask that the eight black students who were affected by ‘Anaphylaxis’ receive their apology letters from the students who took part in the play.
Speaking at the protest, former student Sahar Al-Faifi stated that there is an “insidious racism” and “institutional, structural islamophobia” that is being “pushed constantly by the university and by the Students’ Union”, and calls for Cardiff University to become “welcoming and inclusive of all people of colour, race and sexual orientation”.
Amr Alwishah, former VP Welfare, spoke at the protest and stated that, “time and time again, black and minority ethnic students have been silenced by this institution” and believes it is time to call out the university as “institutionally racist, institutionally islamophobic and institutionally discriminatory”.
Fadhila Al Dhahouri, former SU President, was also present at the protest, announcing that she “[wants] to bring justice” to those students affected by ‘Anaphylaxis’ and see their apology letters given to them.
Members from Stand Up To Racism Cardiff were also in attendance to stand in “solidarity” with Cardiff University’s BME students. In a statement from the group, it said that Stand Up To Racism Cardiff found the university’s response to ‘Anaphylaxis’ “disturbing” and suggest they feel the university is not taking students’ concerns seriously. They emphasise that universities “must ensure that victims [of racist incidents] are fully supported and receive justice”.
Abyd Quinn Aziz, Cardiff Uni University and College Union equality representative, spoke to Gair Rhydd and said that whilst he supports the movement against institutional racism within Cardiff University, he understands that the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of the university want to release the apology letters but legally they cannot. However, he stated that it is important for students to speak up against what they perceive to be injustice within the university because staff “want to hear what it actually feels like for students”.
Cardiff Uni UCU also pledged their support for the protest and for students fighting alleged institutional racism at the university, urging senior university staff to listen to the demands of students for greater transparency when dealing with complaints about racism; public condemnation of racist actions by staff and students; and mental health support for BME students in line with the support provided for LGBT+ students, amongst other demands.
The Students’ Union published a statement in response to the protest and allegations of racism within the Students’ Union itself, saying that it “stands against any form of discrimination within education and wider society” and “Cardiff University’s Students’ Union has a proud history of campaigning for equality and for a more fair and just society, and we will continue to do so in the future” and that they “strive to ensure that all students have positive experiences throughout all that they do”.
In response to ‘Anaphylaxis’ and the Bhugra report’s recommendations, Cardiff University stated that they are “committed to ensuring that offensive stereotyping of any person, or groups, is actively discouraged” and will take additional measures to improve student and staff awareness of policies which reinforce the discouragement of offensive stereotyping.
Additionally, a Cardiff University spokesperson has said, “Cardiff University recognises that racial inequality affects people at every level of society” and the university is currently “gathering and analysing” evidence of racial inequality to enable the institution to understand where it currently stands. They continue to say, “we do take allegations of racism extremely seriously” and state that all allegations are thoroughly investigated with appropriate action taken.