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#ThreeYearsThreeAsks: Cardiff University responds to open letter from BME Students

By Indigo Jones

On the 14th of March 2019, an open letter was posted on Twitter marking three years passing since ‘Anaphylaxis’, a medical school play. The play incorporated ‘Black Face’, as a student portrayed a black member of the academic staff.

This portrayal offended numerous BME students, thus leading to several complaints in regards to the play.

Natatasha Chilambo, a former medical student at Cardiff University, transferred Universities following the impact Anaphylaxis had on her life. She took to Twitter to share the open letter.

Natasha told Gair Rhydd: “I think Cardiff University should reflect on how it treats BME students and staff”.

“Does [Cardiff University] really value them in the same way it values other students?”

The open letter discusses this lack of equality and institutional racism that BME students face in the University. They believe this is apparent after Anaphylaxis.

Natasha continued to discuss that she felt that the University did not value her in the same way as other students, which became evident following the medical play.

The letter called “for the University council to consider the following recommendations summarised as Reveal, Recognise and Restore”. This was emphasised by the hashtag #RevealRecogniseRestore.

These recommendations included revealing the apologies of the 32 students involved in the play and also the progress which has been made since then.

Unfortunately, due to Data Protection and Fitness to Practise regulations, the university is unable to publish the apologies of the 32 students who were involved in the play, which the open letter originally asked to be revealed.

The letter then asked the University to recognise the effect the event had on BME students and staff, as well as acknowledging that the actions of those who took part in the play were in fact racist.

Lastly, they suggested restoring a sense of support for BME students, including a single point of contact.

Chilambo explained: “I would like to know if the University is interested in really hearing what students are asking for concerning their BME experiences within the University”

“It is my hope that no student or staff, who is like me, feels as undervalued as I felt as a student in the Cardiff Medical School”.

At the time of the play, Gair Rhydd investigated Racism at University and the allegations made. Within the investigation they mentioned the recommendations made to the University outlined in the original internal investigation.

These recommendations included increasing the diversity of University Staff and actively discouraging the stereotyping of any person, or group.

They also suggested clarifying the structures of The Equality and Diversity Initiatives within the University and The Medical School, whilst also providing all university staff with regular training in diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation.

Lastly, they suggested improving the complaints procedures, ensuring there are clear guidelines for someone wishing to make a complaint about racism.

The Chair of Council, Stuart Palmer, responded to the open letter on the 20th of March. He stated: “I would like to take this opportunity to stress the University’s commitment to an ongoing dialogue about race “.

Palmer then went on to emphasise the progress the University has made since Anaphylaxis, this includes the University appointing a Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, “who has taken forward the race equality agenda as part of the role” .

He continued by discussing how the Medical school: “worked with an external reconciliation organization, Wales Restorative Approach Partnership (WRAP) to develop a programme of support and reconciliation for the affected year group”.

In response to the letter’s ‘Restore’ section, Palmer discusses the University’s work with the Vice President for Welfare, Amr Alwishah, and how they plan to develop a BME Student Support Plan.

This would then include: “the convening of a peer support BME student focus group, with the aim of developing sustainable approaches that promote better health, wellbeing, mental health and transition to university”

Although, Palmer demonstrated the University’s transparency whilst dealing with such a sensitive issue as he stated he is on the other hand, “happy to make the full report on our actions available and would also like to reassure you that our commitment is ongoing”.

The University’s response concluded with a quote from Professor Dinesh Bhugra of Kings College London, who lead the original internal investigation in 2016.

The quote comes from 2017 following Bhugra’s original report: “The University should be commended for taking such a proactive step and its commitment to independent scrutiny, openness and transparency.”

“It has been a complex situation which the School of Medicine and the University responded to in a fair and suitable manner…we are encouraged by the extremely positive way the University – at all levels – engaged with our work and its clear commitment to equality and diversity.”

Palmer himself concluded the response by: “reassuring BME students that they are welcome and valued at Cardiff University. We constantly strive to be a diverse and inclusive community”

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