My Racial Harassment on Campus: Britain Needs To Do More Aimed At Prevention

Whilst being a black undergraduate student at the University of Nottingham I was a victim to racial harassment on numerous occasions. The perpetrators of the racial harassment I experienced were in most cases some of my so called ‘friends’ who thought it their comments were just banter, when in reality for me it was no joke at all. I have decided to speak up about my experience of being a victim of racial harassment now I have realised that almost 1 in 3 black students experience it on British Campuses. A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has described that 29% of Black Students at British Universities have experienced racial harassment. EHRC has highlighted that black is the race which receives the greatest amount of racial harassment on campuses in Britain.

 

Before I go on to mention my own experience with racial harassment and what universities ought to prevent such harassment from occurring amongst its students, I want to clarify that precisely what is meant by the term ‘racial harassment’. My perpetrators may believe that their comments to me were just banter, nothing to be taken to heart. But this does not in any excuse them of their behaviour, justify why they acted like that or make them any less accountable. It just highlights that university students usually do not know how to distinguish between what racial harassment and banter is.

 

EHRC in their report makes it clear that according to the Equality Act 2010: a person harasses another if they engage in unwanted behaviour related to a relevant protected characteristic and the behaviour has the purpose or effect of:

 • violating the other person's dignity, or

• creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.

 

The protected characteristic in my case is my race, my blackness. I will provide some examples to illustrate the racial discrimination I experienced. Whether or not some of them appear to be banter or not, they are all in fact cases of racial harassment with me as the victim according to my interpretation of the Equality Act 2010. 

 

During my first year at the University of Nottingham I was on campus in a catered accommodation called Sherwood Hall. On a regular basis, the hall would increase the cultural diversity of the food served, and subsequently there was a Caribbean themed night. It was the worst Jerk Chicken and rice and peas I had tasted in my life I must admit. I appreciate the efforts made by the hall, but this night would do more harm than good intended! I remember hearing a friend spit out the food after barely one bite and say ‘ewww this is so disgusting, is this what black people eat at home for dinner?’. Regardless of whether that particular ‘friend’ liked the food or not, that friend humiliated and offended me, my Blackness and my Caribbean heritage, all in front of our whole entire friendship group. Keep reading as the harassment I experienced gets a lot worse than this comment alone which may not seem too serious to you and perhaps just a misunderstanding.

 

Like most Fresher’s at the University of Nottingham I was excited to move into a student house in Lenton for second year. I was originally intended to move into a racially diverse house of 8. But we struggle to find a house to accommodate such a large number. In the end I signed for a house with 3 Asians, making myself a racial minority in a group of ethnic minorities. At the time of signing it did not bother me, but this is something I would later question and perhaps even regret! A couple of months later I decided I wanted to change my hair from the European long straight hair extensions I wore at the time to something else. I deliberated with my friends about different hairstyles as indecisive philosophy student does, such as whether to get extension box braids (a hairstyle which is worn predominantly by Black women and girls). One of housemates said, ‘I will not live with you if you get dreadlocks.’ This created an intimidating kind of environment for me, as I felt as if I had been threatened that if I wore a natural black hairstyle that I would not be welcome in the house I was going to live in. It made me feel as if this friend did not want her family to know that she would be friends with a BLACK person with dreadlocks. It made me feel ashamed to even proud consider embracing my blackness, my identity.

 

What is the worst though is not the kind of stuff that is said to your face, rather it is the kind of stuff that is said behind your back when they think you cannot listen. Two of my housemates were watching Shrek in the living room, my bedroom was directly above this room, so I could hear EVERYTHING, all of their comments they would not want me to hear. One said to the other, ‘Don’t you think that ALL black people looked like Shrek?’ and the other agreed. This created an offensive and hostile environment for me, it made me feel as if they thought all black people were inherently ugly. I do not look like Shrek, my family do not, nor do my black friends. Shrek does not depict a black person, it is inspired by a real wrestler called Maurice Tillet who was WHITE.

 

And if you are wondering whether I was called the N word then the answer to that is YES. A friend of mine thought that just because they listened to Rap that there is nothing wrong with calling me a ‘Nigger’. This harassment really hurt the most out of all as a black person, not only because it trivialised the word ‘nigger’ despite the unforgettable and despicable history surrounding the word, but also because it made me feel as if I was being degraded due to my race. I could go on with more and more examples, like being called ‘Pretty for a Black Girl’ and so on. But the point is, the racial harassment that I experienced is something reoccurring.

 

I did not report any of the racial harassment I experienced to my university, like many students of racial harassment who fear that do not want to experience the stress that comes from making a report. Who would want the university to get involved if you have to live with the perpetrators of your racial harassment? Surely, that will make things worse for you, if you have to see that person who has a formal warning or disciplinary action every day because you spoke up against them? Plus, I will be honest like most students I had better things to do with my spare time like studying and socialising. We should not blame the victims like myself and say that those who experience racial harassment should have spoken up to stop it happening again. Why? Because honestly the harassment shouldn’t happen in the first place!

 

The Student Code of Discipline signed by every student before they enrol at the University of Nottingham mentions that any action of harassment is misconduct, which links to another link which outlines their policy on Harassment, Bullying & Victimisation. But do you think many of these students read this agreement before signing it? The answer to this is no. It is like the terms and conditions of iTunes, we all sign it, but we almost all will never take the time to read through it all.  The University of Nottingham did enough to educate its students in order to prevent racial harassment occurring in the first place. It hardly went out of its way to make clear to each and every student what harassment is and how to react when you experience or witness harassment. Yes, I knew that I could always talk to my personal tutor, or hall Warden if I had problems. But how can we report the problems in the first place if there is such a blurry line between banter and harassment? This kind of approach does not help, waiting for the problem to arise then solving it. Surely, we should be solving the problem by preventing the harassment happening in the first place?

 

I am currently doing my Master’s in Global Governance and Ethics at University College London (UCL). At UCL there is a university wide initiative to raise awareness the different forms of bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct and how to address it in their Active Bystander Programme. For students the Active Bystander Programme is a one off session which takes an hour and is compulsory. All universities across Britain, such as the University of Nottingham should have similar programmes which are compulsory for all of their students. I am certain that programmes like the Active Bystander one at UCL contribute to help make the difference between a student having a poor university experience subjected to harassment, and a student having a pleasant experience full of harmony. The reason for this is was harassment is prevented from the beginning, students gain a clear understanding of what harassment is and how to prevent themselves and others from committing any form of harassment.

 

Also, I would like to applaud the department of Political Sciences at UCL for having the voluntary role of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Student Representatives which works on finding out EDI issues and working with the department in order to make a positive change. It provides the opportunity for students themselves to contribute to the prevention of harassment on their own campus. This is the kind of role which is many departments in British universities lack but certainly should choose to adopt to take seriously the EDI issues which students face. Whilst victims of racial harassment do not want to tell their lecturers about it, perhaps letting a peer know about it may create a safe place to speak openly about it.

 

To summarise, as a victim of racial harassment I believe strongly that there should be more focus on prevention of racial harassment experienced by students on British campuses through raising awareness! This would be a great place for British universities to begin to tackle the racial harassment issue on campus.