Kent Union hosts on-campus racism panel with University Management

Image courtesy of: Aslan Ntumba

Kent Union welcomed University management to discuss anti-racist efforts being taken by the University in light of the recent worldwide BLM protests.

The panel discussion, which took place last Tuesday, was hosted by BAME Student Network Chair Stephen Kamara and Union President Sasha Langeveldt and involved questions from students being put to key heads of the University.

The Union President also outlined the Union’s roadmap on anti-racism moving forward: “What we want to do is continue this conversation, embed it in the University, and come up with solutions.”

The panel began by defining the key talking points of the forum, which was addressing intersectionality of identities, physical aggravated violence, microaggressions in services, and overt racism.

Ms Langeveldt then took this opportunity to announce Kent Union’s amendment to regulations over ‘unacceptable behaviour’ into a broader category of ‘hate incidents’, allowing better response to protected characteristics and a range of consequences for those found responsible.

She also stated that the Union is working to expand the already established Zero Tolerance Program at bars and clubs to include all types of harassment, as well as apply to accommodation.

Vice-Chancellor Karen Cox was quick to acknowledge that the university “has to do more” to address systemic microaggressions and racist actions within the body of staff.

She said: “I have to hold my hands up and acknowledge where we’ve fallen short.

“Only 11% of staff declare themselves as BAME and this is in no way reflective of our student body.”

This is around three to four times lower than the proportion of BAME students attending the University of Kent.

Director of Student Services Christina Hughes also said: “we’re not there, at Kent or in society, but the university is taking measures in some key areas to address issues.”

She pointed to the recruitment of new mental health advisors as a step in the right direction, with a focus on hiring individuals with a “particular kind of knowledge” to approach specific problems.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Education & Student Experience Richard Reece went on to state that the university is likewise aware of the attainment gaps the statistics on BAME students.

He said that the university has an “ambitious target for closing these gaps, but it takes time to work through the system.”

Student Questions and Answers

The floor was then opened to questions from students.

One of the most frequently asked questions was citicism aimed at the ‘tokenistic’ nature of University actions taken so far.

Student Success Project Manager Dave Thomas said that the University had done “A good job in a very difficult period.”

Mr Thomas also proposed that student voice was imperative to the University around informing its policy on the issue.

He also urged students to “hold the University to account” if they believe their commitments are not being met.

Significant time was also given to the discussion of student concerns towards campus security.

Responding to the question of how to report inappropriate behaviour by campus security, the head of Campus Security, Mark Arnold, advised students to “challenge” such behaviour if they see it and to then report it via InK or directly to him.

He said: “If you see something you think we aren’t doing right, tell the staff at the time, but by all means contact myself or the Deputy Head of Security Lisa Collinson.”

Mr Arnold also addressed a question regarding the recent removal of posters around campus that held slogans such as “what are you doing to make black students feel safe on campus?”.

The head of security stated that their removal was due to staff figuring out why the posters were there rather than having to do with the messages they displayed.

Mr Arnold also acknowledged that the security force is “predominantly white”, with only “four out of fifty” security personnel identifying as BAME, and “six out of fifty” identifying as female.

He stressed that as “security takes up less than 50%” of the work his team does, citing the frequency and importance of tasks such as “mental health services,” their focus is on hiring “problem solvers” best suited to these responsibilities.

The Union have created a survey through which students can submit their experiences of racial harassment at Kent, which can be found on their page.

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