It has come to our attention that a series of incidents involving appalling racist and sexist content posted by Warwick students in an online group chat has recently been made public on social media, and that this which has led to an ongoing university investigation and the suspension of eleven students.
As a branch, Warwick UCU is committed to defend the right of students and our members to study and work without fear of harassment, bullying, or discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation, in line with the Equality Act 2010. As such, we are deeply concerned with the situation, which we strongly condemn, and would like to extend our support to the students who were targeted by those comments and we also hope that a swift and thorough investigation of the incidents takes place.
We also understand this incident to be both a student issue and a workplace issue – it is unclear whether some of these threats were directed toward students or teachers and other staff members of the university, but it is clear that this affects us all. We see these leaked chats is a wake-up call that demands both immediate and long term action to change the culture of our campus.
This is far from being the first such incident on campus in recent years. We therefore think it is imperative that the danger of racist, sexist and homophobic abuse be frontally acknowledged as a challenge which is faced on a regular basis by both students and staff. We also feel that, in a situation where there is evidently a mounting backlash against diversity and inclusivity, it is important that university leaders eventually initiate a campus-wide discussion on the implications of such situations. Several elements of university policy – Home Office regulations targeting students on Tier 4 visas, the implications of Prevent strategy, and the threats to academic freedom posed by proposed changes to Statute 24 – make us deeply concerned that the overall climate on campus is becoming more conducive to the discriminatory targetting of students and staff in positions of structural vulnerability. All this needs to be discussed openly and honestly. While the immediate need of the moment is sustained support for the students targeted by this appalling recent incident, we feel that an open conversation on the defects in a university culture which allows for such situations to arise is urgently necessary.
We note that at Exeter University a similar incident occurred which led to the establishment of a new Commission to put forth recommendations on how to ensure harassment and discrimination don’t happen on campus or, if they happen, that they’re properly dealt with. This new commission, led by the Provost, includes student representatives (president of Students’ Guild and rep of the African-Caribbean Society), and staff from the Equality and Diversity team, Race Equality Group, Women’s/Athena SWAN group, LGBTQ+ staff network, disabled staff, HR, colleges’ Equality reps, including union reps. We would ask that Warwick University implement a similar process, with the SU and Warwick UCU, to do everything we can to stop incidents such as these from happening again in the future.