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Education

Time To Talk About It: Racism At University

Every year, over 2.5 million students attend universities across the United Kingdom, with Black and ethnic minority students accounting for half a million of the total. A place where students from all backgrounds come to learn and have fun, but where recent surges in racially abusive behaviour from staff and students are becoming a subject of concern for many, however, data shows a low number of incidents being reported but why is this?

This may be due to the fact that these students believe that the university will not take sufficient action or that this will affect their studies. Students also complain that their complaints were mis-handled by the university and often never known the outcome of disciplinary for their aggressors due to data- protection policies. Universities believe that this issue is being dealt with due to the data however the data is misrepresented as the incidents are not consequently being reported.

Statistics from BBC three’s ‘Is Uni Racist?’ documentary airing in April of 2021 showed that between 2015 and 2019 the highest number of complaints for racially charged issues were Cardiff University with 24 cases, Essex University reported 52 cases, and Nottingham Trent University with 25 cases.  On campuses around the UK, racial profiling, abuse, and harassment have all occurred. In 2019 the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a study on racial harassment at universities. They uncovered that “Students had reported that their harasser was usually another student, but a significant percentage said it was their instructor or another academic”. Additionally, international students expressed feelings of alienation, isolation, and vulnerability. From the report there were examples of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic slurs, as well as anti-English prejudice, from both staff and students at Scottish and Welsh universities. “We were told that most incidents were part of a pattern of repeated harassment” which is an alarming finding that this is being experienced on a regular basis. Mental health has massively affected students who have experienced such abuse. The report stated that “students who were subjected to racial harassment reported feeling angry, unhappy, depressed, anxious, and vulnerable, with 8% reporting suicidal thoughts”. Similar effects were noted by employees.

Universities are under significant pressure to uphold the belief of non-discriminatory and safe environments where students can come to study and yet it is the universities inability to deal with the issues at hand adequately that causes unrest and little belief in the university’s ability to deal with racial discrimination. Incidents such as the ‘Bracton Law Society Scandal’ in 2018 involved screenshots of racist text messages being leaked, from a WhatsApp chat group of Bracton Law Society (BLS), a student law society at the University of Exeter, this gained massive publicity forcing universities to take serious action. The racist messages were publicised on social media, which led to the society being dissolved and some students being suspended and expelled. However, it begs the question if not publicised how serious would the issue be taken by the university?

 Rufaro Chisango was also the victim of a racist attack when in 2017 in her university accommodation she was left feeling vulnerable and scared, after white students stood outside her door and proceeded to chant derogatory and outwardly racist remarks such as ‘We hate the Blacks’. Chisango proceeded to write a statement to the university but had no response. The racial abuse was recorded by a fellow student and Chisango felt as though at this point, she had to take matters into her own hands and decided to upload the footage onto social media, where it went viral. The university then took action, and the police were also called, Joe Tivnan the main perpetrator was arrested along with another male student and received an £800 fine and will likely suffer irreparable damage. A Nottingham Trent spokeswoman said the university was “shocked and appalled” by the incident.

 In a letter to the university in 2020, 60 student societies expressed their “shock and disgust at the recent increase in cases of racism that have been seen to have come from NTU students” evidencing that racism in university if anything is rising with events such as European Football Championship being a trigger.

 Overall, it is clear that major changes are required for students to feel safe and respected in these institutions. It seems that most of all students want to be heard and feel that their experiences are significant enough to be taken seriously by the university.

BBC three’s ‘Is Uni Racist?’ documentary available on BBC iPlayer gives greater insight and detail on the issues discussed.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p09dhr3f/is-uni-racist

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Report: Tackling racial harassment: Universities challenged (equalityhumanrights.com)

Categories
diversity Education

Time To Talk About It : Black British Writing

The likes of Bernadine Evaristo, Malorie Blackman and Alex Wheatle have made massive contributions to a collective consciousness that defines modern Black British literature and amplifies the Black voice. It is remarkable how many novels by Black British writers have caught the attention of the UK’s mainstream audience in recent times. Black British authors are finally getting their recognition and it is long overdue.

2020 was the year for Black British writing, with increased exposure in light of the #BLM movement.  Reni Eddo-Lodge’s 2017 book ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ has seen a massive increase in sales. Leading her to become the first Black British author ever to top the U.K. book charts. Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ topped the paperback fiction chart, making her the first woman of colour to take that position. This is a pivotal moment in which the scales are starting to shift in favour of ethnic writing, but not nearly enough to be equal to White British authors who dominate sales.

So where does this issue stem from?

If writers despite ‘race’ are producing works that are of the same standard, it is evident that British publishing has a significant role to play in which novels are being sold. ‘Noughts and Crosses’ author Malorie Blackman in her interview with the Guardian states how she had never in her life “received anything like the sums being posted by some white authors”[1] and she is in a “better position than a number of my BIPOC [black, indigenous and people of colour] peers”[2]. This is a prime example of systemic, covert racism and the micro- aggressions that is embedded within many institutions in the United Kingdom.

We also have to look at the alternative, that Black people in the UK make up 3.5-5% of the population they are the minority which means less books. It’s also worth noting that the majority of books written by Black Authors are about race, oppression and ‘what it means to be black’. It is recognised that you must relate and appeal to the masses through your writing and the majority of the mainstream audience are White. However, it is a fundamental fact that Black Authors are writing other genres, but it is predominately the novels that feature ‘race’ that are on the front of the bookshelves. Publishers purposefully publish such books and book shops promote such works to boost sales in light of the Black Lives Matter Movement. For example, on the Waterstones website if you search for Malorie Blackman her latest novel ‘Blueblood: A Fairy-tale Revolution’ a children’s fiction novel is halfway down the page with all her novels relating to race such as ‘Nought and Crosses’ published in 2001 promoted at the top. Coincidence?

There has been a surge of recognition and representation for black voices during the current climate. However, as stated by Reni Eddo Lodge in her interview with the Guardian “I really don’t like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person’s death goes viral”[3]. This poses the question is the publishing industry just profiting from the Black Lives Matter movement because it will boost sales rather than publishing Black British stories to give Black writers a voice?

I had recently been a part of a university conference ‘Longing to Belong’ set up by a group of students across the English cohort, which elevated my understanding of the publishing industry. We asked Black British Poet and Writer Panya Banjoko “How did you break down barriers to get the same opportunities as everyone else?” She responded by saying “I’ve got a stubbornness in me if you really want me to do something tell me I can’t”. She pushed and still is pushing to open up avenues for other Black Writers. For Panya and many Black British writers alike there is a sense of injustice in the literature circles “they weren’t open to people like me and I wanted to stand against that”.

In solving the issues highlighted above a range of genres must be promoted and published. Incorporating more texts from Black British Writers into the education system will massively capitalise on the Black voice.

Black British Writers written word must be woven into the fabric of mainstream British publishing and be given equal opportunities as their white counterparts: it’s time to talk about it.

And on that note here are three amazing novels by Black British Writers you should go and read right now:

  1. ‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty- Williams
  2. ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins
  3. ‘Darling’ by Racheal Edwards


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/08/publishingpaidme-authors-share-advances-to-expose-racial-disparities

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/08/publishingpaidme-authors-share-advances-to-expose-racial-disparities

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/16/reni-eddo-lodge-first-black-british-author-top-uk-book-charts-why-i-m-no-longer-talking-to-white-people-about-race

Categories
diversity Education

Cultural Capital: a means of enabling a culture of whiteness

Ofsted defines the term Cultural Capital as: “the essential knowledge that children need to be educated citizens” (McTavish, 2019)

While it is intended to close the deprivation gap, I think we need to confront and challenge this term due to its myopic and classist connotations.

As a teacher, Cultural Capital has always been problematic for me. It often seems to go unchallenged, despite the problems that subtlety and unsubtly emerge from its day to day use in discussions and implementation. For instance, a trip to the Globe theatre is instantly hailed as the perfect anecdote to increasing the Cultural Capital of a supposedly disadvantaged child from a minority background. Just to clarify, I love Shakespeare and the theatre, however I refuse to view Culture as purely through the lens of whiteness. Mansell, (Guardian, 2019) argues that the importance given to Cultural Capital in the new Ofsted framework raises many issues. For instance, Mansell uses the argument from Yandell that “the notion of cultural capital implies that certain cultures are objectively more valuable than others.” (Mansell, Guardian, 2019).  This relationship between Cultural Capital and cultural value is crucial and underlines my critique of the inclusion of Cultural Capital in the new Ofsted guidelines. The two most serious issues are: a) It is socially elitist and relies on an exclusionary view of culture and its value, b) the guidelines themselves are highly ambiguous on this topic.

There are a variety of hidden capitals that exist but are rarely discussed in mainstream academia. Here, the term Cultural capital is seen in a more pejorative manner. However, it is also seen as the starting point to create a discussion. The prevising idea and theme are that cultural capital views the term Culture as being synonymous with whiteness. As a scholar of Bourdieu, Yosso argues that the term Cultural Capital seems to be intrinsically linked to elitism. When used in its least contested form, what we have is a term that argues knowledge is hierarchical and therefore places certain values and most importantly some people at a deficit. Yosso argues that “while Bourdieu’s work sought to provide a structural critique of social and cultural reproduction, his theory of cultural capital has been used to assert that some communities are culturally wealthy while others are culturally poor.” (Yosso, 2006). The main idea seems to be that prevalent interpretations of Cultural Capital have in themselves become problematic and rather than challenging social hierarchies, have instead validated said hierarchies.

Cultural Capital as an explanation is not a panacea for all explanations of inequality and therefore Yosso’s work seeks to unearth a variety of these. These goes as follows: ‘Aspirational capital’ which refers to the notion of resilience and the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future (2006). ‘Linguistic capital’ focuses on the capital that many students have that is undoubtedly ignored, that of ‘communication experiences in more than one language and/or style’. Linguistic capital relates to a lot of students who are categorised as having English as an Additional or Second Language. Their Capital is often ignored, due to assumptions of intelligence and capability. Familial capital refers to those ‘cultural knowledges nurtured among family’(2006). Again, when certain cultures are stereotyped as having some sort of innate deficit, the role of familial ties and connections that are far less overt, go unnoticed.  Social capital is defined as ‘networks of people and community resources’ and has a clear correlation with ‘Familial capital’ (2006).  This poses the question of how and why the work of certain communities in enhancing and supplementing a child’s education is often unnoticed. ‘Navigational capital’ refers to skills of manoeuvrings through social institutions, this takes place mainly in institutions where minorities find themselves to be less present (2006).  Resistant capital refers those knowledges and skills fostered through oppositional behaviour that challenges inequality (2006).

The main variation of capital that I am going to mainly focus on is ‘resistance capital’ (Yosso, 2006). This term does not see students of different backgrounds as being at an acute disadvantage. I want to question why this more nuanced analysis of Cultural Capital is not used more widely.  This leads me to enquire whether Yosso’s statement, whilst now comparatively old, is still is too progressive for mainstream educational policy.  If so, does this speak of the structure of Education as being complicit in constantly upholding an idea of hierarchy? What can we do as teachers? Well, we must challenge the status quo, uphold the cultures that get ignored, present a new form of capital that is not performatively inclusive and understand that our children deserve more than a tick box trip to a museum.

Bibliography

Mansell, W(2019) “Ofsted plan to inspect ‘cultural capital’ in schools attacked as elitist” Guardian (accessed 20th April)

McTavish, A (2019) “Cultural Capital” Early Education  https://www.early-education.org.uk/cultural-capital (accessed 06/09/2020)

Yosso, T, J (2006) “Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth”. University of California. Race, Ethnicity and Education. (accessed 20th May)

Categories
diversity Education

The storm that will affect my results, for better or for worse

COVID-19. The raging fire that swiftly caused the world to come to a staggering halt. It’s something which had an impact on every area of society, including education. It caused a sudden pause into teaching and impacted many students across the nation.

The feeling of elation when discovering that we didn’t have to drag ourselves out of bed in the mornings to go and learn huge amounts of content, the relief of not having to revise for hours on end, along with the relief of the exams’ cancellation was swiftly replaced with anxiety as uncertainty grew around the circumstances of how grades were going to be awarded.

There were no questions that were answered that did anything to quell the stirring of doubt that bubbled in the brains of many teenagers, like myself, across the country. There were many attempts to dull this down, including announcements that gave insight into how grades would be awarded (from having teachers base grades on classwork, coursework, and past performance in prior exams). There was no mention of anything else that would lurk its head, which came in the form of the subsequent problems that certain people would face.

There are inevitably three contributing factors that will lead to the problem of teacher assessment and using predicted grades to assess a potential grade for students this year (Uthmani, 2020):

  1. Teacher bias,
  2. The lack of diversity in the teaching profession,
  3. The lack of family engagement.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to lose from this government declaration. There seems to be an implicit form of detriment from stereotypes that are ever present within education, so that the predicted grades of these students may be lower than they should be – only for the prediction to be surpassed in the exam. However, students from white middle class families benefit from these predicted grades; parents are willing to argue the case of the grade on their child’s behalf.

Amongst nearly all groups, girls do better than boys. Similarly, the middle-class do better than the working-class. White pupils’ achievement is very close to the national average, who area the largest group (accounting for 4/5ths of all pupils). Hastings suggested that white students make less progress between age 11-16 than Black or Asian pupils (Hastings, n.d.). These statistics can further reinforce the underachievement of certain ethnic minority groups (notably people that are Black Caribbean with the percentage of people passing their GCSE with a grade 5 or above being 26.9%, in comparison to their White British peers (42.7%) (Anon., 2019)), which can create a vicious cycle.

If the system is telling a child that they are bound to underachieve, this can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, wherein a student absorbs this and then accepts this as their fate- thereby reinforcing the stereotype. This can be dangerous.

It’s not a surprise to hear that some students, including myself, don’t perform at their best when it comes to classwork and mock exams. That can be due to a number of things however, knowing that I have the exam to showcase my ability has been something in which I have always relied on – and thus has proven to be successful in past years, and my results prove that. Therefore, the cancellation of exams this year wasn’t something that, upon reflection, was something to be pleased with.

It seems that bright students who perform best in exams or haven’t performed well in recent years are at a disadvantage here, too. I don’t believe that statistics are a true reflection of people, due to the fact that they are objective. People, however, are not, and are usually not representative of numerical value (despite how much of it drowns us in education.) We aren’t reflective of numbers or graphs; thus, it is unfair to assume that based on a school’s past grades holistically doesn’t speak for the individuals who is not represented by their ability, but instead their circumstance.

However, there are options available if the grades are not perceived to be a true reflection of a student’s ability. If any of us happen to be dissatisfied, schools and colleges can appeal on a students’ behalf against the process or the use of data, not against teachers’ use of their professional judgement. In addition, there is an opportunity to take an exam in the autumn, with the AS and A-Level exams taking place in October; the GCSE’s being held in November.

Therefore, it seems that there is a rainbow after this drudging storm. But when will the storm end?

Works Cited

Anon., 2019. Skyline NATIONAL BLACK CARIBBEAN FACTS & FIGURES. [Online]
Available at: https://www.skylineradio.org.uk/index.php/2019/07/26/national-black-caribbean-facts-figures/

Hastings, S., n.d. [Online]
Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/white-underachievement

Uthmani, N., 2020. tes. [Online]
Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/how-do-we-ensure-fair-grades-bame-students