#PullUporShutUp: Why Universities in the UK Need to Act on This Hashtag

As we march through the year of 2020, literally and figuratively, we are fighting through one of the deadliest pandemics known to our time and we are also fighting against the systematic oppression of black peopleBlack lives matter in every single aspect of life.

We have seen brands across many industries using their social media platforms to show their support to the Black Lives Matter movement. Earlier this month, activist, influencer and beauty mogul Jackie Aina, called for brands to reveal the number of black employees at senior/executive levels.

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I propose that we extend this invitation also to universities in the UK. We need to demand that universities reveal their list of executive staff, in order to address the institutional racism that black students face as a direct cause of having little to zero black executive staff, to positively influence the racial bias of the system. According to academic, activist and author Dr. Kehinde Andrew, the chronic under-representation of ethnic minority staff with those of African ancestry in particular, has caused a crisis within British higher education. The crisis being the high level of underperforming black students which is affected by the low percentage of black executive staff.


Universities design policies to focus on the concerns of black students and staff. The policies are usually grouped under the BAME umbrella. This term is used when addressing racial discrimination, prejudiced and bias towards a specific group of minority individuals. Albeit a convenient way to target a diverse issue, it is not an effective way to do so.

According to the statistics presented by the government: White graduates were over twice as likely to get a first class degree as Black graduates, who were the least likely of all ethnic groups to achieve a first class degree”. Evidently, the lack of an independent focus on black students, has impacted the level of progress they can achieve collectively. A policy created to benefit BAME groups equally, denies black students the opportunity to have policies that address their specific issues.

“Black academics and students are united by the tendency to feel alienated from their environment, to feel discriminated and/or excluded” - Dr. Robbie Shilliam

Individual stories that speak about racism can single out the student and threaten their academic career. I had the privilege of speaking with a student at the University of the West of England, Bristol, who wishes to remain an anonymous contributor to this article. We will refer to them as Robin: “I suppose my reluctance to share is telling of the silence that I’ve become accustomed to in academia.”

Robin wrote to me explaining that black students in their course were deliberately assigned to black lecturers, grouped in “black seminars” and ignored by white lecturers. Although Robin did not mind that they were grouped with other black students and assigned a black lecturer, it “echoes that academia is unaccustomed to dealing with black people.” Robin's solution to the marginalisation of black people in university is to allow them in the same spaces they have worked hard to be in.

Sarah, graduated in Accounting and Finance and founder of her self-help blog, speaks on how the employment of BAME academic staff has influenced a pleasant academic experience. In recognition of the racial injustices many black students face, Sarah states that although her experience had been a good one, it may not be the same for others. Dr. Robbie Shilliam illustrates this as the mono-cultralism that most universities adopt, creating a cycle of institutional racism and implicit bias.

Following my two-year term as the only black student representative on an academic board, I conclude that executive groups that consist of a majority white middle-age males do not have the experience and the knowledge to address and resolve the issues that black students face for being black.

I have witnessed my university investigate the institutional racism that black students experience by distributing a survey to the accused group of academic staff, rather than the affected pupils. I feel that my advice to the board in redirecting the survey to the affected black students may have gone a long way if there were black executive members on the board.

This begs the question as to why universities are ignoring the effective methods of addressing institutional racism and implicit bias. This is why I believe they need to publicly share their executive list of staff as the first step in employing vocal black academics to sit in executive positions. Maybe then we will see a rise in the percentage of black students obtaining 1st class degrees, and reporting positive university experiences.


Written by Bethel Haimanot 

Follow Bethel on Twitter and Instagram

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