Following allegations of institutional racism against the Students’ Union (SU) at the University of Warwick, an investigation has been launched and an independent consultant will be appointed to handle matters of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).
A letter from 10 UNISON members to SU Trustees that was seen by The Boar said that the union “has institutional racism flourishing at its very heart, an unacknowledged issue which is having a far reaching, damaging and demoralising effect on staff”.
Despite an increased amount of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff recruited within the SU, one incident known as the “chimp paradox” was addressed in the letter signed by Antonia Mayers, Equality Officer and secretary of the UNISON branch at Warwick.
“This promoted offensive racist language which negatively impacted on staff, especially for Black/ethnic minority staff, causing hurt, upset, trauma and loss of confidence in the organisation,” it read.
“The insensitive way the issue was handled has resulted in a further loss of confidence in the senior leadership team and this makes staff affected feel exceptionally vulnerable.”
As a result of the incident, an “atmosphere of fear” allegedly arose. The letter explained: “Affected staff now fear reprisals if we raise questions, observations or critiques about race matters…These staff feel that this has become a toxic epidemic within the SU.”
The “longstanding exclusively white” senior leadership was referred to throughout as demonstrating “a culture of ignorance and complacency regarding race matters”.
“Management should familiarise themselves with the Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty and the law pertaining to discrimination,” the letter said. “Policies, procedures and training should be implemented within the Students’ Union to address this kind of behaviour.”
The recommendation was made as “there are no adequate procedures or policies in the SU to deal with this issue on this scale”, prompting “deep concern” amongst UNISON members.
An “independent Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) consultant”…will review related areas, “whether to do with race, gender, sexuality, religion or other protected characteristics”
Speaking to The Boar, SU President Liam Jackson has said while the allegation of institutional racism was “unexpected and is of great concern” to them, they responded the same day it was sent on 7 May.
“Warwick Students’ Union is a transparent and open organisation that is focused on delivering the best experience possible for our student members and our staff team, the brilliant people who make this possible,” he added.
“We can confirm that investigations are in progress and these are being conducted by external independent investigators, selected on the basis of their expertise in these matters.”
Although the SU are unable to comment further on the investigation due to legal considerations, they said that the Board of Trustees are discussing the matter.
Various plans have been launched “as part of (their) continued commitment to creating a fair, safe and respectful culture for all” at the SU.
This includes the appointment of the EDI consultant who will review related areas, “whether to do with race, gender, sexuality, religion or other protected characteristics”.
A “Steering Group…including representatives from the Board, Senior Management team, Sabbatical Officers, Liberation Officers and representatives from our Staff Networks” will also be created, and a staff member may be recruited “to ensure any recommendations are embedded and evaluated”, which has been budgeted and approved for.
“We take seriously our duty of care for all employees, whether they are members of Unison, any other Union organisation, or not,” Mr Jackson added. “Although shocked, we are extremely thankful that this concern has been highlighted.
“We hope that the measures detailed above will help to assure staff that their concerns are being taken seriously.”