Unpublished report finds BME students “socially isolated”

An unpublished report seen by The Oxford Student claims that Oxford University suffers from a “culture that struggles to welcome differences in race and ethnicity”.

The 100 Voices Report, produced in March 2014 by OUSU’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE), describes feelings of “social isolation” among BME (black and minority ethnic) students in Oxford.

Despite the description of 100 Voices on CRAE’s website as an attempt to “share the experiences of BME students at Oxford”, the report has not yet been made publically available, ten months after its initial production.

The report cites a lack of racial diversity and a Western-centric academic curriculum as among Oxford’s main racial problems. It goes on to recommend a “cultural shift”, urging the University to create more safe spaces for the discussion of racial issues, provide more BME-specific welfare, and broaden the racial diversity of its staff and students.

According to the report’s Race Survey, 59.3 per cent of BME respondents have in the past felt uncomfortable or unwelcome at Oxford due to their race, with 57.75 per cent viewing racism to be a problem in Oxford (versus only 39.5 per cent of white students). Additionally, 71.1 per cent noted a lack of racial diversity among the University’s teaching staff.

OUSU’s current VP for Equal Opportunities, Chris Pike, described 100 Voices as “an incredibly exciting piece of work which has had fantastic effects already as the University considers its policy and curriculum into the future”.

Pike continued: “We hope to release the report publicly in the future, but for now we want to use it in the most constructive way possible.”

The report combines findings from the 100 Voices Project, which conducted face-to-face interviews with around 70 BME students last year, and the 2014 Oxford Race Survey, the findings of which are already publically available.

One interviewee described an occasion at a college photo shoot in which a tutor remarked “ah excellent, a woman and an ethnic” upon seeing who he was being photographed with.

Another criticised their English Literature degree as “mainly a study of white male authors”, with another noting a feeling of separation from their subject’s predominantly “white, middle-class professors”. All accounts and opinions were reported anonymously.

An email sent to CRAE members in 2014 thanks the report’s producers  for “being part of the growing tide of awareness and commitment to recognising and addressing inequality”.

Charlotte Hendy, last year’s OUSU VP for Equal Opportunities and a key figure in the report’s production, described 100 Voices as only an “internal document”, and refused to explain why it has not been made publically available when approached for comment, citing the fact that she is “no longer a student representative”.

Hendy was described by the CRAE email as the “constant OUSU power behind the scenes”.

The material in 100 Voices was also used in CRAE’s Race Summit with the University in Hilary 2014. The press statement released specifically for the summit, however, declined to mention the report.

When asked why the report has not been publically released, CRAE co-chair Hope Levy-Shepherd stressed the “highly powerful and sensitive” nature of its findings, commenting: “Conversation about releasing the report is one that we’ve formally opened in our open weekly CRAE meetings twice over the last year … we want to make sure it is released publicly in the most constructive way possible.”

Levy-Shepherd, a student at Regent’s College, continued: “We definitely look to release the full report to the public in the near future to maintain momentum.”

The report criticises the lack of safe spaces available for BME students to discuss racial issues. Only 42.5 per cent of the survey’s BME respondents felt there were enough platforms to discuss race, with one student noting the difficulty of raising racial issues as “the only person of colour in that JCR meeting”. Another respondent noted the “greater visibility” given to feminism and LGBTQ campaigns over issues of race.

One BME student described an occasion in which they were asked by a porter to hand in a Bod card before entering their College. “I had never heard of porter’s doing this before, and no one I know has ever been asked to do the same,” the student added.

Commenting on the perceived cultural isolation of BME students, one respondent said: “I think I’ve successfully made myself fit in to Oxford and, in that process, I’ve actually lost myself.”

The report recommends a general broadening of student and staff racial diversity, and a shift away from the perceived “eurocentralism” of several

academic courses. Some of the more specific recommendations include the establishment of a BME peer support scheme, an elected BME officer in every college JCR, and a greater focus on cultural awareness during Fresher’s Week.

Last year, the I too am Oxford project attracted national headlines, with numerous BME students taking to Tumblr to repeat the racial ignorance they have encountered at Oxford.

PHOTO/The Oxford Student