Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor statement on the Black Lives Matter movement and being an Anti-Racist University – June 2020
The death of George Floyd is the latest of terrible and unconscionable killings of African Americans reflecting the increasingly appalling effects of structural racism that go back generations. There has rightly been an upwelling of protest in the US, the UK and around the world.
I hope it goes without saying that this is a time for us to confront racism, to call it out in our communities and to stand up for what is right. We must stand shoulder to shoulder together and state that racism is wrong and must stop. But saying things like this is less important than listening to the views and concerns of our Black and Minority Ethnic students and colleagues, and then, crucially, acting.
That listening and that acting has to begin in our own university community. Everyone reading this knows that we have not made the progress that we want. To my personal shame, there have been abhorrent incidents in Exeter, and we have not been able, so far, to stop these incidents before they happen. So, to state the obvious, we must do everything in our power to root out all forms of racism and hate crime in our community. I am acutely aware though that it is not just our words but our actions that matter and we must be visibly and actively anti-racist: not merely non-racist, but actively anti-racist.
I urge all colleagues and leaders to bring up and talk about issues of racism, this burden should not rest on our black and minority ethnic colleagues. Tackling racism is for all of us.
Looking ahead, we particularly want to work in partnership with our existing staff and student networks and societies in developing the right approach so that we act in unity. In early April, we wrote to the Black and Minority Ethnic Staff, Students and Allies Network and other petition signatories to propose that we set up an Independent Working Group on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inclusion and Equality, to make recommendations to the Provost; the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; and the new Vice-Chancellor.
In recent weeks we have listened further to our community including on the Black Lives Matter movement and we have had offers of support to work together on the actions, including from the African Caribbean Society. Importantly, we are also working towards the Advance HE Race Equality Charter which is a recognised framework to improve the representation, progression and success of BAME staff and students within higher education.
The link below will take you to the approach we set out in April and current actions. We welcome your involvement and partnership on our next steps to be an actively Anti-Racist University: www.exeter.ac.uk/speakout/networkletter