By Daniella Theis
Strath Union has launched two new campaigns to better represent students from BAME and Black backgrounds, change the culture around campus, and tackle hate crime and prejudice at Strathclyde.
The ‘Decolonise’ campaign started last year under previous VP Education Eyram Ahadzie with the lead focus being on “decolonising” Strathclyde’s curriculum to better represent all students and contributors to subject fields more accurately and led to substantial progress being made in these areas.
This year’s ‘Decolonise’ campaign aims to expand its impact by reviewing campus culture with a focus on what support is in place for BAME and Black students and a close evaluation of how the campus’ buildings and physical structures represent and celebrate all students.
“We wanted to continue that work and didn’t want it to just fall away after Eyram left,” said VP Inclusion Rachel Cairns: “So when Chelbi [VP Education 2020/21] came in, we sat down and we decided we were going to plan out how it will look for the next year. We’d seen some progress with the curriculum, but we thought it would be good to branch out ‘Decolonise’ and look at the wider picture. It is important that we decolonise the curriculum, but also when students come on campus, the things they remember twenty years later is how they feel on campus and how they are treated by university staff – how much they are celebrated by their own university.”
VP Education Chelbi Hillan previously hosted an online ‘Race Equity Forum’ to receive responses from students about their personal experiences and more such events including attendance of University senior management are currently in planning.
“Chelbi and I are taking the lead on this and we are aware that we are both white women. All of the Exec is white this year,” Cairns admitted. She added: “But we wanted to make sure that we are not just making everything up around this campaign. It has to be informed by our students’ own lived experiences.
“I am really excited. In the current climate, we are in, we will see some progress on this. I think it is a great opportunity for our students to engage with University senior management on issues like decolonise and race equity. We have a real opportunity to do something that could structurally change Strathclyde to be a more inclusive and welcoming university.”
The other new ‘anti-hate’ campaign centres around the question about what can be done to address hate crime and prejudice on campus and was set up after students reported they were subjected to hateful and prejudice language while participating in this year’s “Black Lives Matter” protests or the protests campaigning for better treatment of refugees.
The campaign is a collaborative project between Strath Union, field experts, and different charities and hopes to change students’ experiences by developing focused action plans for what can be done when a student becomes a victim of hate crime, bullying, or harassment.
“Myself and Kayla were in this meeting and we kept repeating the phrase ‘What are we doing about this?’ and it sort of became a phrase that got caught with us,” Cairns explained: “We started looking into things of what we can do to change this. How can we support students who suffered from hate speech or hate crime? The more we looked into it the more we wanted to ensure that this was well-informed. We are working with charities like ‘Action on Prejudice’ and ‘Action on Sectarianism’ to essentially look at what we can do as an institution to support people who have suffered from hate crime and hate speech.
“What we are hoping is that this is something that other institutions can replicate. A lot of the time we see big companies or institutions release statements about these sorts of things with no tangible action. Essentially it will allow us to look inwardly and come up with tangible actions we can take to actually do something about it.”
Earlier this year saw Strathclyde University make headlines after an internal investigation had to be launched because it was discovered that a Strathclyde student was sending racially abusive messages on social media. Questioned about what a student should do if they are subjected to hate crime or any other form of bullying, harassment or assault on campus, Cairns gave some advice.
She said: “First of all that has to go through ‘Report and Support.’ ‘Report and Support’ was set up a few years ago as a collaboration between the University and the Union. It will go through a process to someone at the University and they will help you with the process of dealing with this. This might mean directing you towards services like counselling and support services or it might mean investigating that for you and making sure that it goes through a formal process and is dealt with properly.
“The second thing I would say is come to the Union and we should either be able to help you directly or be able to direct you to the people that can help you. If you have been affected by something like this, and you care about it and want to change it and get involved, all you have to do is contact myself or anyone else from the Exec.
“We want to shape our campaigns around student voices. That’s why the Union is here. If you want to do something about it – Great, let’s do something about it!”
Strath Union will host a set of events and campaigns throughout Black History Month and details can be found on their webpage.
Anyone wanting to get involved is encouraged to contact VP Inclusion Rachel Cairns via firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have been subjected to hate crime or any other form of bullying, harassment or assault on campus, The ‘Report and Support’ service can be accessed online and all reports are kept private and confidential and the option to report anonymously exists.