Devika Ranjan is one of the project's foundersEmily Brailsford

In a new effort to pinpoint how racism is experienced within Cambridge, sociological researchers have created a web-based platform for members of the University community to anonymously record and report incidents of racial harassment and discrimination. The project, ‘End Everyday Racism’, has been created by a team at the University’s Department of Sociology, and is to be officially launched next Friday.

The platform is to create and monitor a data set which can be used to demonstrate how racism is experienced at Cambridge, aiming to provide both numerical and qualitative data on experiences in the University.

According to Dr Mónica Moreno Figueroa, one of three team members who developed ‘End Everyday Racism’, the project hopes to “account for everyday racism in ways that… can be put as truthful and trustworthy.”

Existing processes for reporting incidents of racial harassment and profiling have come under recent scrutiny across the University. On Wednesday, King’s College acknowledged that its existing processes for reporting complaints of racism to the college “need modification and substantial improvement”, marking a sharp reversal from its statement in June that the College had found “no wrongdoing” of racial harassment by porters toward Churchill academic Dr Priyamvada Gopal.

The College said that it will work with students and minority officers to develop “clear and simpler means of reporting incidents” of racial profiling, four months after Dr Gopal began a boycott of supervising King’s students, following what she counted as 13 incidents of being racially profiled by college porters and gatekeepers during her 17-year tenure at the University.

Following the College's statement, Dr Gopal said she would halt her boycott of supervising students at the college.

Dr Moreno Figueroa is one of the University’s Race Equality Champions and has conducted research into the lived experience of race and racism. Although the University does technically have a process for the anonymous reporting of incidents of harassment, the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA), Dr Figueroa noticed that it was mainly used to report incidents on sexual assault and misconduct, and wanted a platform that could be used to focus on capturing more nuance how racism is experienced across the University.

‘End Everyday Racism’ is a collaboration with The Whistle Project, a research project led by Dr Ella McPherson which has developed an automated tool designed to verify digital evidence. ‘End Everyday Racism’ will use similar technology to collect and analyse data on incidents of racism as The Whistle, an app in its pilot stage which facilitates the reporting and verification of human rights violations around the world.

“A lot of this, we talked about amongst friends and we were outraged – and then it got no further”

Dr McPherson identifies a clear common purpose between the two projects: “The big data problem is that there are potentially tons of stuff out there if people were to look on Twitter, Facebook and social media platforms elsewhere – but how do you get that together and do something with it?

“There are ways to put your voice out there – it’s being heard and having whatever you’re saying being taken up and done something with to make a change – that’s the problem.”

Devika Ranjan, the third member of the ‘End Everyday Racism’ team, who has also worked on The Whistle as well as with the Decolonise Sociology working group, expressed a similar sentiment to Varsity: “I was only in Cambridge for a year for my Masters’, but I was shocked by the amount of racism embedded in the institution. Not only racist experiences I had myself, but also things I would hear about from the people around me. And a lot of this, we talked about amongst friends and we were outraged – and then it got no further.”

“What’s exciting for me here – these experiences that we have get to be part of this larger collective.”

Last week, Clare second-year student Oliver Moodie spoke to Varsity about being attacked with racial abuse at the Cambridge nightclub Vinyl. Commenting on Moodie’s experience, CUSU BME Campaign said that many BME students have remained silent on their experiences of racial abuse, where “the way racist harassment and abuse is always underplayed or reactions to it [are seen] as ‘overreactions’ has meant that many BME students are hesitant to escalate matters”.

The ‘Everyday Racism’ team hope that the platform can be used to record general trends in experiences of racism that would not usually be recorded for fear of being too minor or difficult to capture. They have said that they encourage “any and all” incidents of racism: Individual experiences in classrooms, colleges and on the street, but also less concrete experiences, such as issues of racism in structure, access and atmosphere of the University.

In order to encourage as many contributions as possible, and because the project is intended for advocacy rather than to pursue specific cases, the platform’s system of reporting will be anonymous. Dr McPherson argues, however, that anonymity would not compromise the app’s legitimacy. She noted that those using the platform will be required to input their University of Cambridge email to ensure that it will only be used by people from the Cambridge community, noting that the emails would not be recorded or viewed by those reading reports.

“[It will be] a wake-up call that Cambridge and the people within the institutions are not as progressive as they believe themselves to be”

The ‘End Everyday Racism’ team were also clear that the platform is not just for BME students. They plan to also encourage those who have witnessed acts of racism or who wish to report on behalf of a friend to use the platform, and to seek out reports from University and college staff.

The team hope that the data gathered can be used to inform antiracist advocacy in the University: whilst the project is to an extent a research project, Dr Moreno Figueroa emphasised that it was also an “antiracist intervention”.

A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge said that they “welcome the creation of the ‘End Everyday Racism’ platform”. They added that Cambridge has “recently updated the wording of the anonymous reporting tool to make clear to everyone that this tool can be used for the anonymous reporting of any type of harassment or discrimination, including relating to race.”

Rashidat Animashaun, Facilitator for FLY, a network and forum for women and non-binary people of colour at Cambridge, commented that she hopes the project will be “a wake-up call that Cambridge and the people within the institutions are not as progressive as they believe themselves to be. Solutions must be offered and quickly.”

FLY were consulted about the questions asked on the web platform, as well as its layout and general accessibility.

Christine Pungong, CUSU and GU Welfare & Rights Officer, who has been involved in the project as a student representative on the Race Equality Communications Working Group, commented: “A big aim of the project to be able to use the reports to offer statistical analysis and information on the frequency of particular issues and incidents of racism and who is being affected.... to inform policy and action at the University.”

She added: “It also has an important social function in that it provides a sense of relief to BME staff and students who have something happen to them that they feel is ‘too small’ (not my opinion) to formally report or tell anyone about, but that they want acknowledged in some way.”


READ MORE

Mountain View

Don’t tell me that words can’t hurt

“My main hopes for the project are that it will help fuel a bigger conversation about racism in Cambridge, on both a micro and macro level, and that this visibility will help the University think about the role that racism and unconscious bias plays in various other areas, including access and barriers to education, inclusive teaching and learning.”

The Cambridge branch of the University and College Union (UCU) and the Black Cantabs Research Society have also supported the program’s launch.

Cambridge UCU Secretary Dr Waseem Yaqoob praised ’End Everyday Racism, saying: “The platform will be a first in providing an accessible way for BME staff and students to report racist incidents in a confidential manner”, where “currently many incidents and micro-aggressions go unrecorded, because the burden of pursuing a formal complaint through University procedures rarely seems worth it”.

“[It] will address the lack of visibility of racist incidents”, he added.

After the initial launch of the platform, the team will publish a report on the data collected within 2-4 weeks. They also hope to create a map of Cambridge where incidents have been reported. Moreno Figueroa suggested that, if successful, the platform could be introduced at universities across the UK, and in Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia, where she has research links.

Friday, 19th October, 2.30pm: This article was edited to clarify that Dr Gopal ended her boycott of supervising King’s students on Wednesday

Sponsored links