Protestors marched through Cambridge at the start of June to protest against racial inequality and the killing of George Floyd Anna Oakes

Twelve Cambridge academic staff members belonging to ethnic minority groups have joined those from other UK universities in signing an open letter which aims to combat racial inequality in higher education.

The letter states that whilst signatories “welcome efforts by the sector to address racial harassment and narrow the gap in degree outcomes between white students and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds”, statements from universities that “black lives matter can at best be regarded as tokenistic and superficial.”

“The sector has, to date, been overly optimistic in its assessment of the extent of the problem, it has been slow to act and, where action has been taken, it has failed to seriously engage with the systemic and structural nature of racism,” it furthers.

To counter this, the letter lays out 17 “requests” in areas including culture and understanding, training, hiring, promotion and progression, and “scrutiny, rigour and implementation”.

Funding bodies, learned societies and membership bodies are also encouraged to be explicit in the way their employment practice advance racial justice, tackle racial pay gaps and “ensure a workload model which better captures and values the hidden labour” of minority ethnic scholars.

The letter is addressed to “Rt. Hon. Gavin Williamson MP Secretary of State for Universities”, Universities UK, funders of higher education institutions, and learned societies and higher education membership bodies.

It was overseen by Keston Perry, economics lecturer at the University of the West of England; Richard Itaman, lecturer in comparative political economy and development at King’s College London, and Angelique Golding, a department business manager at Goldsmiths’ Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship.

Dr. Suchitra Sebastian from the University Department of Physics signed the open letter and explained to Varsity that “as a brown female academic, I have often felt pressure to erase my identity and adopt the privileged voice of an insider.”


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“When we speak of institutional racism, it is not superficial racial slurs we are alluding to, but rather structural racism in which inequalities are rooted.”

The letter seeks to challenge such institutional racism by encouraging greater cultural understanding and awareness. It states that “committees, boards or advisory groups set up, whether locally or at a national level, to address racism and racial harassment must be led by and made up of those with first-hand experience of these issues or expertise in the area.”

Universities are also requested to make use of positive action measures in order to reduce racial disparities, as permitted under the Equality Act 2010.

“The change that I would like to see cannot be superficial and tokenistic, in word alone; it cannot be the burden of minoritised demographics. Rather it must involve difficult introspection, and dismantling of structural inequalities that are often only obvious to those on the outside,” Dr. Sebastian added.