The University of Westminster’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Network, which represents the interests and aspirations of Black and Minority Ethnic colleagues at the University, has released a statement responding to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report (known as the Sewell Report).

University of Westminster BME Network

The BME Network provides a support network for BME colleagues and works with the University of Westminster’s policy makers to ensure the race equality perspective is proactively incorporated within the University’s policies and procedures, to add value to the diversity of the institution.

The BME Network’s statement reads: “In June 2020, the University of Westminster re-emphasised its stance against racism in all its forms and published a joint statement along with our Students’ Union, Trade Unions, and colleague networks to show our support for Black Lives Matter. The Black Lives Matter Commitment Plan made clear there was an urgency to examine our working environments to ensure we were acting in ways that promoted an actively antiracist and inclusive space for all.  The BME Network fully supports our University’s values of being responsible, progressive and compassionate and its high-level commitment to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. The Sewell Report, as the report of the Government appointed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is known and published in early April 2021, raises concerns amongst members and allies of the BME Network that the gains made in the direction of anti-racism in the Higher Education sector in general are at risk. We reject the report as a step in the wrong direction because it ignores years of credible research, data and life stories around racism and underemphasises the reality of structural and institutional inequalities.

“The Sewell Report has left colleagues feeling angered, disheartened and dispirited. The report contradicts decades of research but is also in stark opposition to the Macpherson Report (1999), the Angiolini Review (2017), the McGregor-Smith Review (2017), the Lammy Review (2017), Race Disparity Audit (2017), Windrush Lessons Learned Review (2020), Joint Committee on Human Rights (2020), and Public Health England (2020).

“We at the BME Network at the University of Westminster reconfirm our commitment to nurture an actively antiracist and inclusive environment for all our colleagues and students and this starts with an acknowledgement that institutional, everyday and systemic racisms exist in the UK and other parts of the world. We believe that the report not only trivialises and invalidates the lived experiences of colleagues and students, but its denial will result in an increase in overt racism and enable a culture of denialism.

“Some of our objections to the report can be summarised below:
1.    The report fails to address the damning underrepresentation of Black academics in UK Higher Education. If we are to tackle the racial inequalities and discrimination that exist in the education system, there must be recognition that ethnic minorities in general, and Black persons in particular, are under-represented in research, the teaching workforce and education leadership teams.
2.    The report rejects decolonising as negative and is thus an attack on academic research and teaching as well as the strong demands of our students that, in recent years, have emphasised diversifying and decolonising curricula and teaching practices. This goes against our strategic and collective commitments within the University of “Decolonising and diversifying our curriculum and teaching practices”.
3.    The report glorifies the legacy of enslavement and proclaims that ‘slavery was not only about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves’. To look for positive aspects of slavery is a grotesque distortion of its legacy, continuous violence and exploitation.
4.    The report trivialises and ignores the experiences and role of racism in shaping the life chances of Black and ethnic minorities in the UK, including within the education sector. The agenda to tackle the awarding gap is at risk of dilution since the report shifts the focus from systemic issues to individual factors. Thus, the report goes against our collective commitment of “Addressing awarding gaps and eliminating all gaps associated with success measures for all BME students”.
5.    Although we recognise the problematic nature of the term ‘BAME’, especially since it may lead to homogenisation of identities and hide intra-ethnic differences, we note that its disaggregation is of little reassurance when the very nature of structural oppression caused by racism is denied. The report indicates an ideological agenda to divide ethnic minorities and we must resist that.

“We appreciate the solidarity from Women of Westminster (WOW) and Q+ colleague networks. The BME Network urges all members of the University to listen to varied experiences of colleagues and students, appreciate our deep concerns about the anti-EDI agenda of which the Sewell Report is a part, amplify our voices in solidarity, and work together to build an institutional culture that has Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the heart of its practice.”

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