Statement from Professor Crichton Lang, UHI Principal and Vice-Chancellor: our collective duty to address racism

In recent weeks, we have experienced a cultural and political climate that has increased the profile of racism in society, whether as anti-Chinese stereotypes around COVID, or online scenes of violence against black citizens. Racist rhetoric is gathering momentum and we have a duty to proactively address this together.

History has taught us that racism is not specific to ‘now’: systemic injustices and victimisation, as well as more casual forms of discrimination, have disproportionately affected people of colour and many other marginalised identities for generations.  It is critical that we engage and harness current momentum to push together across the region and society to counter these trends.

As a key organisation covering the largest geographical area of any campus-based university or college in the UK and the largest student population in Scotland, the University of the Highlands and Islands and all of our academic partners want to state our commitment to exert our influence, and by extension the influence of all students and staff, to achieve a fairer institution and region for everyone.  

Most modern racism is not consciously perpetrated but is embedded in assumptions about different cultures in policies, processes and attitudes: many of our institutions have been built on foundations that were laid without a single Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voice present.

Living in a remote area, it can be difficult to appreciate the full impact of racism on those affected: mainstream news can seem a long way from us. To progress race equality meaningfully, ‘not being racist’ is simply not enough.

We need to challenge ourselves and others, exerting our privileges to actively influence change, proactively rebuilding major aspects of society to ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard at a senior level.  Our university partnership wants to enable these conversations to take place.

What we will do next

Feedback shows the need to directly involve BAME and other marginalised voices in development of our policies, courses and strategic objectives.  Recent correspondence from HISA and our postgraduate research community make some practical suggestions which we can adopt into our existing equality work, in partnership with BAME communities and allies and in line with Equality and Human Rights Commission, Advance-HE and Scottish Government objectives.

Already, feedback has been very valuable in demanding enhanced opportunities for diverse voices to feed into our race-equality work.  As such we will design and circulate an anonymous survey in coming weeks, to ensure that our work reflects the widest possible experiences and suggestions.

The survey will ask about BAME experiences, as well as those of other equality characteristics, eg gender, disability, age, religion and sexuality.  Anonymity will assure responders that they can express themselves as openly as possible.

We will also produce a full response to individual points raised, advising of work already planned, underway or awaiting further development, and inviting collaboration from staff and students.  These will relate to topics including:

•    Equality and Human Rights Commission racial harassment report: implementing guidelines
•    Unconscious bias training provision: delivery, and building internal provision
•    Revised complaints procedure, including specific race and equality contexts
•    Data and feedback collection for equality impact assessments

Ways to contact us/ get involved

As well as the staff and student surveys, you can contact our equality and diversity advisor, Stuart Hall, or speak to your relevant local academic partner representative,  if you would like to contribute to discussions about our race equality agenda and make our university partnership as inclusive as it possibly can be.  

If you feel you are experiencing misconduct on grounds of race, or any other motivation, students should contact student services colleagues at your home academic partner or push the Red Button. Staff can raise issues through their line manager or local personnel representative as appropriate. Academic partners will clarify the channels of communication locally to discuss concerns.

Once again, I would like to express that the university partnership stands in solidarity with our Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues, as well as those who have safely and responsibly found ways to protest and influence real change. We look forward to working collectively against racism in all its forms and will be in contact shortly to discuss next steps for how we can do this meaningfully together.

Many thanks
Professor Crichton Lang
Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of the Highlands and Islands