Socialist Worker

Debates on fighting racism on campus at student Stand Up To Racism conference

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2642

A session at the student Stand Up To Racism conference

A session at the student Stand Up To Racism conference (Pic: Socialist Worker)


A call to confront racism and the far right on campuses went out from the student Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) conference in London on Saturday.

Around 100 students and lecturers from universities and colleges across Britain debated topics from decolonising the curriculum to challenging Islamophobia and the “Prevent” programme.

Zain, a Labour Party member and student at the University of East London, said the Tories' policies had “created an atmosphere for blaming migrants”. “The 'hostile environment' and the government’s immigration policies are a problem,” he told Socialist Worker.

“It makes it difficult for students and is leading to more racism on campuses.”

He added, “I think people need to address management and demand fair representation throughout universities. And we've got to get all the different societies and organisations on campuses together to unite against racism, but also to change the present regime of Theresa May.”

One of the major themes of the conference was “decolonising education”—taking on how courses and the curriculum are shaped by racist and imperialist ideas.

Zeid Trusscott, NUS student union black students and LGBT+ committees, said, "The question of decolonising education is not just about getting a more diverse reading list.

The return of ‘scientific’ racism
The return of ‘scientific’ racism
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“It's about questioning the system as a whole—Bristol University was built on money from slavery.”

The recent row over Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell calling Winston Churchill a “villain” was a point in discussions.

Aafiyah, whose family was from Pakistan and India, described how a lecturer had dismissed her views on Churchill and the British Empire. “My lecturer said the original title ‘Should Churchill fall?’ was ‘too philosophical’,” she told Socialist Worker.

“And he said that Churchill was actually pragmatic”.

She added, “They didn’t like black and minority ethnic people speaking out.”

Students pointed out how justifications for British Empire were pushed to drum up support for nationalism. Nadia from Student SUTR said, “What does Churchill represent? Racism and imperialism—which the government is pushing more of right now.

“Discussions about history are actually discussions about now.”

Alongside justifications for the British Empire and colonialism, there has been a resurgence of “scientific racism” within academia. Oisin from Cambridge university talked about their campaign against Noah Carl, who argues that research about some ethnic groups’ “criminality” are “generally found to be quite accurate”.

“We have to keep up momentum so we don’t let the college get off the hook,” he said.

Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of SUTR, called on people to join the national demonstrations in London, Cardiff and Glasgow on 16 March. “We are in the fight for our lives,” he said. “The right are all linking up and Islamophobia is the key things that holds them together.

“And behind Islamophobia are other forms of racism.”


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