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We’re making it simpler for students to report racism and xenophobia

Thursday 20-04-2017 - 15:44

Today I am proud to launch our partnership with iStreetWatch, a new online tool for you to report and monitor racist and xenophobic harassment on your campuses and in the wider community.

This collaboration is vital part in our movement’s fight against racism, intolerance and discrimination: allowing us to make these incidents that often pass unnoticed visible to a wider audience; help you and people who may be at risk know what is going on in your local area and campaign against it; and collect data to lobby your institutions for more stringent policies to tackle hate crime.

iStreetWatch was set up in the wake of the EU referendum result when our streets saw alarming levels of unashamed racist abuse and violence. Through a simple online form, you can provide details of an incident that you witness or experience which will then be added to a map tracking racist and xenophobic harassment.

With targeted communities feeling increasingly under attack and the threat that these now everyday incidents will become normalised, iStreetWatch is a platform for us to do something about it.

In the context of an increasingly toxic environment, I have worked hard to make tackling hate crime a priority issue for NUS. This year we organised nine roundtables bringing together 70 experts with a wealth of knowledge from legal, academic, campaigning and practitioner backgrounds. Through their experiences, we have been able to gain a deep understanding of the nature and manifestations of hate crime and harassment and start to develop solutions that ensure student unions, the education sector and civil society work together to combat hate in all forms.

Our partnership with iStreetWatch, run by Migrants’ Rights Network, represents a crucial step towards this ambitious goal.

Previous research conducted by NUS on hate crime and incidents in further and higher education found that 16 per cent of all respondents had experienced at least one form of hate incident during their period of study. Compared with victims of other types of harassment and crime those who experienced hate incidents were more likely to be repeatedly victimised and see their education, mental health and wellbeing suffer as a result.

This research showed that race-based hate crime was by far the most widely reported type and overall 18 per cent of Black respondents had experienced at least one racial hate incident during their studies.

International students reported the highest levels of victimisation – 22 per cent compared with 8 per cent of EU students and 6 per cent of UK-domiciled students. The highest reporting group of international students were Chinese but it is important to acknowledge that EU and international students classed as “white other” reported higher levels too.

It is perhaps most concerning that our campuses were the locations of racially motivated hate incidents in 42 per cent of cases with 12 per cent in the classroom. Concerning but not necessarily surprising. Anecdotally I have been told countless stories of racist abuse on campus but the inadequate reporting structures across our institutions it has made it impossible to measure.

Poor reporting and monitoring mechanisms and the lack of data that produces is, in fact, a key barrier for us to combat hate - since without information to evidence the scale of the problem it can be harder to make the case for action. But without the means to properly track and respond to these attacks, victims and witnesses understandably feel like there is little point in engaging in a tokenistic reporting process.

In our research, only 13 per cent of respondents reported it to someone in an official role at their institution, mostly to a member of academic staff, and only 10 per cent bothered reporting it to police leading to those affected receiving little if any support.

The message is clear; we must be proactive in stamping out racism and xenophobia and student unions have a key role to play in this. We must recognise that those students at risk, from migrant and oppressed communities, are also the ones who are least likely to seek out help through traditional channels. Consistent over-policing of these groups has eroded trust and confidence whilst increased surveillance by the state and even our own institutions has made them wary of engaging with official structures. In this climate, our unions must step up to provide alternative options, create spaces where these experiences can be shared and sensitively dealt with and ensure that victims do not need to suffer in silence.

In doing so we should also remember our limits. We cannot effectively tackle racism and xenophobia if we work in a vacuum; students are not separate from the community and we must collaborate across sectors and organisations to ensure that the rights of international students and migrants are defended – a core aim of our Liber8 Education campaign. Working together with iStreetWatch is so important precisely for this reason; it is only by reaching out to and mobilising our different audiences that we can gain a clear picture of the situation at national and local level, measure and shine a light on the realities we must face together, build relevant services and campaigns that target the problem and advocate for change at a higher level.

We know that the racist and xenophobic attacks are not individualised acts but have been unleashed by the political rhetoric of those at the top so data collected over time through iStreetWatch will also allow us to track the correlation between these incidents and the inflammatory speech spouted by politicians and the media.

Your personal details will remain anonymous and you can be as specific or general about what happened if you have concerns around being identified. Over the coming months, we will be reporting on the data received as well as providing you with ideas for how student unions can use it to campaign and engage with your institutions.

We will also be producing resources and sharing our learning as we develop and deliver a comprehensive strategy to tackle hate crime and combat racism and xenophobia.

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