• thelittleboy

how one of the world's best art & design universities got called out by students for being racist

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

while the rest of the world has been enduring a pandemic, increased police brutality, poor governmental leadership on both sides of the pond AND protests and rioting, the University of the Arts London - one of the world's best art & design universities - was put in the firing line by its own staff and students for allegations of systemic racism.

as some of you may know, I am a UAL student.

on my first day at UAL in September 2018, I already had a preconceived idea on what I thought it would be like. I expected a cliquey community of mostly white, middle and upper middle class students and staff ... and that, for the most part, is exactly what I got.

despite this, as a creative university, I expected a liberal institution; one that is is openly anti - racist and treats its ethnic minority students and staff with dignity and respect.

clearly not.

as a university based in one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the world, it shocked me to find out that staff and students alike were exposing the university for its lax attitude towards racism and discrimination within its own walls.

during my time at UAL, I have noticed that the teaching staff seriously lacks diversity. not only did I see this first - hand, the statistics prove it, too. in UAL's 2018 Student Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Report, it was reported that 81% of their staff are white and only 19% are BAME, with "12.6% and 7% [of BAME staff] in academic and senior roles respectively" - as if it's a statistic to be proud of.

as an ethnic minority student, it is more than disheartening knowing that people who look like me are less likely to be represented appropriately in the industry I love so much, and it's even more painful knowing that my university is complicit in this. despite the fact that I have never experienced any racial profiling or biases from any UAL staff - (despite the fact that only 55% of BAME students graduate UAL with a 1st of 2:1, as compared to 77% of my white counterparts, so maybe I have experienced racial bias already?) - it’s depressing to see how racial and ethnic representation, specifically with the teaching staff and teaching material, is clearly not a priority for the university. see the blackface glorification below.

in a series of posts published onTwitter by the official UAL account, the university stated that they stand in "solidarity with our community of black students, staff, graduates and partners", and boasted about how the university is "proudly anti - racist".

students and staff, UAL and non - UAL alike, were quick to respond to the tweets, as well as their Instagram posts with the same caption.

Anita Israel, UAL's Student Union education officer, was one of the first staff members to kick off the retaliation to the tone deaf posts.

in her caption, she said "I am embarrassed and disgusted. yesterday UAL made a hypocritical statement on Twitter, claiming to support the black staff and students at UAL, this is a lie and a performative act by senior management".

BAME members of staff have understandably grown exhausted with UAL's hypocrisy and lack of appropriate action; it's safe to say that most would have preferred silence over lies.

she continues: "you are complicit in the demolition of Elephant & Castle and you are responsible for the displacement of black and brown families, the loss of jobs and an entire community". if you attend LCC, live in Elephant & Castle, or just know the area, you would know that UAL is playing a part in tearing down the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, which is due to close completely in July of this year. in its place will be a 'new town centre', as well as a new LCC building, superseding countless BAME and migrant businesses, some of which have been there since the 1960s. with creative arts comes inevitable gentrification.

UAL's African Caribbean Society's president, Armani Sutherland, and fellow committee member Gbolade Oludare, were quick to follow, demanding change from UAL and meeting with the Dean of Students, Mark Crawley, to share the demands from themselves and the UAL student body.

their demands included a HUGE issue that is seen across all six of the UAL colleges: "bring all UAL cleaners in - house (most of our cleaners are from BAME and migrant backgrounds, they are poorly paid and subjected to precarious working conditions)". Anita Israel corroborated this issue in her post, saying: "UAL, you have subjected your black and brown cleaners to unfair pay & precarious work environments".

bringing cleaners in - house would allow them to work and enter into more secure contracts and environments, ultimately protecting them from exploitation under 0 - hour contracts, which, as of 2019, are banned in almost all circumstances. so why are cleaning staff still subjected to dodgy contracts which put them in uncomfortable, unstable working situations?

student Morgan Coker then exposed UAL

for putting their foot in their own mouth with a (now unavailable) comment on their website, replying to the question: "what is UAL's position on the concerns being raised by UCU?" which is in regard to the countless union strikes students saw across the country earlier this year.

UAL replied, saying that: "UCU at a national level has raised concerns about contractual arrangements, workload and mental health as well as gender and ethnicity pay gaps" - which totally goes against the so - called solidarity with "their" black community. female BAME staff are the lowest paid staff members at UAL, in 2020...

during this time, we have also seen the rise of a very much needed Gossip Girl - esque exposé account, which accumulated over 3000 followers in the space of seven days. enter @ualtruth, who describe themselves as "an anonymous safe space for BAME UAL students/Xstudents/Staff to voice their experiences". anyone who wants to talk about their experiences with racism at UAL can DM @ualtruth on Instagram or Twitter, and they will remain completely anonymous.

Mark Crawley, Dean of Students, eventually replied to the exposés with a university - wide mass email, essentially regurgitating his famous last words about how the university is "proudly anti - racist", and how they will "stand up to prejudice and bigotry and will fight for real change". clearly the email didn't go down well, because within eight days, he was back with a 'follow up'.

he said all that, but what exactly did he say? there is minimal action, and the only difference between this depressing monologue and the last one is that there is a glimmer in hope in the "working with". other than that, it offers little reassurance and even less clarity than the first email.

knowing that I am statistically less likely to be awarded a 1st or 2:1 than my white friends, despite the fact that I may be working on the same level or even higher than them, I'm embarrassed that I used to be proud to attend UAL. with that being said, I will be going out of my way to make sure I get the dissertation supervisor that I want - no one is going to jeopardise my chances of leaving uni with the best grade that I can achieve. are you listening, UAL? I refuse to be just another one of your statistics.

I remember crying happy tears on A - Level results day when I opened UCAS Track to see my firm offer confirmed at one of the best art schools in the world. I feel conflicted in the fact that I willingly (and unknowingly) entered into a university that would not be a space for nurturing and academic development for people like myself. gross.

we demand change, UAL. do better.

thelittleboy xo

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