Paul Layzell, Principal of Royal Holloway University, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of London and Treasurer of Universities UK,
I write this open letter in the spirit of Sarah Parker Remond, an alumna of Royal Holloway University and Bedford College and slavery abolitionist, in a particularly difficult time for black students.
Not BAME students.
George Floyd, a black man, died in the United States and you said the word ‘black’ once in your entire official University statement on the matter.
“The recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement serves to remind us that there are continued inequalities and fundamental differences that exist within our society.”
You took a black issue and used it as a talking point to reinforce your institution’s commitment to “eliminating racial inequalities and tackling structural and societal racism” and at no point referred directly to the struggle of black people.
The shame I felt reading that statement, as a black student at Royal Holloway, is palpable.
You ‘all-lives-matter-ed’ oppression during a time where black oppression is inducing collective anger and anxiety in every black person in the West as the Principal of a University with students from over 130 countries.
And that was shameful.
It is your duty as Principal to address the collective anxiety of your black students in the face of a universal reminder that being black is reason enough for systemic and institutional racism and police officers to view us as a threat.
Your statement wasn’t enough and we see how you’ve picked and chosen which issues to speak directly out on.
On the 16th of February this year you sent a newsletter out to the student body where Professor Katie Normington, Chair of the Royal Holloway Equality and Diversity Committee, made a direct statement asking that students show sensitivity towards students from China who may wear masks during corona. Followed by a condemnation of microaggressions, racial harassment, and violence.
And yet black students got a vague statement on total society inequality and a brief recognition of BAME colleagues.
BAME, not black.
Where was your condemnation of the murder of George Floyd, Principal Layzell?
Where was your condemnation of black racial inequality and institutional racism in the UK, Principal Layzell?
Where was your condemnation of the microaggressions and racial harassment against your black students, Principal Layzell?
Or are you willfully ignorant of what your black students go through on your campus and lack the financial incentive to support them in the same manner as international Chinese students who pay higher fees?
Your black students are categorically sexualised, demonised and dismissed by your colleagues and your students.
Your black students are racially profiled going to SU club nights and searched for being black and ‘suspicious’.
Your black students are called upon in seminars and lectures to speak out on racial injustices in history for simply being the only black person in the room.
Your black students are subjected to hearing thinly veiled racism from fellow students in the spirit of debate and called aggressive for responding with passion.
Your black students are subjected to attainment gaps with their white counterparts and lack of representation in Royal Holloway faculty and the academic canon of various degree programs.
Then going past studying at your University black students are subject to being 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police as long as there are ‘reasonable’ grounds that a black person is suspected to be carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, etc.
Black people are stereotyped as being violent, savage, angry, and drug-users/dealers in society and so as long as a person is black and in a specific area, they could be stopped and searched for being suspicious by the police.
Where is your empathy?
Where is your understanding?
Where is your passion for the struggle of your black students?
What are you doing to strengthen your black students on campus?
Because since arriving at your University I have been called n*gga by runaway white men on night outs. Black women are treated as an exotic catch and added to ‘must fuck’ lists at your University. Black male students are profiled as aggressive, loud, and threatening at your University.
When you became Principal you were handed a mantle of social progressiveness as upheld by alumni like Emily Wilding Davison, George Eliot and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay just to name a few.
It is because of this that your silence in lieu of active anti-black racism and condemnation of anything opposing that is deafening, and I demand more starting with a re-issued statement and the abolishment of the term BAME by the University when addressing individual ethnic minority issues such as societal racism and oppression.
We belong to specific cultural and racial groups and deserve to be referred to as such and have our issues dealt with on an individual group by group basis, not under the collective term BAME.
“The categorisation of every non-white person into a single category is a reinforcement of the way white supremacy has viewed us all in the past”.
-Clay Hakiziman, House of Hedon Editor-in-Chief
And we, the minority ethnic students, deserve to be referred to directly by the University when discussing our issues and not collectively othered and disregarded under the sweeping term BAME.
We are black, listen to our struggles.
Black Royal Holloway Student