Equalities Issues and Institutional Racism at Queen Mary

In 2019 QM UCU, in partnership with QM UNISON, initiated a series of gatherings for protected characteristic groups of staff and students at Queen Mary, in response to concerns about equalities at Queen Mary, the results of the Staff Survey, the BAME / gender pay gap report and Diversity and Inclusion manager Sandra Brown’s resignation email. The gatherings were well attended by staff from across departments, from both unions and none, as well as some students. The aim of the gatherings was to create a space were we listened to each other’s feelings and experiences regarding equalities at Queen Mary, and to draw up a list of actions that we want management to take and the respective unions to fight for. The findings were sent to the Chair of Council and Principal.

The following reports include testimonies from those who attended.

INSTITUTIONAL RACISM May 2019

29 May 2019 QMUCU and QM Unison organised a gathering for support and debate concerning institutional racism at Queen Mary. Queen Mary SU members also participated.

There were 26 Black, Asian, Global Majority, People of Colour from a wide variety of faculties and departments, academic and professional services. Considering the gathering was held during the exam period, Ramadan, school half-term and outside of a lunch hour, this was a good turn out of numbers.

An hour and a half was spent with people testifying to their individual experiences of institutional racism at Queen Mary, particularly at the Mile End Road campus. Below is a summary of points that repeatedly recurred and points where there seemed to be a general consensus of agreement. Some comments were made later by email:

Feelings of being Unhappy

There is a feeling of unhappiness with the situation regarding race at Queen Mary and that the institution has ‘regressed’ in terms of race equality

‘Recent events are ‘disturbing’

Many people articulated that they had not wanted to be seen as ‘dramatic’, ‘angry, or ‘playing the race card’ but kept asking themselves ‘is this racism?’ The reported being ‘made to think it’s in your head’, ‘Something’s not quite right here’. Many felt they did not know what to do.

‘I wasn’t sure what was going on. Am I paranoid?’ Was a recurring sentiment.

There was a conversation about subtle and explicit racism. Some said racism at Queen Mary is subtle. Some said racism is explicit (e.g. a comment such as ‘You only got this job because you are [an ethnic minority]’

‘People are allowed to get away with [racism] here like nowhere else; it is ‘one of the worst places to work.’

‘There is a culture of racism at Queen Mary’

‘Queen Mary is deeply racist. It’s hidden behind a smile.’

There is a desire for a BAME network and more gatherings. ‘Well done to everyone, it’s difficult to speak’ was stated. It was acknowledged that what was being discussed was depressing. Several times one person said how much ‘work’ it is for us as black and brown PoC staff and students. ‘We don’t get a day off’ from having to deal with racism.

Promotion and Recruitment

One of the key mechanisms institutional racism operates through is by blocking the career progression of BAME staff. One narrative of experience recurred many times:

Working one’s way up at Queen Mary and things appeared to be fine at first. Going for promotion (in many cases promotion for a job for which there were already ‘acting up’) was where things started to get difficult. Participants spoke of either not being shortlisted or not getting the job after being shortlisted. And when they requested feedback as to why they were not successful, the feedback was given reluctantly, it was minimal, or suspicious, from a white manager. Managers were not being transparent as to why they did not get the job. This would be followed by seeing a white person with less experience coming from outside Queen Mary and given the job they were already doing.

Watching everyone else [white colleagues] get promoted. Some said they are not applying for promotion anymore. One stated: ‘They’ve already made up their minds’. ‘I’m not going for promotion at this place until they deal with racism. I don’t trust them.’

Restructures

Restructures are a common occurrence at Queen Mary, particularly in recent years and cause much upheaval for staff. Institutional racism was seen in action during restructures. Staff reported experiences when they were asked to re-apply for your job, but didn’t get the job and were given no feedback, or comments that were limited or suspicious. Others reported instances where a department is restructured, and a white person on a lower grade than them is pushed up to a higher grade (on one case jumping several grades) but the black/Asian/ person of colour remains on the same grade, even though they have been in the job for far longer. There was also general feeling of being particularly vulnerable during restructures.

One person asked: Is this ‘unconscious bias’ or is it ‘malicious’? ‘I want to move up not sideways.’

Some said there are many interview panels that are not diverse or the same Black or Asian/PoC keeps being asked to be on the panel.

There was even a fear by some who were in a hiring position that if they hired a Black/Asian/Person of Colour woman she would be so bullied out of the job she would want to leave.

Workplace Experience

Workplaces were reported as being sites for bullying. ‘Horrible’ ‘pernicious’ behaviour was witnessed by many where complaints and ‘nit picking’ ‘undermining’ ‘wearing people down’ and ‘bullying’ was constantly being made by white women against Asian women.

The issues were ‘intersectional’ – gender and race discrimination are working together at Queen Mary. Many noted the resignations by black, Asian and people of colour in recent months. Many felt very isolated in all white teams, classes, committees, boards and panels.

People reported feeling that they were ‘withdrawing’ and ‘taking a step back’ from Queen Mary and being more ‘disengaged’ with the place, due to the struggles with racism they have faced.

Another said, ‘we are celebrated for being hard-working but we are the lowest paid.’

One person stated dissatisfaction with UCU Head Office regarding race.

Many referred to the email by Sandra Brown highlighting the institutional racism at Queen Mary and a race/gender discrimination case being taken against Queen Mary that had been allocated six days at tribunal.

Student Experience

There is a disjuncture in student grades. The so-called BAME attainment gap/’white privilege gap’ was discussed. BAME attainment gap was described as ‘blaming black people but not addressing white supremacy’.

There is a ‘white saviour’ syndrome [in teaching].

Being easily identifiable as a minority student and enduring racially discriminatory, patronising and belittling comments.

‘A person of colour teaching really changes your experience’. ‘I didn’t realise what a difference it makes until I had it.’

Racism from people who are ‘politically correct’. ‘It’s very frustrating’. ‘Post-colonial studies taught me a lot’. ‘It feels worse at Queen Mary than other colleges.’

‘Queen Mary is a massive facade. We are a very diverse population, we make the community. But what is the university doing for us? How are they using us?’

‘Queen Mary hide behing a black and brown facade’

‘It’s white, white, white in terms of lecturers…’

One [white] convenor of a post-colonial module focussed heavily on South Africa and did not mention the Caribbean.

‘I want to see PoC staff’

‘White lecturers in my department continue to foreground teaching materials by white people.’

‘I didn’t like being a student here at all. I felt isolated as the only black student in my year and having no black or Asian lecturers in my department. I hated coming in. I avoided it. I now work at Queen Mary and the feeling is the same. I am just here for the students.’

One also stated: ‘QMSU is a massive disappointment’ and discussed the lack of opportunities and space for black students, the lack of proper support for Black History Month and culturally insensitive meetings on sexuality.’

Management in/action and policies

It was felt that the changes around these issues are not working and that ‘excuses’ are being made by management. One person said that the policies are excellent at Queen Mary but there was a ‘disconnect’ with action.

‘You might as well burn the policies.’

Boards and committees seem powerless to make change. There was testimony of ‘calling people out’ on racism at Queen Mary and of nothing changing afterwards. Statistics giving evidence of structural racism at Queen Mary and across the sector were reported.

‘The organisation is more interested in ‘tick-boxing’ and everything is ‘geared to Athena Swan.’

‘Unconscious bias training is a waste of time. It doesn’t work. It’s a way of making white people feel better about themselves. You can’t be unconscious for 500 years. It’s the structures that need to change: starting with management’.

‘We need black and Asian people in Senior Management and higher academic levels.’

Senior white academics in my school have supported plans to avoid an open equal opportunity for the recruitment of fractional Professors through the back door using the Research Excellence Framework (REF) as an excuse. …I can show you an email sent around by the President and Principal who wrote there would be no ‘open process’ for these posts.

When you challenge a white male academic at Queen Mary on racism, he either tells you how hurt he is, or tells you how hard he is working. Next time I should ask, how much does it hurt? And where does it hurt you? Does it hurt in your pay packet? Does it hurt you – body and mind? Did it hurt your ancestors? And how hard have you been working? Did you break a sweat? Did you die working? Did you work for free? Like me? Right now?

Many of the issues raised above concur with the email distributed by Sandra Brown, the former Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, who recently resigned from Queen Mary. She emphatically cited ‘tick-boxing’ on addressing race and equalities and ‘institutional racism’ as the reason for her departure. The email and these comments should be studied by all who care about our university and who care about ending racism. There is a clearly a problem at Queen Mary.

Queen Mary, University of London UCU / UNISON Equalities Lunch Gatherings 

Oct / Nov 2019 

The following are more notes from the Black and Asian, People-of-Colour, LGBTIQ and Women’s gathering of staff and students held in October and November 2019

People shared the following experiences and feelings: 

Recurring experiences of being passed over for promotion: 

• ‘I have held senior roles in other places. But here I apply and other people get them. I ask why’. 

• ‘I saw another successful application. I copied it. I didn’t even get an interview. It was weird’. 

Experiences of isolation: 

• ‘I wonder where all the other People-of-Colour are?…’ 

• ‘There are only a few people I can talk to. When I bring things up [racism] its like a dirty word’. 

• ‘If you act as individuals it’s hard. There’s power in a group’. 

• ‘I feel I am not able to find a voice to be heard. I’m a needle in a haystack.’ 

BAME / Asian / PoC staff being given ‘equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)’ work: 

• Two colleagues are part of a grant that is supposed to be about diversity and inclusion and they expressed concern that ‘our work is being appropriated’. 

• ‘We become the one having to do the work on race. It gets harder and harder. I don’t always want to be the one to do that work’. 

• ‘It took us a while to even realise we had been siloed into that work diversity work… There was just this assumption that we would do the work and the leader looked at two white men and said “don’t feel under any obligation to do this.”’ 

• People expressed ‘anxiety about confrontations’. 

• One colleague described being new to Queen Mary and having a ‘difficult transition period due to ‘being put on an EDI committee with any consultation’. 

Resignations: 

• There have been widespread resignations by BAME staff e.g. marketing department. 

• Head of Diversity, Equality and inclusion, Sandra Brown’s resignation email was referred to several times. 

Student experiences: 

• ‘I haven’t had a chance to just be a student yet’ 

• We want ‘more diverse reading lists… Black History Month… teachers are not doing enough’. 

• ‘Students care about what teachers are going through’. 

• ‘There are foundation students that need support but the university is only interested in pre-sessional students – because of money’. 

• ‘Chinese students are so de-humanised here.’ 

• A colleague told the story of a Chinese student who got a first in their dissertation. The second marker failed the work. The third marker failed the work. The Chinese student committed suicide. The university showed no compassion toward the family. 

International experiences: 

• ‘I am not a UK / EU citizen… I face institutional suspicion at moments when I have to prove my right to be here. There is a threat of deportation. Queen Mary is incredibly unhelpful and unaware of visa procedures… People who are  supposed to give advice don’t not knowing enough. I was given incorrect advice that could have had consequences’. 

Feelings about the institution as a whole: 

• ‘People have been supportive but I’m insulated from the rest of the university’. 

• It [racism] makes me feel I don’t want to be here’. 

• ‘There is a critically bad bullying culture at Queen Mary’. 

• ‘Women-of-colour, intersectionally, get bullied the worst’. 

• ‘All they care about is reputation while we battle with our mental health’. 

• ‘Imagine if someone understood us and created something for us. It would make money, increase reputation… We can connect with the BME students’. 

The gathering concluded with a summary of demands below. 

We demand: 

• An immediate response to Diversity and Inclusion Manager Sandra Brown’s resignation email, from the President and Principal of QMUL. 

• A public statement acknowledging that QMUL is institutionally racist. 

• Creation of a Black, Asian and People-of-Colour (BAPoC) only space for staff and students at QMUL. 

• Establishment of a migration service that ‘actually works’ i.e. is fit-for-purpose and includes legal advice, loans and assistance. 

• An open ended counselling / therapy service at QMUL that includes counsellors / therapists who are Black / PoC. 

• An Engagement Retention and Success team that is lead by managers who are PoC / Black and more Senior Managers who are Black / PoC. 

• The task and Finish group on equality must be made open. 

• Equality Diversity and Inclusion committees must be instated in all schools and be made transparent and open – the minutes must be released.  

Notes from the WOMEN’S GATHERING of staff and students 

People shared the following experiences and feelings: 

Discrimination against mothers at Queen Mary: 

• People shared recurring experiences of becoming mothers and managers insinuating that ‘your priority has changed’, overhearing comments to male staff that questioned women’s ‘ability and sustainability. 

• One person described being told to bring their children on a work trip abroad. 

The colleague looked on the Home Office website and it stated not to take children. She was then told to ‘put them somewhere’. 

• Women described being given late finishing and early start teaching times (before / after crèche opening times). 

• Sometimes facing this kind of treatment from women managers as well. 

• ‘Flexible working doesn’t exist’. 

• ‘I had to go 0.8. There is no flexible working’. 

• There is a perception that as mothers you are ‘not loyal’. 

• ‘Loyalty is questioned even when you have a child with a high temperature’. 

• ‘I needed to take a child for health issues and was told to make up the time on Saturdays’. 

• ‘University childcare is over half my salary – £1400 a month! Other universities are subsidized’. 

• One reported a male manager saying to her: ‘Well if you worked in the city, it’s company first and children second’. 

• ‘It’s been made clear that I’ve been overlooked for a position because I have children. I’m expected to work Summers, evenings, early mornings. I have to make up the hours’. 

Bullying and harassment of female staff at QMUL: 

NB: Also see the Affinity at Work Report. 

• ‘It’s been a nightmare’ ‘The bullying and harassment is so bad that I’m afraid to come to work. I’m afraid. I’m in a relatively high position. I have been listening to many women who have been harassed for many years. Harrassers know I am listening. They do these things to silence people. … There is a wide range of things: inappropriate physical actions. Horrible treatment by PhD advisor to student. It makes me wonder if people dealing with maternity issues even know the law of the country… Verbal harrassment. Maternity – legal issues. …. People giving up hope of promotion. Left silently. Forgotten in promotion. People engaging in inappropriate behaviour are in control of promotion. I am very concerned about my personal… I am afraid for my personal safety’. 

• ‘There is very little trust in grievance procedures’. 

Structural issues: 

• ‘I am new to the university. I’m aware that I’ve come into ‘a situation’. I’m increasingly aware of structural issues. I’m very junior. There are issues around resources for equality and inclusion.’ 

• ‘Micro aggressions are becoming more apparent. It’s not unique to Queen Mary. But you didn’t think you’d find out about it as quickly as you have’. 

Student experience: 

• Students feel very passionate about the things that were said in Sandra Brown’s email. Micro-aggressions always come back and affect the students. It affects them as well as support staff.’ 

On casualisation: 

• A lot of the issues that have been raised today affect casualised staff such as  who gets what teaching work and who gets paid what….’ 

The gathering concluded with a summary of demands below. 

We demand: 

• A flexible policy on maternity. The policy is not working and needs to be started from scratch. 

• A legal investigation into endemic sexual harassment at QMUL. 

• A revision of the grievance policy – it is not fit for purpose. 

• Parental leave for sick children needs to be addressed. 

• Casualisation to be addressed: TA hours are not matching contracts. 

• Action not just policies. 

Notes from the LGBTIQ+ GATHERING of staff and students 

People shared the following experiences and feelings: 

Various comments: 

• One person shared about the LGBTQI Network. It is a small group. They are trying to get a special section in the library with a permanent collection of LGBTQI books. They’re looking for donations of books. 

• ‘Rainbow flags around have been positive and made people feel welcome’. 

• ‘There are some areas of progress: e.g. Trans policy’ but we need to address the situation of ‘single fathers and care givers’. 

• HR people invested in equalities work really hard, burn out and leave. It’s a cycle’. 

Some reported not having bad experience but: ‘People suffer in silence at Queen Mary’. 

In/visbility: 

• ‘Bi-visibility. Being straight passing. How do we have conversations and be more visible? How can one be more whole self at QM?’ 

• ‘People make assumptions that one is straight. Do I need to tell people? There are still many social assumptions based on the way you appear.  Feeling guilty for not being out enough. Am I out and proud all the time? Until you hear something negative and then – ah. The pressure then to say something’. 

The gathering concluded with a summary of demands below. 

We demand: 

• A directive from management that personal questions and assumptions in relation to partnerships, identity, family set-up, children etc. should not be made in the work place. 

• An LGBTIQ+ counseling service on campus. 

• More LGBTIQ+ visibility, events, and ports of call for support on campus. 

• Centralised funding for equalities work. 

• Teaching materials (e.g. in languages) needs to be reviewed to challenge heteronormative language. 

• Library resources regarding gender identity need to be updated. 

• The status of single fathers must be the same as single mothers. Legislation should be the minimum baseline at QM not the standard. 

• Staff in equalities need to be given more support and need to work in bigger teams to prevent burn-out and resignations. 

• The ever increasing workload in all departments needs to be addressed. 

• Senior management need to address (and not massage) the results of the  staff survey, bullying, harassment and institutional racism. There is denial and change needs to come from the TOP. 



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s