The Disavowal Of Racism Within The Ivory Towers: University of Birmingham And The AoIR List Serve

On Tuesday, a diverse group of University of Birmingham students assembled outside their library to protest both the Islamophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti found on campus and their university’s refusal to address the matter in an appropriate and serious manner.

A day before the protest, more Islamophobic graffiti was found on the University of Birmingham campus:

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The Black & Minority Association at the University of Birmingham issued a statement that addressed the fact that:

“Racism, Islamophobia and discrimination are, and continue to be, major problems at the University of Birmingham. As one of the most respected universities in the country, the University should recognise that, although removing the graffiti is important, it does not address the deeper issue at hand. If it was under any pretense before, we hope that this very visible example serves to remind the University and its management that these are issues that cannot go on ignored, and which they have a responsibility to counter.
Universities across the country are simply not doing enough for BME, faith-based, and in this case Muslim students alongside other marginalised minoritised groups; as institutions of privilege they are more often than not complicit in the wider oppression of these groups by quietly hushing up the issues. We need anti-hatred education and active anti-fascism initiatives, but also for our university to stand alongside us in tackling these issues at a structural and institutional level and de-normalise the oppression afflicting our members.”

Only after a successful demonstration that attacked media attention (pictures and audio of speeches here) did the University of Birmingham finally issue a statement via Facebook:

“The University of Birmingham removed all graffiti as soon as it became evident. The University continues to work with West Midlands Police to identify those responsible. We are also working with the Guild of Students directly and through our Good Campus Relations Group, and with the University’s multi-faith Chaplaincy.

The University of Birmingham is a community of 150 nations situated in a vibrant multi-cultural city and we are extremely proud of our diversity.

We will actively challenge discrimination of any kind and continue to strive to strike a balance that ensures vigilance against any form of potential extremism or discrimination while also protecting freedom of speech.”

However, students are finding the statement just as insincere and callous as well as the utter lack of action or attention by the University of Birmingham regarding the racist graffiti incident on the 18th January and the continued anti-Muslim graffiti found on campus. As one student commented under the Facebook statement by the University of Birmingham,

“It seems odd that the response to a few small incidents on the demo last year [in reference to Defend Education Birmingham’s occupation in January 2014] received a statement almost straight away from the Uni and an email fr David Eastwood. Yet highly threatening targeting graffiti has got zero comment from David Eastwood and a statement that took days to put out.

Also how can you put out a statement about an attack that was clearly racist, anti-Semitic and very very islamaphobic without mentioning those words once? It would be great to see a proper condemnation too about this specfic incident as opposed to a vague statement in the last paragraph.”

Another student on went on to ask why Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, David Eastwood, makes “…£400,000+ for if he won’t stand up for the student body?”

The most troubling message contained in the statement points to the university being, “…vigilan[t] against any form of potential extremism or discrimination while also protecting freedom of speech.” As another student commented, “What the hell does freedom of speech have to do with the risk faced by Muslim and Jewish students in light of this graffiti??!”

As any keen observer has noticed in the past few years, British universities have been increasingly co-opted into PREVENT policies  designed not to protect “free speech” or even prevent “terrorism” as event in the University of Birmingham’s slow and disastrous response to racist graffiti on campus, but rather to police and monitor Muslim students, in addition to those who have radical left or environmental politics. Currently, a counter-terrorism bill is being fast-tracked in Parliament that would further see universities work not only as the front line for UKBA, but going as far as  becoming the agents of the state. As reported in the Times Higher Education, “Under the proposals, the Home Secretary will issue guidance about the exercise of the new duty and will have the power to give directions and enforce performance via a court order. This new statutory power is broad and ill-defined and, put simply, has no place in relation to universities. Indeed it raises the prospect of unprecedented direct political interference in the day-to-day running and operation of universities. At the same time there is no provision for the new powers to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and no evidence to demonstrate the need for such powers to support prevention.”

It all seems perverse that the University of Birmingham and many other leading British higher education institutions purport to, on one hand, care about free speech or even extremism, yet align themselves with PREVENT policies that seek to limit or criminalise free speech while targeting and marginalising further Muslim and students involved in activist politics. If nothing else, the racist incidents at the University of Birmingham and the management’s disastrous handling of the situation at hand shows that institutional racism and in particular, anti-Black racism and Islamophobia are still on-going problems within British academia that are often left on the back burner and deemed by management as unimportant or not pressing to deal with. This seems particularly shocking given that most universities are actively recruiting non-EU international students from Muslim majority countries.

But as we all know, institutional racism is nothing new within British higher education or for that matter, North American higher education. Likewise, it isn’t just university management that is complicit in the suppression of discussion and action points to eradicate institutional racism. It is also academics themselves!

For anyone who thinks for one minute that we’re post-racial, let me give you this statistic: in the United Kingdom alone, out of 18,500 lecturers, only 85 are Black and of those, only 17 are women. I don’t think the situation is any better across the pond in terms of racism and microaggressions as indicated in this piece. Because British, or for that matter, Western academia is largely “pale, male, and stale” it is not surprising that BME scholars and students along with students of color who are non-EU international find themselves increasingly disenfranchised or pushed out of the ivory towers altogether.

Today, I decided to through my two pence (or cents) into the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) list serve, which I have been a member of when I began my PhD studies at the University of Leeds in October 2009. My former PhD supervisor, Helen Kennedy posted an advert on the list serve for a position opening at the University of Sheffield where she recently move to from her previous position at the University of Leeds some three months ago.

This is how the conversation began:

Helen’s message for position opening

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followed by my caveat to BME academics:

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Then, Rhiannon Bury, aka, “typical white feminist” interjects her absurd thoughts and attempts to derail a discussion about racism in academia to something completely unrelated to the issue at hand.

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And I respond to “typical white feminist” Rhiannon…

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But the “typical white feminist” brigade be mad…very mad, and attempting to turn a discussion about racism into a “oh this is personal, take it somewhere else”.  Case in point, Mia Consalvo (you can read my reply to Mia in the same screen grab):

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It’s not long before a few academics come on to the AoIR list serve to defend my right to have a discussion about racism and to challenge the racism within higher education:

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But it is not long before the “typical white feminist” brigade lead by their commander-in-chief Rhiannon Bury invades the conversation. Boy oh boy, she is a piece of work. Now she is concerned with the harmful effects of surveillance on her white body. LOL cry me a river!

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And you know I had a response to Rhiannon’s nonsensical mutterings…
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And then we have some good old fashion tone-policing by Elijah Wright, because, you know, he shed a few white tears for the fact that I called out a few people on the thread on their “white, cisgendered privilege”.

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The only measured response and someone who actually got on to the racism that was perpetuated on this thread was from my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. Go PITT! Thank you Tyler Bickford!!!

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But hold your knickers, (or panties), hey ho, it’s the “best brownie in the village” group comprised of Xia (one of Helen Kennedy’s former PhD students at the University of Leeds who as rumours have consistently mentioned, may not have collected her PhD data ethically or in line with university policy), and Ms Sakar!


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My reply to Xia:

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Then Ms Sakar from Mumbai interjects her thoughts as a “woman of color” indicating that I am “…reinforcing all the ugly stereotypes that prevail about people of colour.” And Ms Sakar, you are reinforcing the “best brownie in the village” points by mowing down another woman of color who has experienced racism to suck up to the white racist peoples’ club.

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And you know I had a reply to Ms Sakar’s bizarre comment:

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If you are on A0IR list serve, the conversation got even more bizarre with more disassembling from Rhiannon and company and a few white men who joined in in an attempt to silence and/or discredit the discussion I started.

Why am I sharing this? To show that even in supposedly “liberal, queer-friendly fields of study” that Internet studies tends to be viewed as, discussions of race are still no-go areas. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find among the white people who revealed their causal and not so casual racism on this thread and their “best brownie in the village” cohorts that a few might of actually written about race in the media, abet from a theoretical, impersonal position. Black and people of colour who actually discusses the real and lived racism that has marked our bodies are seen as little more than ‘unhinged’ and having a ‘chip on our shoulders’ against white folks. Our anger, our continued frustration, our hurt and fears mean nothing to white academics who on one hand profit from retelling or researching in our communities, but at the same time ignore and/or complicit in the racism that they perpetuate against us within the Ivory Towers.

Again, I am not surprised about the dismal and horrid treatment on the A0IR thread. It again points to the fact that institutional racism is a huge problem within academia.


About justice4sanaz

For 3 years, Sanaz Raji, a non-EU international student from the United States, has waged a fearless and brave fight against institutional aggression, bullying, and racism from the School of Media and Communication (formerly the Institution of Communications Studies) University of Leeds. The School of Media and Communication took away Sanaz's scholarship in August 2011, only 2 weeks before the start of her third year into her PhD studies. The School of Media and Communication breached their own procedures and rules concerning evaluating student progress. By taking away Sanaz's scholarship, the School of Media and Communication prevented her from continuing her studies in addition to having a decent standard of living with food and shelter that all students expect as a human right. In waging her battle for equal rights for non-EU international students, Sanaz was evicted from her university accommodation in May 2014, threatened with an ASBO (anti-social behavior order) and now fighting against deportation. All non-EU international students should have the right to challenge their universities for their failings without the threat of harassment or deportation. Justice4Sanaz is a movement to redress the failure of the student movement to discuss the myriad of ways that non-EU students, especially those who are people of color, are silenced, bullied and threatened within the neoliberal British university system.
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One Response to The Disavowal Of Racism Within The Ivory Towers: University of Birmingham And The AoIR List Serve

  1. Pingback: Protesting overseas student fears deportation | Westminster World

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