The panel session was chaired by Advance HE’s own Clare Pavitt, joined by three people from across the sector who lead the field in working on, and researching, issues surrounding hate crime and discrimination on campuses.
Disability hate crime
Starting the discussion was Dr Leah Burch, Professional Tutor at Liverpool Hope University, whose PhD research focused on disabled people’s experiences of hate crime, and she says the lessons from the project, such as the impact of hate crime on people’s sense of self, can be applied to university campuses.
“Hate crime can hurt just as much as parallel crimes. It’s a targeted crime, targeted because of who they are or how they identify. People’s sense of self is badly affected by the spaces in which they occupy. Going into places such pubs, clubs or bars and knowing that you would have to deal with it, makes it less likely that you’re going to go there.”
She said that the “ordinariness” of hate crime was what interested her the most, as most of the time hate crime does not constitute the extreme and shocking crimes that you see in the news.
“I really wanted to make room for everyday hate. Typically, you might think of extreme incidents but actually it occurs in normal encounters in everyday life. We need to look at the effect of that and how that affects which spaces people choose to occupy.
“It’s a very gloomy topic, but participants had found ways of taking ownership of these experiences and their future movements.”
She finished by saying that universities need to collect data on hate crime and listen to people’s lived experiences if they are going to create safer spaces for disabled people, and all victims of hate crime.
“A quote which really stuck with me, and is actually on my wall, is ‘we make a world out of the shattered pieces, even when we shatter the pieces or even when we are the shattered pieces.’ Campuses can become spaces of fear and risk to people depending on their experiences, so HE institutions need to step in sometimes to create safer spaces for students and staff.”
Religious hate crime
Following Leah was Paul Weller of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University. His focus was on religious hate crime, which he says does not get the attention it deserves and there is evidence that its prevalence is on the increase.
“Religion and belief is not as present as other protected characteristics when it comes to hate crime. However, this is not to say it is insignificant, and there is a significant amount of intersectionality. The stats say that the numbers have increased dramatically over the last few years, although there is an effect of people being more willing to come forward to report crimes. Religion and belief has become a much more accepted protected characteristic.”
He said that the research he had done at Coventry University had shown that 1 in 10 people from a UK minority religion or belief had experienced abuse and that universities need to do more than just dealing with negative episodes as they occur.
“The project that we did had a number of headline findings. Generally, students at Coventry agreed that people from different religious beliefs got on well together, however 10% said that they had experienced abuse.
“Hate crime is not only a matter of dealing with things that negatively surface, but about creating environments which are positive.”
Racial hate crime
Closing the session was Yasmeen Hussain, non-executive board member of the Student Awards Agency Scotland and is an executive board member of the Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators (SAMEE). SAMEE supports the academic and professional advancement of minority ethnic students and professionals, providing programmes and initiatives to strengthen leadership and management capacity.
Her focus was on racial hate crime and she said that learning from the lived experiences of people who had suffered abuse was vital, although this was not always easy due to the traumatic nature of the incidents.
“I can’t start this discussion without thanking the participants for their courage and honesty in sharing their experiences. We were deeply affected by the process being BME ourselves.
“I must point out that many had perhaps had experience of racial bullying or harassment and were very uncertain about coming forwards to talk about it. A lot of the discussion has been about having conversations and learning from lived experiences; it is not always easy as the experiences can be particularly traumatic.”
She also said that the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent shift to online working and teaching, has meant that bullying and hate crime has become easier to perpetrate.
“During the Covid pandemic, many of us have been working from home and those who took part in the study said that while racial discrimination may not have been exacerbated, bullying has certainly been. Many college and university staff are increasingly using online platforms and social media, even before the pandemic, and this has resulted in greater opportunity for online harassment.
“The online conduct they were experiencing is a continuation of the behaviour they were experiencing in person. The nature of racial bullying is such that whether it takes places online or in person, it sticks with you.”
Advance HE supports institutions to tackle inequalities and implement strategies to promote and enhance equality across all protected characteristics. Find out more about our offers developed to tackle racism and racial inequalities and address bullying and harassment.