By Alexander Finer
An Exeter Safeguarding Survey, sent out at the start of May, aimed to test the waters of students’ opinions on mandatory ethical and inclusivity training. In an email sent to Exeter students it was explained that, the results of the survey may go on to inform Exeter University policy surrounding student inclusivity education and safeguarding. Examples of statements which were asked in the survey include: “All students should be required to take courses in multicultural education or ethnic studies”, and participants were asked to either agree or disagree with these statements. The survey has been commissioned in response to the racist group chat, which sparked national controversy after intolerant messages from the Bracton Law Society group chat were leaked.
The survey was mostly developed by the Equality and Diversity department, and Exeter’s official website states: “Safeguarding BAME Students is a research project, jointly funded by The Office for Students ‘CATALYST’ fund, and the University of Exeter. It is part of a national programme of projects to tackle hate crime and online harassment. The project is running from December 2017 to December 2018: during this period, the project team is reporting regularly to the University Race Equality Group.”
The purpose: “To create an evidence base for this (and for wider policy and practice aimed at reducing racial harassment.”
From the Safeguarding BAME student addressed email, they state: “This insight (from the survey) will be used to inform University policy and practice including training, as well as for research purposes – all aimed at reducing the racial harassment of Exeter University’s BAME students.”
This is a fundamental step to be taken in order to tackle the problems that have been faced lately by the university after issues such as the Bracton Law Society group chat, which was one example of a series of similar issues which occurred in universities throughout the country. However, I believe that this is the incorrect way to tackle such issues as we have seen at our university, because a university aims to enable students to become autonomous individuals, without the requirement to study other subjects that do not co-inside with your degree choice. Therefore, my issue is with the potential mandate of students and staff to attend compulsory multicultural, inclusivity and/or ethnic studies courses and workshops precisely because of the fact that they are compulsory.
Relating to the survey itself, there are issues relating to typos, with “universiyu students” and other conjoined words and (in my opinion) poorly designed questions, as at times it is difficult to distinguish if they are questions or statements, it does not seem to have been read through that closely which are little mistakes which make the survey look amateur and unreliable.
Some might say that the university should protect BAME students even if it violates individualism. Obviously, it is absolutely necessary to tackle problems regarding racism, I am only saying that the survey questions were poorly designed, and to implement compulsory measures would further disrupt progress. Although there would be obvious benefits to introducing mandatory ethics courses, instead I believe that a method which would encourage the individual development of a positive change in thinking would be more effective.
Jonathan David Haidt, co-founder of the Heterodox Academy, expressed “To improve racial climate, don’t do diversity training and multicultural centres. Increase [the number] of interracial roommates.” Further, “Liberty and freedom are not talked about; diversity and inclusion are always talked about, and diversity never means diversity of opinion.” Therefore, I would use this to argue that multi-ethnic centres should be replaced by mixing the student population more.
Furthermore, my main concern is what would happen if I did not attend these required workshops/ courses if the policy was implemented. The communications so far indicate it would be a requirement to take courses in multicultural education, ethnic studies and inclusive awareness workshops. Would I, therefore, lose my place at the university if I did not attend them? Would I not be able to continue my degree? Would there be disciplinary action taken? This may seem too reactionary, but occurrences of this kind have already been documented in colleges most notably in Canada and America. Therefore it is something which has been seen before, with the introduction of implicit bias training in American and Canadian universities, which has been exposed as negatively impactful on society by academics.
Take the example of religious studies: people have the option to attend or participate in non-compulsory modules or societies which are outside of their degree if they so desire. And many people do, including myself, and I feel that these are far more productive. Peer discussions from people who have chosen to attend are more constructive than being lectured at. A better solution would be to promote attendance of religious societies, philosophy or the application of ethics.
It is on this line of thought that I disagree with the implementation of these potential required studies. The survey in its current form is only a litmus test, and it is possible that nothing may arise from it. Nevertheless, there remains the possibility detailed in the email, that significant policies could arise from the results of the survey, to be used as guiding evidence for Exeter’s policies on harassment.
* The views expressed in this article are part of an opinion piece and do not reflect the views of The Falmouth Anchor *