Racism at Exeter – It’s Time to Talk

Ellie Clifford


By now, you’ve probably seen the latest in what feels like a never-ending cycle of stories exposing racism at Britain’s universities. A few weeks ago it was “we hate blacks” chanted outside of a Nottingham Trent University student’s room, before that Loughborough students apologised for holding “slave auction” events during Freshers’ week. Now, the attention has fallen on Exeter. With a series of screenshots posted to twitter, a law student has exposed a WhatsApp group chat of the Bracton Law Society.

There’s two dozen screenshots and they are all impossibly damning. I won’t quote them – if you want to see they aren’t hard to find, they are truly horrific. Since the screenshots were shared on Twitter there have been responses from Exeter University,  the Students’ Guild, Bracton Law itself, and Hill Dickinson LLP, the law firm with which one of the most vocal group chat members held an offer of future employment, which has since been withdrawn.

The responses universally condemn the words spoken in the group chat. They are clear on distancing themselves from racism, sexism, or any kind of discrimination and yesterday all Exeter students received an email from Mike Shore-Nye and Professor Janice Kay encouraging all students to speak up against discrimination with a #NeverOK movement. But, honestly, that’s to be expected. For me, it’s the bare minimum. I’d wager that in 2018, no university (Exeter or otherwise) is going to shout that they’re wilfully letting bigotry slip under their radars, onto their courses and into their student halls. I want to know what is being done to address the culture of discrimination and unfairness that is clearly so prevalent at universities across the country. After an event like this there is always conversation about what can and should be done to report discrimination when we see it. But what is being done to bring down the culture of racism, sexism, and harassment that cultivates these situations? Where are the preventative conversations and actions to stop things like this happening in the first place?

Russel Group Universities in particular need to address this. With reputations of being the university of the posh and the privileged (just look at The Tab’s Exeter stereotype), universities like Exeter must do better at distancing themselves from the kind of people in the Bracton Law Society group chat, and make the university more accessible and inclusive for all. After all, elements of truth can sometimes be found in stereotypes (as painful as that is to say for an Essex girl – I have to face the truth). So, if Exeter’s stereotype is the posh people from Surrey -who (at the extremes) feel they can openly say what they did in a Guild-associated society group chat – then we need to work to change that.

I’m proud to be an Exeter student. I worked hard to get here, I enjoy my course and I have brilliant course mates and lecturers. What I’m not proud of is the culture of discrimination and bigotry that I don’t feel the university is doing enough to distance itself from. As the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements calling out sexual harassment in Hollywood continue to spark conversation about where the line is and what behaviour we’re willing and unwilling to tolerate, there is no better time to take a strong stance and tell the members of the Bracton Law Society group chat, and any others like them, that they are the ones that are not welcome.