The conclusion of the 2021 Sewell report that systemic racism does not exist in the United Kingdom is deeply disappointing. While some useful individual recommendations can be pulled out from the report, it fails to name the common root cause underlying the difficulties that people from minority backgrounds face. In doing so, the report upholds the harmful narrative that systemic racism does not exist. At Student Minds, we are wholly invested in ensuring the good mental health and wellbeing of all students in our university communities. This will not be attainable until inequality, discrimination, and racism are addressed not just in higher education but our wider society.
When it comes to mental health at university, we believe that students are experts by experience, and that when they tell you about the challenges they face, it is on us as changemakers in the sector, and in wider society, to listen. We have heard from students from minority groups about the array of challenges and difficulties they face, which make success in higher education less attainable for them than their white peers. These experiences range from, but are not limited to, a lack of culturally competent care, the attainment gap, higher drop-out rates, and racism in social and educational settings. Staff from minority backgrounds are underrepresented at every level, earn less on average, and are more likely to be on casualised or precarious contracts. With this knowledge, it seems evident to us that systemic racism remains a critical problem across higher education and indeed in wider British society.
Rosie Tressler OBE, Chief Executive Officer of Student Minds, said: ”The conclusion of the Sewell Report, that systemic racism does not exist in the United Kingdom, directly contradicts what we hear from students and staff from racialised and minoritised communities and identities. Not only does this report fail to adequately identify and respond to the very real ways in which systemic racism harms people in our society, but in doing so it reinforces the idea that these harms are isolated incidents, rather than the consequence of fundamental inequalities in how our society is organised.
“We’re thinking of everybody in this country who has experienced racism in some shape or form, and for whom the publication of this report serves as a painful, aggressive, denial of their reality. We hear you, we know this isn’t good enough, and we are not going to stop pushing until you can navigate your life in safety, equity, and good mental health. Sadly, this report represents a missed opportunity, and we challenge the government and all leaders in society to recognise systemic racism for what it is in order to achieve tangible change.”