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16 months to nowhere - Follow up - more details - No Free labor and guiding principles

On February 12th, following free consultations on the handling of racial complaints and additional requests for our "feedback", we sent the email below to LSHTM leadership but before you read it, you should know more about our thought process.

Following our blog post (here) we received threats of legal actions but most importantly, emails from students corroborating the events. We don't share EVERYTHING on this blog for many obvious reasons but following recent leadership email (particularly the statement below) we thought it was important for you to understand.

Feb 10th - Leadership "Suspension is a neutral act and is considered in serious cases, for example, when a staff member poses an ongoing risk to students or could potentially jeopardise an investigation process whilst remaining at work. We did undertake an immediate assessment of the issues of this particular case (which as you may know, the individual accused has strongly contested). At this stage, a considered judgement was made not to suspend the individual. As an institution we have a responsibility to all staff and students, and that includes a responsibility to give a fair hearing to staff accused of misconduct"

Student emails shared with leadership since January18th:

1. Dear FAIR Network,

I wanted to get in touch with you regarding your latest blog post. I am a former student and recognise who this blog is about. I have been involved with some of the activity denouncing this individual, <redacted>. I am currently employed by the school on a casual contract, and I'm waiting to hear back about a potential extension onto a full-time job. I am slightly hesitant to contact the school directly about their inaction because of this but do want to support your actions and lend you my voice. I had thought about contacting <redacted>. If you recommend contacting anyone else, or if you think there is any other way I could help, please let me know. Thank you for the work you are carrying out.

2. Good afternoon,

I am writing in response to the testimony on the fairlshtm website. Unfortunately, I recognize the situations that the author details, and I regret that I did not properly report the situation at the time. The considerable emotional burden of this reporting fell on the author of this testimony and the length of time spent is appalling. I hope my support and recollections are of some use at this time.

I was in the room when <redacted> turned off the recording for reasons they did not give, even when they was pointedly asked why. They casually referred to third world countries, and continued further to make derogatory comments about “natives” of those countries. In a lecture that should have detailed the ways in which higher-income, majority Western, nations have undermined the self-determination of LMICs through decades of economic policy, they instead discussed budgets and allowing for “servants.” Not only was the lecture upsetting in its nonchalant racism, but it was one of the few lectures allotted in the course to overarching issues of economic and social determinants in <redacted>. Instead of framing lectures we had been given, many by older white men who had been the majority in vertical control programmes led by the UK, and discussing the systemic racism and unequal power dynamics of global health, their lecture contributed further to that injustice. As they was one of our course directors, and the only one who focused on the social and economic aspects of global health, their statements were even more damaging. Moreover, as the other course directors were rarely present, a non-written report of their actions would have been impossible.

I witnessed the lecture that the author of the testimony describes, and hope that in some small part my writing will contribute to the necessary conversation about changing the reporting system at LSHTM and an underlying conversation about the leadership of courses and what they represent.

3. Dear BLM LSHTM,

I believe <redacted> included my feedback form of <redacted"’ lecture in which they said these abhorrent things. I stand by this account and am willing to be part of any further discussions going forward. I was also present in all of the lectures during which <redacted> was teaching students and can confirm that they purposefully turned off the recording before every lecture – at times even stopping 5 minutes into their lecture to run out of the room to turn the recording off.

In June, another student and I drafted a testimony that was included in the LSHTM BLM created to share with the school (link here - testimony number 9). In this testimony we highlighted the unacceptable language that <redacted> used in many of their lectures, and the testimony was signed by 40 students and alumni.

4. Hello FAIR LSHTM,

Thank you for all that you are doing to transform LSHTM, I am so grateful to you.

I am writing to you in support of the student’s testimony shared earlier this week. Reading the blog post, I recognized these statements as being <redacted>, one of the course <redacted>. I and several of my classmates have submitted feedback, specifically naming <redacted>, and including concrete examples of them explicitly racist comments through formal written feedback for the module she taught (submitted December 2019) as well as in the formal assessment of the MSc course (in June 2020) and are disappointed, though unfortunately not surprised, by LSHTM’s lack of follow-up or any action. Our entire course was present during the sessions where <redacted> deliberately turned off recordings for every lecture they gave, where they highlighted the need for a “budget for servants” in order to live a “semi-civilised life in the field,” and repeatedly emphasized their authority over “country nationals” who were “people in grass skirts.” We have heard from alumni from prior years who observed similar egregious comments made by <redacted>, submitted feedback, and are disillusioned that this institution has no follow-up on the evaluations they had submitted. Seeing as <redacted> is one of the programme course director, we are left wondering who even handles the written feedback that is submitted, and how any student can trust that feedback will be respected, honored, or acted upon. This highlights the inadequacy of the present feedback systems that place the responsibility on those who have experienced mistreatment to convince those in positions of power. This is especially concerning given that in one lecture, <redacted> dismissed constructive concerns expressed by students and asserted that it was the students’ responsibility to speak directly to the lecturer if they had a problem with the topics discussed, rather than acknowledging the widespread concerns and discomfort of all the students, especially those who are racially minoritized.

'5; “I wish we recorded it - she purposefully switched off the recording because she knew what she was saying was wrong.”

We are NOT talking about implicit biases and lack of knowledge about how racism manifest here.

The original post was about the 16-months but it turned into something truly appalling. We never imagined a scenario where a senior professors at LSHTM would be explicitly, and intentionally be spreading racists messages and going beyond their way to "leave no trace".

This IS NOT US! We shouldn't have to carry that burden! It is a shame and we can't imagine what those students felt like...trapped in John Snow theatre....forced into those disgusting narrative....

The past few months, we have witness a desire to write the wrongs, to have difficult conversations but this is something else. It is INTENT, it is INTIMIDATION, it is PRIVILEGE, it is OVERT ACTS OF RACISM and where our leadership sees no "threat", it leaves us deeply disturbed....

This is a threat to ALL OF US.

- it is a threat to our fundings

- it is a threat to our values when we promote "respect and diversity" but practice impunity

- it is a threat to our sense of community when our leadership implies that some issues are more important than others.

- it is a threat to our ability to attract international students

- it is a threat to our ability to retain staff

- it is a threat to the pride we have when introducing ourselves as LSHTM staff, students and alumni

SHAME is the only appropriate word to describe this entire situation

We will address this email in the coming days but in the meantime, this is the email we sent on Feb 12th about the guiding principles of an effective racial complaints mechanism.

Dear Leadership,

Thank you for sharing and running through your draft of the bullying and harassment process map. Before arranging another meeting, we wish to outline our main concerns on your draft and state our intended way of working going forward if we were to continue to collaborate on a procedure to handle racial bullying and harassment complaints (including relevant curriculum-related issues). We hope these will prove useful in establishing a robust and fit-for-purpose process before our next meeting.

Firstly, as mentioned in previous communications, institutionalised racism and the resulting inequalities between staff and students often manifest in the form of “volunteer” positions targeting non-white individuals. While our desire to create a better environment remains strong, these “cap in hand” roles are not only exploitative in nature, they go against the core values promoted by FAIR and stated by LSHTM leadership since June 2020. The perpetual cycle of working for nothing more than “thanks” that is created while (predominantly white) people in senior roles are fully compensated in that area of work, regardless of impact (or lack thereof) must end. Whether it is an allowance or through other means, our time matters and should be appropriately valued. Until there is a clear framework and suitable recompense made for our collaboration, we will not be meeting with SLT on any further occasions.

Second, regarding the racial complaints framework, some elements should be retained - including report and support - but as we articulated during the meeting, we believe the process must be much more revolutionary in order to achieve its aim of ensuring complaints are handled swiftly and successfully. This is a prerequisite if LSHTM is to begin to restore the student and staff body’s trust in the Institution.

Our initial review of the framework raised some pertinent questions that we would like to invite you to appraise (and may also be useful in your reviews of other complaint/concern procedures e.g. bullying and harassment). We have listed these in the document attached.

Additionally, we have constructed a list of principles (most of them presented during our last call) we believe should be considered while redrafting the process:

  1. LSHTM Ownership - Students must not be responsible for ensuring that complaints are taken seriously and resolved; they must be able to simply raise a complaint and have confidence that the Institution will follow procedure in a timely manner.

  2. Equality - Every student complaint should be taken seriously. There must not be a threshold of students making similar complaints before it is reacted to. White people don’t get to decide what type of racism is “more acceptable”.

  3. Anonymity - Students have the option of remaining anonymous whenever possible, and this change in practice should be communicated strongly and repeatedly with all staff, students, and alumni.

  4. Solidarity - Any staff member or student should be empowered, and encouraged, to raise complaints on behalf of others, if appropriate. Using the disastrous situations described in the "16 months to nowhere post" as an example - any member of staff could and should have raised the complaint formally. Additionally, students should have the option to report as a group.

  5. Timelines - The complaint should be handled promptly. 16 months is an absolutely unacceptable length of time for a complaint to have been waiting for resolution, or even proper consideration. Considering that most MSc are less than 12 months, this recent case reads like an attempt to fatigue the person raising the complaints in the misguided hopes that they would give up before anyone had to address the situation. Time management must be written into your procedure and issues should be handled during the school year before the exam period.

  6. Staff Accountability - Where a complaint relates to a racist remark/occurrence within lecture slides/the lecture hall, the lecturer should issue a communication to the relevant cohort detailing their new understanding of why the remark/situation was racist and inappropriate, and outlining the changes they will make in their teaching and public health-related practice.

  7. Transparency - All complaints should be compiled, anonymised and made available in a report published every two months to all LSHTM staff and students via email and on the intranet.

  8. Shared learning - The report should include a description of LSHTM’s response. This should encompass a “teachable moments” database in order to prevent future occurrences.

  9. LSHTM Accountability - In addition to sharing external investigators' recommendations, LSHTM should clearly state whether these recommendations will be applied, how and if not, why. The use of external investigators, separate from HR, is questionable as we understand that such recommendations are not binding.

  10. Collaboration - The reports should be reviewed and discussed with SRC to gather student feedback on the issues and the appropriateness of LSHTM response

  11. Accessibility - it is LSHTM’s responsibility to ensure that the process is widely communicated to the staff and student body. Failure to make the process known at all levels could be seen as an attempt at concealment, with the aim of reducing the overall number of complaints and camouflaging the deep-rooted problems that exist at the School. Clearly, communication attempts to date have proved unsuccessful. While this process was officially ‘launched’ in September 2020, only an extremely limited number of staff and students were aware of its existence and/or parameters.

We encourage you to carefully consider these principles in the redrafting of the complaints process. The mechanism should be easily understandable and require little effort on your part.

Further, in order to achieve the principle 2 of Equality listed above, the EDI team needs to be trained in anti-racism and preferably have a level of knowledge and understanding regarding racial complaints that, more often than not, comes from lived experience. While we hope that the current recruitment process will provide the required expertise, recent events and communications have further solidified general concerns about the capacity and capability of the current EDI department to review and triage complaints. Too often, the focus seems to be placed on “tone” rather than the issue itself.

Finally, we would like to raise the outstanding question of the role of the FAIR Network within this framework and at LSHTM as an institution. This topic was raised and introduced by Prof. XXX months ago, keeps being pushed to accommodate SLT needs for "our feedback" and represents a significant imbalance in our exchanges.

We provide you with answers for free that feed into your paid work, while it takes time out of ours. The expectation that we are available to identify and solve the deep-seated issues at LSHTM, when there are individuals being paid to do just that, is fundamentally problematic. Consequently, we would like for you to propose a more acceptable way of working that will account for the time spent during meetings but also in preparation of them.

No more free labour.


The FAIR Network

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