Testimony - 16 months to nowhere - how racism is being facilitated by LSHTM's reporting system
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
** A formal investigation has now been open to investigate some of the racists acts described in this post. As always, we will not be sharing names but if you recognised some of the events described and want to corroborate in order to help, support fellow students and further dismiss and nip in the bud the accusations of defamation use Report and Support: https://reportandsupport.lshtm.ac.uk/ or feel free to reach out to the FAIR Network or the School directly. (whatever you prefer)
Dear BLM-LSHTM Community,
Your voices matter to us and we will never stop using whatever influence we have to amplify them and demand better of LSHTM.
An alum determined to see racial justice at LSHTM reached out to the FAIR Network following 16-months of emailing, attending zoom meetings, and being interviewed for trying to report overt acts of racism perpetuated by a senior lecturer that led NOWHERE.
We have chosen not to make the alum's account publicly available for now. However, it was sent to the perpetrator, the entire School leadership (including Council members and the chair of the new D&I committee), the union representative, and every head of department.
This post includes:
Our FAIR email sent on 18 January 2021 to LSHTM leadership and leaders (the student's full statement was attached);
An extract of the student's experiences from their written account;
The student's opening statement, framing their written document.
All accounts have been anonymised sometimes using neutral pronoun (they, their, them). We asked everyone to protect the identity of the student. It is their decision to decide to go public or not.
(1) Anonymised FAIR email to LSHTM leaders
We are writing in support of an alum who earned their degree last year at LSHTM. Over the past 16 months, they devoted colossal time, effort, and emotional energy to report instances of racism by LSHTM staff and to try to engage with LSHTM leaders to help make our institution a less hostile place for racially minoritised people. The attached document details the timeline of that experience.
It is worth reading in full and with undivided attention.
The document paints a damning picture of an institution more willing to protect racist staff than Black students and which, in the process, facilitates the perpetuation of an archaic, colonial understanding of global health. While the most flagrant transgressions described were committed by [Dr. XXX], the scholar's account illustrates grave failures and forfeited opportunities for meaningful anti-racist action at every institutional level, from the Director down to the students. Where malice may be absent, thoughtlessness abounds, and where proactive advocacy and collective action are needed, ephemeral expressions of sympathy and copy-pasted platitudes are all that are offered.
One of the most conspicuous aspects of the described ordeal is the timing, coinciding as it does with the highly publicised fanfare and ostensible efforts since last summer to decolonize the School and institute anti-racist practices. Reading the document, it is clear that the gap between LSHTM’s public commitments and its closed-door decisions is actually an abyss. While some modest advances over the past year are acknowledged, specifically in the reporting systems for bias incidents, these reactive measures have done nothing to actually improve Black students’ experience at LSHTM, nor are they supported by any mechanisms for accountability and action. Instead, they just compound the burden that racism already imposes on minoritised students.
The general lack of proficiency and the low priority afforded by LSHTM staff and leaders to effectively respond to incidents of racial bias are other recurring themes. Everyone reading the present letter has had painful experiences in their lives, whether the death of a loved one, a frightening accident, a violent encounter, or a personal embarrassment. We all know how difficult it can be to talk about events that have caused us pain, even to our closest friends and confidants. The psychological violence wrought by racist acts is no different, sparking enduring feelings of humiliation, anger, impotence, and anxiety. It is therefore unconscionable that this scholar has had to retell their account and compile evidence of the racist aggressions experienced, over and over again, to near strangers, most of them white, who could not possibly understand what they were going through.
Although fellow students and LSHTM staff were shocked (shocked!) that such incidents could occur, none apparently had enough forethought to simply take notes and forward a description of the incident to their superiors, thereby saving the student the burden of having to rehash all the details again.
There is no excuse for the fruitlessness or duration of their journey in bringing these accounts of racism forward at LSHTM. No one investigated the perpetrator further (or at all) to establish a pattern of harmful behaviour, or to consider a case for dismissal. Nobody has assumed the ultimate responsibility of stopping this harm from occurring further, or to others. In fact, [Dr. XXX] and others in similar positions act as gatekeepers of racism and colonialism at the School, retaining their posts unchallenged with impunity, and subjecting cohort after cohort to the same genre of racist teaching, remarks and prejudices.
Few white people have even been moved to speak widely about the problem, raising awareness among their peers and chipping away at the atmosphere of tacit consent that enables it. Certainly, no explicit systems have been put in place to prevent racist acts from happening in the lecture hall again.
While the scholar's experience is ‘shocking’ and [Dr. XXX]'s words are ‘appalling’, neither are surprising. We are regularly contacted by students with similar complaints of racial profiling and harassment, and of the discouraging experience of reporting it at LSHTM. In every case, the harm committed by LSHTM staff has gone unacknowledged and unresolved.
There is no justice without accountability.
In this context, and 16 months after the fact, we are grateful that this LSHTM scholar reached out to the FAIR Network, so that we might use whatever capacity and influence that we are afforded to reiterate that racism at LSHTM remains unchecked. Moreover, until a critical mass of white people truly adopt anti-racism as a practice, to be carried out as naturally and routinely as one would take out the trash, racism and its detritus will continue to clog the LSHTM space.
On that note, we would like to conclude by asking all readers, staff and students, whether your name is among the direct recipients of this message or not: what changes are you going to make to finally tackle racism with the determination it demands?
Remember, you are already 16 months, and 400 years, too late.
The FAIR Network
(2) Extract from the 16-months transcript we asked the student to write
Exhibit 1 - October 2019 - When you are in leadership position, in an institution with no mechanism or clear desire to hold people accountable for racism, why hide it?
"<Redacted> asked me if I had any idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go for my summer project. I responded that I wasn’t entirely sure, but that I had experience working on health issues in South America, spoke some Spanish, and that because of those things I might be most helpful there. Ignoring my statement, [Dr. XXX] asserted that ... I should instead go to Africa. I asked [Dr. XXX] to explain why. Despite my palpable <redacted> accent, [they] said, “You’re from Nigeria or something, aren’t you?” “No, I’m from the <redacted>.” “Well, your parents must be from—" “My parents are from <redacted>.” At this point [they were] flustered but persisted with [their] initial point. “Either way, we had a student a few years ago who was like you. [they] had darker skin and *gesturing [their] hands to my head* afro hair, and when [they] went to Africa for [their] project the locals just loved [them]. So I think you should go too.” I said I’d consider it and walked away."
Exhibit 2 - October 2019 - Same month, different setting, same racism
In this lecture, [Dr. XXX]:
• Deliberately turned off recording of the presentation
• Repeatedly referred to LMICs as Third or Old World countries
• Noted that when working in LMICs you need to 'budget for servants "host country nationals" if you want to live a semi-civilised life while you’re there'
• Stated that when working in LMICs, you have to remain the authority figure over host
nationals because they are 'people in grass skirts who don’t know anything'
Exhibit 3 - November 2019 - When it comes to racism, as always, the burden is on the victim. In an academic institution, if you are non-white, you need to be prepared to come to study but most importantly, keep some time to educate your lecturers on racism. Especially the ones that have no desire to learn.
The perpetrator responds that 'if students “have an issue” with the way that things are discussed in lectures they should speak to the person directly'.
When people are given power and fear no consequences, they can just dismiss racism
Students were told to discuss the matter in a 'constructive/diplomatic/conciliatory way' directly with the lecturer.
Understand respectability politics, aka white feelings before Black Lives, before Black Mental Health, before Black students' rights to study in a non-hostile environment and the School deciding that it is NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE INSTITUTION TO ADDRESS THE ISSUES BUT BLACK STUDENTS should fix it themselves.
Exhibit 4 - June 2020 - When Leadership sends a copy/paste email to racially minoritized students reaching out to them directly to express being overwhelmed and concerned that the School is not having an adequate response, it does raises questions about perfomative activism.
Several students emailed the leadership directly and what looked like a personal email was in fact copy/pasted. THE ENTIRE EMAIL regardless of what the student wrote.
YES racially minoritised students talk to each other....
Exhibit 5 - June 2020 - The student was invited to speak to a Faculty Management Group meeting. They already had DGH and the BLM testimonies but maybe "fresh blood" makes for better tragedy porn? We can only guess.
Student DECLINED and we APPLAUSE THEM FOR IT !
"I am a Black student at the School, and I have been subjected to a number of racist incidents and microagressions from various staff members. I have informed multiple other staff members of these occurrences, and there has been no real action or follow-up. Because of this, I do not feel comfortable expressing further frustration with the School’s lack of commitment to EDI as I have very little confidence that any substantial change will come of it- especially in inviting so few students for input. Black Lives Matter LSHTM has also been compiling testimonies from students and staff about microagressions that others have endured during their time at the School, and have come up with quite a few suggestions for improvement as well. I think that getting in contact with them could be beneficial."
Questions Racially Minoritized students should ALWAYS ask themselves when asked to share accounts of racism:
What is the aim of the discussion?
What will they do with the information?
Does anyone in the room have any experience dealing with victims of racism?
What protection and support will be offered to those who speak up?
Your story is yours and should not be exploited. The way you chose to share it, is yours too. We don't just "listen" to victims of abuse. White tears have never solved racism.
Reflection for people in leadership - Do No Harm.
If you can't answer these questions, asking is IRRESPONSIBLE AND EXPLOITATIVE. There is NO Justice in talking about it.
Ask yourself if inviting people to talk is not just a way to make yourself feel like you are doing something. Victims should be protected.
Exhibit 6 - July 2020 - White leadership continues to be "shocked, troubled and saddened" by the lack of trust Black students have in the system and the institution. But like us, the student recognises that this has nothing to do with white feelings and maybe we should stop centring white feelings? Just an idea.
Thank you for your response. While I do appreciate that the School is making an attempt to hear the voices of people of colour and make change now, I am very interested in the factors that allowed a problem of this scale to go on for so long. It has been highlighted that instances of racism within the university have been brought to the attention of staff members for several years. I find it compelling that, despite this, there is an air of surprise of these incidents occurring. This continued shock when confronted with the daily reality of what people of colour within the School are faced with devalues the physical and emotional labour that we have put forth in raising these issues previously.
I do recognise that only a few staff members are responsible for most of these acts and they may not be representative of the actions and feelings of the School as a whole, but everyone employed at the School has played a part in allowing this behaviour to continue. The overt racism that myself and countless other staff and students of colour have experienced isn’t the problem on its own, they are instead the outcome of a university that has never had to consider critically what creating a safe environment for marginalised people looks like. Perpetrators of overt racism are enabled to continue harming people of colour by otherwise well-meaning staff members who choose not to act.
I’ve thought of a few questions surrounding this. These are not questions that I necessarily need answers to, but rather items that may be useful to consider in the transition to a more anti-racist institution.
- How are staff members in positions of power holding themselves accountable for not knowing and not acting against the ongoing racism happening under their supervision?
- What actions will be taken personally and professionally in all staff members to ensure that these instances aren’t ignored for so long in the future?
-What changes to teaching will be implemented to better prepare students to address racism going into or returning to their professional lives?
Exhibit 7 - December 2020 - New staff members weighs in. That person is appalled by the language and tonality experienced - "It was unacceptable". Yes, Yes we all agree but why do we keep burdening the student ? The student wants to discuss it so they should be happy, honored even, right? Being invited to speak to all these important people....the dream, right? Should be thankful that people are giving their time right?
Who actually thought about the student' time and emotions? We wonder if anyone did to be honest.
The student was asked to prepare for another meeting and provide evidence despite the person having taken notes. This is 15 MONTHS since the first events. The student decided to reach out to FAIR as it didn't feel like the situation was going anywhere.
After my conversation with <redacted>, I felt frustrated. I didn’t like that I was being asked to conduct additional labour. I felt that whomever made the decision to ask me to transcribe and detail racist incidents that I had already spoken about multiple times took no consideration to the profound toll that it might take on me. I didn’t like how much energy I was putting into this situation with no guarantee of any meaningful action being taken. I didn’t like that no one had spoken to <redacted> about <redacted> behaviour. I didn’t like that the “formal” complaint process was set to be initiated after over a year of me raising it the first time and over a month after <redacted> had learned the specific details. I didn’t like that like that no one seemed to consider that having such a drawn out and taxing reporting process would be a strong deterrent to other people who may want to come forward. I felt I was being strung along. I spoke to FAIR who advised me to write up this timeline.
(2) The powerful statement written by the student and opening the transcript. 100% THEM, we were not involved.
I would first like to say that I appreciate your taking the time to read this document. Even in
composing it I was taken aback by its length. It was disheartening to see collated my attempts to speak out against the racism at the School, and how little meaningful action has been taken. That is precisely why this document is necessary.
Since completing my [degree], LSHTM and <redacted> specifically have improved their systems of reporting further incidents of racism. This is a matter that I critiqued heavily last year, and I commend the relevant parties for making this change. It is, however, not without fault. The systems of reporting rely exclusively on people who have experienced harm coming forward to detail their experience. Filing a racial complaint against any member of staff at such a prestigious university is not easy, and the process requires a great deal of emotional labour on students who should only have to concentrate on their studies. The onus should not be on them, but on those planning the programmes and lectures to prevent harm from occurring.
I also feel it important to critique current processes of reporting racist events. Every LSHTM staff member that I have spoken to about these events has said in no uncertain terms that they had no idea that these things were happening, but as my reporting processes so far has included my Programme Director, two Taught Programme Directors, the Dean of Faculties and Pro Director of Learning and Teaching, and the Director of the University, I find this to be an issue. Lack of knowledge regarding critical information of the behaviour of those employed to work on a programme is not a valid explanation for inaction. A few people I have spoken to have offered to act as a “devil’s advocate” and critique why I reported when or how I did. This is inappropriate. I deal with racism often and to be frank, the devil needs no help. LSHTM staff and students need to advocate for good and good alone. Even, and especially when it involves addressing racism being perpetuated by their peers.
In this document I included some interactions among students. I felt it was necessary to demonstrate that other students in the course knew what was happening, and repeatedly chose inaction. Higher education is designed to prepare students for the workplace, and I believe that when working in global health environments, being able to address racism and colonialism when they occur is integral. All organised methods of feedback were fully anonymous and did not require a large time commitment, and still very few students made any effort to speak out against the injustices before them. Our goal for the future of global health should be to break harmful patterns of racism and colonialism within tropical medicine and it seems that the lack of antiracism work in the School is setting students up to perpetuate them.
This document is not to shame anyone. I believe that most people within the university mean well and are trying to take steps to improve. Unfortunately, these good intentions are not resulting in positive impacts for marginalised members of the School. This is to highlight things that have gone wrong in the past so that LSHTM staff and students of all races can have positive experiences moving forward.