May 14, 2021, by Emma Thorne

Nottingham academics speak out on Covid-19 anti-Asian hate crimes

Academics at the University of Nottingham have been highlighting the worrying increase in racist behaviour aimed at people from the Chinese, South and South East Asian community living in the UK, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Anti-Asian hate crimes have hit the headlines nationally, following reported recent incidences in towns and cities including  SouthamptonSheffield and Edinburgh. Cases of these types of hate crime have tripled in London alone since the start of the pandemic.

Dr Hongwei Bao, in the Department of Cultural, Media and Visual Studies, and Li Shean Toh, of the School of Pharmacy, spoke to BBC East Midlands Today about the prejudice they – and other colleagues across the institution – had personally encountered during the last year, which has including distressing incidents including being spat at in the street, verbally abused and physically intimidated.

Painful experiences

Dr Toh said: “This led me to obtaining a research grant to conduct research on the experience of university staff in relation to COVID-19 discrimination. The research concluded with painful experiences shared but also recommendations for moving forward. I hope to share the message that other people who have experienced racism should do something in their own way to tackle racism even if it doesn’t affect their perpetrator but sharing their stories can make a difference. Little drops of water will create a wave.”

Dr Ting Chang, in the Department of Cultural, Media and Visual Studies, said that she hadn’t experienced any racism since moving to the UK in 2012 until the start of the pandemic – between February 2020 and April 2021 she has been verbally abused and mocked in the street and subjected to racist gestures.

Similarly, Dr Chun-yi Lee in the School of Politics and International Relations said she has encountered three similar experiences since March 2020, despite having lived in Beeston for 15 years with no problems previously.

A recent open letter calling for universities nationwide to take concrete steps to address Sinophobia and anti-Asian racism has attracted more than 1,480 signatures, including 34 people from the University of Nottingham.

Tackling discrimination

Professor Sarah Sharples, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: “We take the issues raised by our Chinese, South and South-East Asian colleagues very seriously, and as part of our commitment to be an anti-racist University share their ambition in tackling discrimination.

“As a global institution with our heart in this city, we are extremely proud of our diverse community. We believe that every citizen should live and work without fear from prejudice or hate. We applaud the courage of our staff who have spoken out about their own experiences and will continue to support them.

“We encourage staff and students to report hate crimes directly to the police for action, and Dr Li Shean Toh’s research has been very helpful as we work towards upgrading our own procedures to tackle harassment of any kind on campus.”

The issues were given a platform at two events on the theme of ‘no place for hate’ as part of the University’s first ever virtual Diversity Festival in March 2021 offering staff, students and alumni over 35 live events, an expo and pre-recorded interviews and performances to ‘celebrate and embrace difference’. The festival had over 5,000 ‘visitors’ with more than 1,500 people attending live events.

Making victims feel supported and heard

Impact of Covid-19 on Minority Groups featured a panel discussion showcasing the latest research on how Covid-19 has impacted on minority groups and exploring how the University can use this to inform its strategies and policies. No place for hate in higher education: Through the lens of Asia and Covid-19 was hosted by the Asia Business Centre in partnership with Campus Life at the University of Nottingham and was designed to help us understand more about hate crimes, to tackle the issues in our local communities and to make victims feel supported and heard.

The University has been undertaking a whole range of activities aimed at improving equality and diversity across the institution, including the STEMM Change Inclusion Matters, an EPSRC-funded project to drive a positive change in culture and practices in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) across Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) and the development of a new toolkit to raise awareness of hate crime, in partnership with the Students’ Union.

A detailed action plan to track the University’s progress in tackling racial inequality has also been published as part of its work towards achieving bronze Race Equality Charter status and in response to the issues raised by staff and students during the Black Lives Matter protests in May 2020.

Posted in Diversity and InclusionStaff