Racial Equality Officers “must be black”

YUSU has come under fire after failing to address the ambiguous self-definition of racial background requirements for Racial Equality Officers, outlined in their constitution.

The YUSU constitution states: “Candidates for Racial Equality Officer must be black by the National Union of Students definition.”

Under National Union of Students (NUS) guidelines, ‘black’ is an all-encompassing definition, that includes African, Caribbean, Asian and Middle Eastern students.
Many students at the University of York have claimed to be outraged at YUSU’s decision to use the obscure NUS definition, feeling that it detracts from their own identity. One black student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I feel that this definition detracts from my identity. I get that the NUS has its definition but why does York have to have the same one?”

A first-year student from another ethnic minority origin who, under the YUSU and NUS definition, is classed as ‘black’, said: “I don’t like that I am being put under ‘black’; I’m not black.”

Questions have been raised as to why, despite a myriad of complaints, YUSU have failed to change the definition.

YUSU’s general feeling is that of difficulty in finding a widely accepted alternative term for the required racial background of a Racial Equality Officer. The term, also used by the University of Cambridge, is one that they feel is particularly difficult to resolve and the current definition is the best option that they know of. YUSU admitted that the term has caused them problems in the past.

When confronted about the issue, Jason Rose, YUSU Campaign’s Officer, claimed that although YUSU had approached the matter in the past, to create a new definition would mean the huge effort of having to “constitutionalise what an ethnic minority is”.

The use of the word ‘black’ to describe students from non-black backgrounds has often been seen as insensitive.

However, YUSU has argued that there is no perfect description for such a wide range of different, non-Caucasian groups.

Rose continued to say that the general consensus towards the effort involved in creating a new definition was: “Bollocks to it”.

Ben Humphrys, YUSU Welfare Officer, said: “The central problem with constitutionally defining who fits under the remit of the racial equality officers is that there is no common wording for this which doesn’t have substantial difficulties.”

Abrafi Kusi and Deniz Ekren, YUSU Racial Equalities Officers, said: “We appreciate that there may be some ambiguity and this wording is being actively reviewed. We welcome any alternative suggestions.”

The question of changing the definition has been raised before, both at York and other universities, some of which have proceeded to change the definition in their own constitution.

‘BME’ (Black and Minority Ethnic) has often been used as an alternative term by other universities such as Oxford and UCL. However, the use of this wording has also prompted serious debates.

16 comments

  1. Wait what? No matter what your definition of ‘black’ is, only allowing Racial Equality Officers to be ‘black’ is the most hypocritical thing I have ever heard. The problem shouldn’t be “what do we mean by ‘black’?”, it should be “Why is the position of a Racial Equality Officer not racially equal?”.

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  2. Paul is absolutely correct. I have a Latin American background which is technically a minority in this country but even my ethnic group is not included in the NUS definition!

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  3. Offsetting selection with selection is surely itself essentially racist.

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  4. 11 Dec ’09 at 12:23 pm

    Not surprised at all

    It’s not racism when a white person is on the receiving end of it.

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  5. 13 Dec ’09 at 8:07 pm

    Abrafi Kusi RE Officer

    ‘It’s not racism when a white person is on the receiving end of it’
    Doesnt really make sense to me, those on the other end are the people who would describe themselves as Ethnic Minority but not fit the bracket of the NUS’s lazy definition of ‘black’.

    Im not trying to make allowances or defend YUSUs decision to follow the NUS definition but either way you look at it, its a lose lose situation if alternative terms such as BME used by other Universities are also prompting debates.

    My hopes are that eventually a widely accepted term will be found it is isnt easy though! I would just encourage anyone to come up with better alternatives to suggest to NUS/YUSU likewise.

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  6. 13 Dec ’09 at 8:32 pm

    Abrafi Kusi RE Officer

    I understand the view as to ‘why the position of a Racial Equality Officer not racially equal?”. However the position is there on a basis of offering support to Ethnic Minorites such that LGBT is offering support to another minority group.

    I have however always maintained from the beginning in my campaign manifesto and still maintain that as Officer I stand to represent any member of the student body who may be faced with issues on the basis of race whichever race they may be including white caucasian, which Deniz and I have put into practice since our time as Officers.

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  7. 14 Dec ’09 at 12:03 pm

    A. Politician

    Surely the position of racial equality officer should be open to anyone who believes they can promote racial equality at the University of York. To deny people (who at other universities would be eligible) the opportunity to stand for the role because of ambiguous wording seems to be an example of racial inequality.

    RE officers have a duty to work with people who face racism, whether they are black or not. If the NUS definition is to be used, surely ‘Black Students Officer’ would be a more representitive job title. As used by the NUS here

    http://www.nus.org.uk/en/Campaigns/Black-Students/A-black-students-officer-in-every-students-union1/

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  8. 14 Dec ’09 at 2:21 pm

    Abrafi Kusi RE Officer

    Yes, but the NUS’s definition of ‘black’ does not cover all of whom would define themselves as an ‘ethnic minority’ in this country, so would probably spark controversy, unless NUS was to revise their defition of ‘black’. NUS’s definition of ‘black’ is confusing considering the fact that people would general only associate ‘black’ people as those of African/African Carribean origin.

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  9. 14 Dec ’09 at 5:38 pm

    Michael D'Cruze

    To be honest I think this is getting out of hand. The only necessary and absolute criterion which any candidate should have to satisfy to be considered for the role is that they were not born in the UK.
    Isn’t everything else basically irrelevant?

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  10. Why do racial equality officers have to be from outside the UK? International officers yes, but racial quality? Despite the hopes of the BNP, the UK is a pretty ethnically diverse place.

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  11. 14 Dec ’09 at 7:56 pm

    Abrafi Kusi RE Officer

    Yes I agree with Chris I am ‘not from outside the UK’
    I was born and raised in England and as I am of Black-African origin I am an ethnic minority in this country. So would clarify that I am 100% from the UK.
    Being of ethnic minority does not automatically constitute that you are an international/from outside the UK.

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  12. I agree with the view offered by A.Politician.

    Abrafi Kusi: I commend you for your aim of representing “any member of the student body who may be faced with issues on the basis of race whichever race they may be” (December 13, 8:32pm), but I fail to understand why a definition needs to be inserted at all.

    Why have this controversial wording at all? Is there really a need to use the terms, ‘black’ or ‘BME’? Surely anyone, regardless of their ethnicity, who can convince the student body (when they run for the position) that they can promote racial equality should not be excluded.

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  13. I think the wording is bad and should definitely be less specific to include other ethnic minority groups but I dont understand the debate about whether the position of racial equality officer should be open to anyone who believes they can promote racial equality. I think we all understand the racial equality committee mainly refers to ethnic minority inequality as this is where most of the racial inequality arises so it makes more sense for an officer to come from an ethnic minority background as people who are being discriminated against may find it easier and be more comfortable approaching someone who is an ethnic minority like them as their personal experience could for example create prejudices towards non ethnic minorities i.e the native race of the country. I do agree though, that the majority or native race of a country or whatever you want to call it should be represented somewhere in the committee as racial inequality can occur both ways but does this really require a specific officer role as much as it is considerably less prominent and I think such a role for a native white racial equality officer would not make sense. Similarly if there is such controversy over the entitlement to be a racial equality officer why is there no debate over the requirement that you must be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and Transgender to become a LGBT officer! Obviously anyone straight who can promote LGBT issues could do the job accordingly but the key thing is it makes more sense for them to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender.

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  14. Anon, the difference is that LGBT officers are clearly there to deal with LGBT issues. Racial Equality officers are there to deal with Racial Equality issues. LGBT does not include heterosexuals, but Racial Equality does include white caucasians (or anyone not included in whatever definition of ‘black’ is being used), and if it does not, it is not racial equality and maybe the position should be renamed to something more appropriate, such as “Ethnic Minority Support officer”.

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  15. D’Cruze, you noob, stop making stuff up! Either read the constitutional definition or find me in one of our lectures and get me to explain to you the difference between “race” and “nationality” :P

    Also, *what* is “getting out of hand” – this conversation? Or the definition that has been lying dormant in the constitution for almost two years? I’m not sure why this has only surfaced now? :-\

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  16. Paul, If you read my comment entirely and not just the stuff you wanted to read you would see that I already mentioned stuff about ” but Racial Equality does include white caucasians” where I talked about how white people should be represented somewhere at least as even thought their need for a racial equality officer is not as significant or in demand, inequality can happen both ways even when a race is in the majority. Furthermore I was using the LGBT role as an example of why it makes more sense for an officer to be similar to the people its representing and conversing with.

    Is this discussion about the need for more white representation in the officers a sign a lot of white Caucasians are experiencing a lot of racial inequality and thus want a white racial equality officer to talk to rather than an ethnic one? When I thought of racial inequality I mainly thought of ethnic minorities, I didn’t really think of white Caucasians as normally the amount of racial inequality they encounter is very minute maybe less than 1% even. I think most people agree with this.

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