By Tobi Dada

Since the establishment of Higher Education institutions, their primary function has been to educate the offspring of white elites. It is no wonder that working class students, as well as students from ethnic minority backgrounds, are at greater risk of being excluded from social life at university. This disposition is reflected in the black attainment gap, the racist abuse endured by ethnic minorities, and the under representation of minorities in award winning.

As a Black student who grew up in one of the poorest areas in south east London, I can share my first-hand experience of the everyday microaggressions I have become accustomed to.

The first, which is my favourite, is being mistaken for another black student by peers and lecturers. You would think that with there being five black people in my cohort it would be easy to tell us apart. But, apparently not. Despite being elected Course Rep and standing out with an extroverted personality, my black classmates and I have been misidentified more times than we can count.

This behaviour has become such a normality I do not bother to correct people for calling me Paul, Khalil or whatever black person they think I look the most like. This trivial action has an immense impact on the willingness of black students to engage with university institutions. Would you want to engage with a community that couldn’t even be bothered to learn your name?

The second microaggression is exhibited by a minority of students, but nevertheless, the implications on black students’ morale and engagement is immeasurable. This microaggression has left many black students unwilling to participate in Surrey Decides as candidates, and even in voting. 

That microaggression is of course racial abuse. As someone who grew up in an area that was disproportionately black, hearing the n-word from black peers was a distinct normality. However, never in all by life did I hear someone white use the word; that was until I arrived at the University of Surrey.

Against my better judgement, my friends and I had decided to attend the infamous Rubix RnB night. An hour into the party, a Cardi B song came on, one of the verses contained the n-word. The trauma caused from hearing white people scream the n-word without hesitation or impunity remains with me until this very day. So as quickly as we arrived my friends and I left, feeling like we were no longer welcomed, and vowing never to return to such a place.

To many who come to Surrey, Rubix is a cultural relic to be enjoyed by all inhabitants of the University, but to black students, Rubix is just another institution where racism goes unpunished.

The second time I witnessed racism at the University was during SurreyDecides, when two candidates from the black community were running for positions. The Facebook chat below was broadcasted in all ACS WhatsApp groupchats, with over 1500 black students in it.

This alone would have been enough to deter other black candidates from running in Surrey Decides. But combined with the fact that the posters of black candidates would often be ripped down, while the posters of their white counterparts would remain intact, further enhanced the racial segregation felt by many within the black community.

Ironically, these incidents boosted support for Ajay and Amina within the black community, who felt angered by the unfair treatment of their black comrades. 

There are many more examples I can give about the racial biases experienced by black candidates when running for positions of power but I will leave that for another day. What I will say is that until the Union is ready to confront the racist attitudes and bias that operate against black students, engagement will continue to decline.

The final microaggression I will discuss is the lack of appreciation and acknowledgement given to black students of merit. Simply put, it is one thing to be represented and another to be appreciated. Despite societies like ACS and #WOKESurrey helping to improve the university experience for many black students, they are yet to even be considered for awards such as society of the year. With this being said, there is now a strong argument to change the criteria of the awards at the Union ball such that cultural societies have more of a chance of winning an award. This would go a long way in increasing engagement and participation as it would incentivise black students to participate in student life.

My hope is that through discussion and understanding the University of Surrey will become a more enjoyable place for black students. Until then I will continue to voice my concern when necessary and do my part to improve student life for all students.

5 thoughts on “Everyday Racism Is Rampant at The University of Surrey

  1. We’re incredibly saddened to hear of the experiences Tobi has bravely shared in his article. These are completely unacceptable and no one should have to go through them alone, or collectively. As a University, we are completely against any and all forms of racism or discrimination, and we will take firm and decisive action against anyone who displays, indulges or protects those who seek to divide or incite racism or discrimination on our campus. We took robust action against the individual mentioned in this article, and we will continue to act against those who seek to spread hatred or divisive messages.
    We would ask anyone who has experienced discrimination, in whatever form, to report it to us through Report & Support, and we will fully investigate and act to stop it.

    I am also pleased to see Amina and Ajay as student leaders representing the diverse community at Surrey. They are an inspiration to me. We are working collaboratively with Ajay on BAME awarding gap. It is a formidable challenge for us at Surrey as presented in our Access and Participation Plan but we must rise up to this challenge. There are actions in place to make awarding more equitable.

  2. Thank you for posting this Tobi, and for what little it’s worth I’m very sorry that you’ve had to suffer these indignities. I hope by posting this out to the world maybe it will have some impact, but the deja vu we all feel every time means there seems precious little hope to go around.

    My apologies for the intrusion, but I’d also like to take the opportunity to raise that Dr Neema Parvini of the University Of Surrey has been running a racist and violently nationalist and politically intolerant youtube channel, and numerous twitter accounts for several years, and University Of Surrey has been aware of this for a long time. He periodically deletes the videos and posts that he makes out of cowardice, but there are some good people diligently recording some of the crass and horrible things he says. Please check out for one of these good people.

  3. I’m really saddened to hear about Tobi’s experience at the University. Totally unacceptable and we must do better. It hurts me to think that blatant acts of racism are happening in an environment that should be a second home for our students and a model for equality and diversity. But as Tobi alludes to, it’s not just about overt racism, but also the microaggressions (and unconscious biases) that marginalise, demotivate, stress and anger individuals, and even erode self-esteem. We need to do (and will do) more to educate all – staff and students. In the meantime, I encourage people to use the University’s Report+Support service when faced with such occurrences ( or indeed report matters to Heads of Department or other trusted people as the situation dictates.

  4. This was so beautifully written and encompasses what many of the black students experience at the university of Surrey and University life in general. We want our voices to be heard and a space so that clearly wants to discourage us for participating. Big up to you Tobi!!!

  5. Tobi thank you for sharing your experience and highlighting the issues that you and many other students face, it saddens me that students are still experiencing the same issues I faced when at University nearly 20 years ago. It’s shocking how little things have moved on, but it takes brave individuals like yourself to stand up and share their experiences and refuse to be silenced.

    I thank you, you are an inspiration!

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