SOAS University of London

SOAS Director Valerie Amos addresses the killing of George Floyd in the US and racial injustice in the UK

11 June 2020

SOAS Director, Baroness Valerie Amos has condemed the killing of George Floyd in the US and the racial injustice in the UK, calling for immediate action on tackling racism in the UK.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday 11 June, Baroness Amos stated, "Change has taken far too long, I've sat on committees, I've been part of commissions where recommendations have been made and the change has been too slow." (Watch the full interview from 2:14:24)

Baroness Amos was also featured in The Guardian stating:

"We have had report after report, which shows the depth and impact of racism in Britain. We have a massive education attainment gap, significant underachievement in schools, a lack of employment opportunities and a disproportionate number of black men in British jails. Only 0.6% of university professors are black. Really, how much more evidence do we need that racism in the UK is real?

We need to stop writing reports and actually start tackling it at the root, because issuing national guidelines isn’t working. We need to be more specific than that. There is so much concern about sentencing and the number of black men in jail; let’s look at the sentencing record of every single judge. How have they treated people going through the criminal justice system? Let’s look at our police officers, at individual forces; what is the pattern we are seeing, and how can we shift that?

I know how hard it is to bring about change. People often look at the statistics around Soas and think we look good compared with other institutions in the sector. But as far as I am concerned, those figures aren’t good enough. And besides, figures don’t tell you anything about the culture of an organisation. You need to dig beneath the figures and find out what people’s real experiences are. You can’t be frightened of that."

On Wednesday 3 June, Baroness Amos sent a message to SOAS staff and students stating her solidarity with the Floyd family, calling for change and recognising that despite SOAS's reputation as an institution which promotes human rights, equality, justice and a zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination, the university still needs to make further progress and change on the issue of racism.

Message from Valerie Amos, SOAS Director to SOAS staff and students (Wednesday 3 June 2020):

In all our lives there are personal and wider societal moments which have a profound impact. 

For many of us, the wanton killing of George Floyd is one such moment showing us yet again the constant and pervasive influence of power imbalances, structural inequality and racism on our day to day lives. That impact is pernicious, invasive. Frames our day to day interactions with each other. It is emotional. It is personal. It is economic. It is cultural. 

For many, George Floyd’s last words “I can’t breathe” are a manifestation of an everyday reality. As someone who has been a lifelong campaigner against racism and inequality, I find it hard to describe the anger and hopelessness I feel that so little seems to have changed. What needs to happen to trigger change? How many more lives lost?

There has been an outpouring of solidarity and support to the Floyd family. There is anger and despair. Reflection. A coming together. Voices raised in defiance of racism.

At SOAS we have a long and proud history of teaching and research which promotes human rights, equality, justice and a zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination but we also know that despite that history SOAS still has a long way to go. The Race, Accountability and Listening project, the recommendations of which are now integrated into our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy is intended to help us to make further progress as is the work of the Culture@SOAS Group. In addition, the recommendations from the recent review ‘Africa at SOAS’ will help us to reframe our work with colleagues and institutions on the continent.

I know that this is an extremely challenging time and it can feel overwhelming. If you would like to talk through any issues, for staff please do speak to your line manager or access our staff support services; for students please do contact our wellbeing services on studentadviceandwellbeing@soas.ac.uk.