SOAS University of London

Statement from Board: taking action to address anti-racism

16 March 2021

The following statement has been discussed with and is endorsed by all members of the Board, with the exception of the two student members where the Students’ Union have issued their own statement.

We heard with concern the events that occurred at the students' meeting on Thursday, which were brought to the attention of the Chair of the Board on Thursday evening by the Director. We have also read the Students' Union statement, the statement by the staff unions, UCU and Unison, and other comments and calls for action by members of the SOAS community.

We have also noted the unreserved apology that Adam Habib issued to the School on Friday which he has reaffirmed in all discussions with us and SOAS colleagues. We know he recognises the significant impact which this has had on SOAS as a community and an institution and we know he is committed to taking all steps he can to address this with colleagues.

As Trustees, we take these concerns from the SOAS community extremely seriously. We have spent the last few days talking and listening to different members of the SOAS community. Having concluded the first round of listening, the Board will now take forward a series of actions in response, recognising the pain caused to many in the community.

We want to reaffirm that SOAS has to be - and be seen to be - committed to anti-racism, to tackling hate, to bringing people together and to listening and learning throughout life. We want to use this moment to affirm and commit to action being taken by SOAS and by Adam Habib as our Director.

Consequently, we would like to share the series of steps that we are taking and will keep you updated on as they evolve.

First, we want SOAS as an institution to craft and deliver the actions needed in this regard. The SOAS senior leadership team will work alongside the Race, Accountability and Listening Action Steering Group in engaging Black staff and student societies to organise listening spaces designed to identify the major strategic and practical shifts that need to occur in the institution. 

Second, in the context of anti-Blackness as a structural issue in SOAS, we are commissioning Judy Clements OBE to conduct an external investigation into complaints we have received. This will include unexplored and unactioned complaints about anti-Black conduct across the School and how those affect students' learning outcomes and staff work environment. This is not a repeat of the work already being undertaken by the Race, Accountability and Listening Action Group, but a focussed investigation on issues that students raised in the Thursday 11 March all-student meeting and their concerns about how those were discussed in that meeting.

Third, Adam has reaffirmed to us that he will focus his time listening to Black colleagues and students, to help to educate himself, and to keep on learning. If Black staff and students feel comfortable, an external facilitator will be arranged to facilitate a dialogue as part of a learning and listening exercise that centres the concerns of the Black and Black diasporic world.

Fourth, Adam has reaffirmed his commitment to the sustainability and growth of the School and to promoting the best possible reputation for the School globally. 

Finally, we want to ensure members of the SOAS community who are affected by this are given appropriate avenues of support.

As well as the support listed below, students and staff can also attend the next Black Student and Staff Forum which is meeting on the 23rd March 4-6 pm. To attend, they can get in touch with Adwoa Darko, Student Retention and Success Officer - ad76@soas.ac.uk.

Support for Students

Students can speak to their Academic Advisor or their Student Support Officers, in the first instance. They can also reach out to the Student Engagement team that invites students for a drop-in chat every Tuesday at 11 am. Thursdays, at 4 pm.

Students who feel affected by the events of the last few days may also wish to seek support through the Student Advice and Wellbeing team or email studentadviceandwellbein g@soas.ac.uk.

Support for Staff

Staff can speak to their line manager or another senior manager who they trust in the first instance. They can also contact the EAP, whose details are on the website.

A list of the SOAS Dignity Advisers can also be found on MySOAS.

Resources and information can also be found at Race on the Agenda, who can also signpost individuals to partner organisations.  Their details are available here: https://www.rota.org.uk/contact

We will continue to keep you updated as action is taken forward.

Best wishes 

Marie Staunton
Chair of Board of Trustees

Note: Judy Clements OBE will be known to some at SOAS for her comprehensive independent review of the SOAS student complaints, disciplinary and academic appeals processes in 2018-19. She was until 2017 Ombudsman for Students in Higher Education. Her past appointments  include, Independent Adjudicator for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Head of Diversity and Equality for the Home Office in HM Prison Service, Director for the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Member of the Home Secretary’s Stephen Lawrence Steering Group and Chair of the Trust and Confidence Working Group. She facilitated equality training for newly appointed members of the judiciary.