As people around the world bear witness to yet another killing of a black man by the hands of the police in the US and the widespread protests that have ensued from this, the European Students’ Union stands in solidarity with those who want to make their voices heard and bring an end to the epidemic of police abuse of power and racist violence. We stand firmly for the freedom of speech and expression of everyone, and the right to protest non-violently against injustice everywhere.
The powers of a state must be used to elevate and empower those who are marginalized and oppressed, not to suppress their protests and maintain an unjust status quo. Police must serve their communities and protect them from harm, not be a source of fear and frustration for those most vulnerable.
It is crucial to keep in mind that, while what we see on the TV are scenes from the United States, this problem is not a foreign one for any of us. People of color face prejudice and mistreatment everywhere, and racism is pervasive in our societies. Whether it manifests itself in police violence, discrimination in the housing market, or bullying at school, we all need to be conscious of the problems, their roots, and the ways we can transform our societies to reflect our values.
It is unfortunately clear that over history racism has subconsciously and subtly extended severely in all of the pores of our humanity, showing tenacious and unyielding systematic obstacles for all people of colour. We believe that, among others, education is one of the most important tools in conquering the deeply rooted racism in our societies, both in its capacity to expand minds and spread knowledge, as well as its role as a space for individuals to cooperate, create, and flourish. ESU has always advocated for quality education for all, and this, therefore, necessitates that education must be a safe space for everyone, and mistreatment of people based on their race must be rooted out of every level of education.
At the core of ESU’s work on the social dimension of higher education, is the interpretation that originated from the London Communique, which defined the social dimension as the societal aspiration that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels should reflect the diversity of our populations. In order to allow this to happen, all institutions need to be prepared to combat racism and other forms of discrimination and move towards making diversity a driver for excellence. This needs to be achieved through various manners, but in particular by introducing changes in curricula, and ensuring that this addresses the issues of racism and prejudice in current societies, both on the local and global levels; the historical roots of racism in Euro-centrism, white supremacy, colonialism, and pseudoscience; concepts of privilege, oppression, power, and structural/systemic discrimination and disadvantage.
Furthermore, teachers, academics and the respective institutional leaders play a crucial role in combating racism on campuses and beyond. Their actions and words tend to leave an impact beyond the curricula, and they are instrumental in shaping a society that values and respects every human being, regardless of their race or origin. Besides, higher education institutions themselves should be at the front line when fighting racism by educating the staff and teachers, but also students about the consequences that acts of discrimination can have on an individual and their mental health. It is particularly important to acknowledge the effect that discrimination has on individual`s mental health, their self-esteem and self-confidence, and therefore the importance of having support systems in place that work holistically to tackle these indirect implications for victims of racism. ESU also highlights the important role of HEIs in offering such support services for students, who are experiencing any form of discrimination, with special attention given to the 1st generation students, in order to ensure that they can successfully complete their studies and not fall through the cracks in the system. Besides, safe spaces and safe groups should be introduced to offer peer to peer support.
In conclusion, ESU strongly condemns what has happened to George Floyd in the USA, and all similar acts of police brutality and racism that unfortunately occur across the globe on a regular basis. The white privilege that surrounds us and all acts of racism need to stop, and each and every one of us has a crucial role to play to achieve this. Values such as equity and equality, non-discrimination, dignity and respect, need to be at the core of our daily activities, and more so need to be embedded in our education systems, from early childhood to higher education.