Open letter to University of Copenhagen to address racism in academia
By Sofie Mortensen and Francois Questiaux, PhD fellows at the Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen
(Published in University Post 17 September 2020)
As employees of UCPH we ask the leadership to commit to investigating what diversity looks like at UCPH. That is, to what extent are Black people and other minorities employed and in what positions? What are the numbers of Black students and other minorities?
Witnessing yet again the brutal police killings of Black people has urged us to confirm and show our solidarity. Jacob Blake, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade are but the most recent victims of persistent and strongly established structures of racism and violence leading to the loss of so many Black lives in the USA. It is more than timely to denounce and dismantle the institutional and structural racism deeply rooted in our societies both across the Atlantic and in our local context.
As concerned academics we want to confirm that we stand by the immensely brave people in the anti-racist movement who, day after day, face police brutality and, despite the risks, stand up against the structures that continuously exploit and violate Black people’s lives and bodies. We want to confirm that we stand with you against the silence that has made the Black people’s oppression invisible for too long.
While largely neglected, racism has deep roots in Danish history where it has taken various forms, and remains consistently present. Denmark was the seventh biggest slave trading nation in the world, only one place after the US. From the Gold Coast in Ghana, Trankebar in India and the former Danish West Indies, Denmark too benefited from exploiting colonies and slaves, and thus, Black lives.
Systemic racism in Denmark
This continues in other forms today, as Denmark engages in exploitations of resources and labour on the African continent and beyond. While often overlooked, anti-blackness exists in Denmark.
Denmark was the seventh biggest slave trading nation in the world, only one place after the US.
Black people, people of colour and other minorities are being called out and assaulted in their daily lives and have to work harder to gain the same opportunities as white Danes. Amongst many examples, around 4000 people between 16 and 74 years old experience violence motivated by racism every year (Institut for Menneskerettigheder, 2019) and in a recent DR article, 20 people bravely explain how they have experienced racism (Sørensen & Olsen, DR, 2020).
In primary schools, teachers expect less of children with brown skin and dark hair (Petersen, Folkeskolen, 2019), and men with different ethnic backgrounds than white Danes have to send out 52 % more job applications to be invited for job interviews (Lund & Pedersen, Politiken, 2016), a number that for women wearing scarfs for religious reasons is 60 % (Marquardt & Carl, Berlingske, 2020).
Lack of data from Danish universities
We acknowledge the role of higher education across the world in maintaining this systemic racism. In many places, Black people are given less space and occupy a very low percentage of full-time staff positions. Their work is often neglected, not included in curricula, and universities lack measures to deal with racism facing Black staff and students.
We also suspect this to be the case at the University of Copenhagen, UCPH.
It is our responsibility to acknowledge white privilege, recognize and call out racism in academia.
For those of us that are white academics, as we benefit from these same structures, it is our responsibility to acknowledge white privilege, recognize and call out racism in academia, and address its root causes. This entails educating ourselves so that we learn to deconstruct these structures in our workplace, research and teaching.
However, at an institutional level, we have no data or information on how racism plays out in Danish universities, making it very difficult to ensure that Black as well as people of colour and other minorities are given equal opportunities and feel safe.
UCPH, count all minorities
Therefore, as employees of UCPH we ask the leadership to commit to investigating, firstly, what diversity looks like at UCPH. That is, to what extent are Black people and other minorities employed and in what positions? What are the numbers of Black students and other minorities?
Secondly, we ask UCPH leadership to commit to investigating how Black staff and students alongside other minorities experience racism in their everyday work and study spaces. This is in line with UCPH’s Strategy 2023 that commits to increase our focus on equality and diversity and provide a diverse and inclusive working and study environment
We strongly urge UCPH leadership to be proactive and take administrative action to be anti-racist.
Yet, due to the current lack of disaggregated data on diversity, it remains unclear whether UCPH indeed provides equal and diverse environments. Without this information, we cannot ensure that the right changes are made for UCPH to live up to its commitments. Without this information, we cannot distinguish between the words and actions of UCPH leadership.
We strongly urge UCPH leadership to be proactive and take administrative action to be anti-racist. We want UCPH to step into the fight of ending the injustice that Black people continue to face. At the same time we, as individuals, also have a responsibility to contribute to anti-racist spaces, and commit to doing so.