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University response to the Black Lives Matter movement

Press release issued: 11 June 2020

The focus of the Black Lives Matter campaign was on Bristol at the weekend as many around the world watched protestors remove the statue of slave trader Edward Colston from the city centre and throw it into the docks.

The legacy of Edward Colston in the city has been a controversial one that has divided opinion among the people of Bristol for many years and we understand many people’s anger at this time.

As an institution founded in 1909, we fully acknowledge that we financially benefited indirectly via philanthropic support from families who had made money from businesses involved in the transatlantic slave trade.

We are aware that racism is still very much part of everyday life for many people in our community. We must all make the effort to learn, understand and take action to bring about real change and dismantle racism in our community.

We published our Race Equality Statement earlier this year - it sets out the key areas of focus for our evolving race equality strategy, establishing our direction of travel for the coming years.  We are establishing a Steering Group to help us develop strategies to address individual, cultural and structural racism across our institution and to educate us all in how we can be an anti-racist organisation.

We know that the Black Lives Matter campaign has served to amplify existing concerns about the University’s history and whether we should rename the Wills Memorial Building, and other buildings named after families with links to the slave trade.  We commit to reviewing the names of these buildings.  We will also review our University logo, which carries the Colston, Wills and Fry crests. 

We will initiate this debate with our staff, students, alumni, and wider city communities. 

Following an earlier petition on this issue we set up a group to work with staff, students and people across the city to explore the issues involved.  This work was framed by a determination to interrogate rather than hide our historical links.

Those early discussions led to the creation of a new post of Professor of the History of Slavery at the University, and the appointment of Professor Olivette Otele at the beginning of this year. Professor Otele is already working with staff, students and communities in the city of Bristol to help the University better understand its past and use that knowledge to shape a wide range of race equality measures that will create a more inclusive University.

It is the responsibility of us all to eradicate racism. We will continue to challenge this through our research, our education, and our civic engagements. We are fully committed to working with our staff and students, our Students’ Union, and the wider community to continue to address issues of racism and inequality.

We are committed to attracting the very best students to our University and city from diverse backgrounds. This includes increasing the proportion of Black students at Bristol and ensuring they succeed in their studies and beyond university into their careers. In the past five years we have seen a 44% increase in BAME student enrolments and we are committed to continuing this work to further diversify our student intake.

We are determined to tackle racial discrimination in all its forms.  We are committed to ensuring that our university is an inclusive one, and that the experience of studying and working here is positive and welcoming for everyone, of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

We are painfully aware that racism did not occur overnight, and it will not end that way. We are taking a long-term view on effecting real change across our university.  We firmly believe that if we all actively do our part and develop a speak-up culture that places responsibility on all of us - not only people of colour - to call out racism when it occurs, we will succeed.

We understand that this is the responsibility of all of us and we expect everyone to play an active part.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President
Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

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