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Durham University

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

News

Encouraging social and religious cohesion

A new report looking at Islam and Muslims on UK campuses has given us some food for thought. We welcome the research, which involved one of our own academics, and we want to learn from its findings to make positive changes within the University.

At Durham, we are very proud of our diverse community of staff and students and we aim for it to be an inclusive environment which welcomes people of all faiths and none.

Recent events have highlighted that various systemic and cultural issues continue to exist in society and impact our marginalised groups, which include our Muslim community.

To help facilitate an inclusive environment for all, our Chaplaincy Network offers a safe and welcoming space for staff and students of all faiths and none. Our chaplains offer confidential support regarding faith, pastoral care and welfare issues.

As part of this network, our Muslim Chaplain, Dr Mahshid Turner, leads the University’s Interfaith Forum. This forum provides our students and staff with opportunities to engage in various initiatives that help promote good relations between faith groups, extending beyond the campus community.

Our student-run faith groups, such as the Durham University Islamic Society (DUISOC), also play a vital role. The DUISOC encourages learning and discussion on Islam between its members and the wider University community. They actively take part in the University’s Interfaith Student Network which provides a space for different student-run faith societies at the University to engage in dialogue and learning.

The report highlights the need to continuously raise awareness in order to tackle Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice. The lack of understanding about Islam on campuses and the wider community is an issue we are trying to address at Durham through various interfaith groups’ educational activities.

We appreciate that our students, staff and visitors may have varying needs relating to their religion or belief so we will continue to consult and involve our Muslim and other faith communities about faith-based provision, such as prayer spaces and dietary requirements.

Good inter-faith relations need to be supplemented by strong and clear policies to make sure Islamophobic and other hate incidents can be dealt with. Our Respect at Study and Work policies are designed to create an environment free of bullying and harassment where complaints will be dealt with seriously, fairly and appropriately, with a Report + Support tool available to report incidents.

As part of our efforts to improve our community for our staff and students, we recently conducted a hate experience survey, working closely with our student faith groups. This has helped us to understand the experiences of our staff and students in terms of religious and race-based hate incidents. We are learning from the outcomes of this survey and using them to adapt and improve our policies, interventions and support, including removing barriers to reporting. Further details are available here.

We are also working to understand any institutional or cultural barriers that may stand in the way of BAME staff and students, and to improve their representation, progression and success within our University community.

As part of this broader programme of work, we will shortly be publishing the final report of our Commission on Respect, Values and Behaviour which has looked at people’s experiences of working and studying at Durham University and what can be done to create positive change.

We are working to build a safe, respectful and inclusive environment. We know we have more to do to achieve this.

The report on Islam and Muslims on UK campuses as well as the work from the Commission will help us to shape further ways forward to promote social and religious cohesion at Durham.

Professor Antony Long

Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Provost

Tackling religious and race based hate crime

Recent events highlighted that many staff and students have different and less positive experiences of what it is like to live, work, and study in Durham. We know that people are treated differently simply because of their racial or religious identities. At Durham University we do not accept any form of prejudice or discrimination and we condemn any incidents of racism in the strongest possible terms.

We want Durham to be a place where people can feel safe and feel part of the wider community. Most importantly, we want all staff and students who are part of Durham University to feel welcome and supported.

To help us understand experiences and build on current pathways of support, we have secured funding from the Office for Students to embark on a two-year project aimed at addressing religious- and race-based hate crime affecting students in Durham and the North East. As part of this work we will engage in a national network with Office for Students, the Equality Challenge Unit, and ten other universities to inform best practice and support the development of information and resources for use nationally by Higher Education and Further Education Institutions.

This research will enable us to learn more about the nature of the threats experienced by students and staff, where they come from, what interventions are necessary, and what type of support would be welcomed. As part of this activity we will be launching an online reporting and support tool, which will allow Durham University to capture and respond to incidents. It will also help us to build upon work already being undertaken to establish better relationships between the community, the University and students, and will help the police and council to ultimately provide for wider community interventions.

As we grow as a university we will naturally see a higher visibility of people from different countries, cultures, and faiths within the city and surrounding areas. This funding will help us to shape a culture and environment where staff and students feel safe and comfortable to live, study, and work.

I am proud of our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Team’s success in securing this award. As the lead for this work, I recognise the importance to everything we do of an inclusive, supportive, and open work and study environment that respects the dignity of all members of our community.

Professor Antony Long

Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Provost