But university tight-lipped over individual sanctions
The investigation into racism at Exeter Law School has concluded, leading to expulsions and suspensions for some of the law students involved. However, despite fierce speculation below the line, the Russell Group university has remained silent on individual students’ punishments.
The University of Exeter launched an investigation in conjunction with the Students’ Guild immediately after vile WhatsApp messages between law student friends were made public by a fellow law student. Students today received an email — subsequently acquired by Legal Cheek — from the vice-chancellor of the university, which we have reproduced in full at the bottom of this article. It said:
“These hearings have now concluded and the outcomes have included expulsions, suspensions and other significant sanctions. These outcomes are subject to appeal, but they show our absolute commitment to take serious action against those whose behaviour is fundamentally at odds with the commitment to inclusivity, tolerance and respect that lies at the heart of everything we stand for.”
Legal Cheek understands more than one student has been expelled, as the email says that “for those students who have been expelled, these are very severe consequences, which have not been reached lightly” (emphasis added). However when we asked the university if it would divulge details on individual sanctions, it said it would not.
I’ve had to suffer with this alone for over 3 months, following @rufarochisango_'s experience at Nottingham Trent – I’ve finally decided to expose the racism that I’ve experienced at @Exeter. pic.twitter.com/a5kdTgTl1r
— Arsalan (@arsalanm_) March 19, 2018
Racism at Exeter Law School came to light in March when a first-year law student, Arsalan Motavali, posted on his Facebook page that he had seen “multiple students of the law school” repeatedly make “racist and vile comments” in a private group chat. He posted messages from this WhatsApp group, which included racist slurs such as: “dirty arab”, “bomb the mosques” and “guess who got a placement you n***a sluts”. Motavali posted some of the screenshots on Twitter, too.
These messages were sent by, Motavali said in his Facebook post, five Exeter law students: Matthew Bell, Alex Crawford, Ash Chandraharan, James Cranstone and Bailey Grant. Two of these students, Bell and Crawford, had been committee members of the Bracton Law Society (BLS), while Chandraharan had been running for BLS general secretary in the upcoming society elections.
Bell, who issued an apology after the messages came to light, had been a future trainee at Hill Dickinson, but the firm revoked his offer. Crawford was the former Exeter brand ambassador for City outfit RPC, which too cut ties with the student shortly after the messages were posted online.
Motavali has told Legal Cheek he’s aware the investigations have now concluded, and is trying to process it all.
In the wake of this WhatsApp racism scandal, “further reports about other, unrelated incidents” have come to light, the vice-chancellor’s email reads. He encourages students to come forward if they have seen or experienced racism on campus, and revealed the university has launched various initiatives, such as an online hub, to help eradicate discrimination at university.
The email in full:
I am writing to update you on the investigation following the recent incident of completely unacceptable racist, sexist and bigoted behaviour that has so deeply affected both students and staff, and on the robust work we are undertaking to ensure we become a more inclusive academic community.
Behaviour of the kind exhibited by some members of the Bracton Law Society will not be tolerated by the University. Consequently, we immediately convened an investigation which led to disciplinary hearings involving a number of students. These hearings have now concluded and the outcomes have included expulsions, suspensions and other significant sanctions. These outcomes are subject to appeal, but they show our absolute commitment to take serious action against those whose behaviour is fundamentally at odds with the commitment to inclusivity, tolerance and respect that lies at the heart of everything we stand for.
For those students who have been expelled, these are very severe consequences, which have not been reached lightly, but there is no place at our University for any type of racist, bigoted, abusive or harassing behaviour, and we will take action wherever we find it.
The widespread coverage which accompanied this incident led to further reports about other, unrelated incidents. Let me personally encourage you, or anyone else who has been subject to, or witnessed, racism, bigotry, abuse or harassment to please come forward. By reporting what has happened, you enable us to investigate fully and offer support to anyone who has been affected.
I would like to thank those staff and students that have spoken out and come forward to share their experiences. I was very proud of those students who organised the positive rally in the days after this story was publicly reported. The Provost, Professor Janice Kay, and I will be meeting with the organisers very soon to listen to their experiences and to work together on an action plan.
As a first step, we have established a new Provost Commission. Overseen by Janice, this will have a broad remit to recommend and implement new approaches, initiatives, programmes and policies which will ensure we work continually towards an open, diverse and safe University community for all our students, staff and visitors, under the campaign banner of We Are All Exeter developed by the Students’ Guild. It will seek to eradicate racism and all forms of harassment and discrimination from our campuses.
This week we are launching a new online hub, which will give greater prominence to all of our advice and guidance about racism, bigotry, abuse and harassment. It gives prominence to information on how to report incidents, and we will add an improved anonymous reporting tool very shortly.
We are also working with the Students’ Guild to support them in organising a Respect Festival event on the Streatham campus before the end of Term 3. We are also working with the Students’ Guild to conduct a review of the Bracton Law Society to ensure it is an inclusive academic law society which will support and engage all our law students, inclusive of all backgrounds.
Last year the University was awarded funding for a national HEFCE Catalyst fund project called Safeguarding Black, Asian and Minority students, which began in December 2017 and runs until 31 December 2018. As part of this project there will be a survey launching soon which will invite students to report any instances of harassment they have witnessed, or been subjected to, within Higher Education. I encourage you to take part. We are committed to implementing any lessons we can learn from this project, which will also be shared with other HE institutions.
We also plan to do more to celebrate and share positive initiatives already taking place of which there are a number, including FXU’s Voices project. We will be highlighting them within our student and staff bulletins and on the website.
Students and staff come from all over the world to study or work here at the University of Exeter. The overwhelming majority of the University community is open and inclusive, however just like wider society, unfortunately we do have some incidents of abuse and harassment. We are committed to investigating such incidents and unafraid to confront unacceptable behaviour wherever we find it. I ask that we all pledge to work together to do all we can to ensure that the University of Exeter is welcoming for all members of our community.
We Are All Exeter and every member of our community has the right to expect to be treated with dignity and respect. No-one should be subjected to any form of abuse or harassment and we are committed to taking decisive action whenever and wherever such instances occur.
With best wishes