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Racism at Exeter Law School: Students expelled and suspended as investigation concludes

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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.

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.

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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:

Dear Students,

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

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50 Comments

Elz

much deserved

(35)(34)

Anonymous

Typical.

(5)(4)

The Brown Knight

Typical of what?

(5)(6)

Anonymous

Liberals.

(21)(24)

The Brown Knight

When I say ‘advance ourselves’ i mean ‘and each other’ Whoof Whoof if you get me lol

(2)(2)

The Brown Knight

Happy with the decisions reached, and pleased that the sanctions have been harsh – such bigoted and hateful behaviour has no place in the profession. We are all trying to advance ourselves, let us not do it at the expense of others.

(51)(21)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(5)(9)

The Brown Knight

(!)

(2)(2)

Babu Bannerjee

Check your white privilege and and quit with the cultural appropriation of my point of view!

(1)(16)

Anonymous

Your premises are wrong

(0)(3)

Trumpenkrieg

How can I be censored for making a politically correct post?

(9)(5)

Triggered Loon

You claimed that, in line with social justice theory, since racism = prejudice plus power, and since Ash Chandraharan is a black man who thus has no power, he therefore can’t be racist.

However, my friend, you forgot that that only applies where the victim is WHITE. Where the victim is black, the ordinary English definitions of racism apply.

So I’m afraid you have to be censored so this illogical double standard isn’t exposed.

(22)(2)

Anonymous

Good riddance.

(8)(7)

The Brown Knight

However, if it’s just a fee students messing around, well boys will be boys won’t they he he he

(2)(6)

Just Anonymous

Racism is vile. We all agree on that. The objective content of these messages is disgusting.

However, I am troubled by these sanctions. What these students did was to exchange vile messages in a private WhatsApp group. There is no evidence they engaged in racist conduct outside that group (ie, by racially abusing people, either in ‘real life’ or elsewhere on social media.)

Furthermore, there is no evidence these students realised or suspected that their messages were upsetting other members of the group. Clearly, the whistleblower himself was upset. However, there is no evidence anyone realised this. One of the students (Chandraharan) is BAME and was plainly engaging with and consenting to the conversation. It appears it was assumed (wrongly and naively) that everyone was similarly consenting to the conversation in the same way.

Indeed, the name of the group – ‘Dodgy Blokes Soc’ – implies to me that this group was originally set up as a group for dodgy, twisted, politically incorrect ‘humour’ by people who like that sort of thing, and over time the content became more extreme as the students egged each other on.

I have no sympathy for people who racially abuse others or who otherwise know that they are upsetting others. However, I do have sympathy for people who believe they are engaging in a consensual private conversation and who genuinely do not realise they are hurting anyone (even if that honest belief is immature and naive). That is what I think happened here. And I do not think such conduct merits expulsion from university.

My opinion is based on what Legal Cheek has reported. If new information emerges (for example, the whistleblower complaining in the group chat and being mocked/abused in response) then I will change my opinion accordingly.

(107)(72)

BAME!

🎼I wanna live for-ever!🎶

(1)(6)

Anonymous

That song talks about going to heaven.

Most of the heathens on Legal Cheek shall not.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

You mad bro?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Beautifully put. You said what I’m sure a lot of people were thinking but were too scared to say.

(50)(17)

Anonymous

You usually post a load of sh*te, but this is very well said.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

DISGUSTING!!!!!! I am white and I am ashamed that my own university has been smeared by the views of these typically privileged rich individuals that belong in history textbooks. The superiority they feel over people around them makes me sick.

(9)(24)

Future trainee at MC

It has unfortunately destroyed Exeter’s image. I would be ashamed to be part of Bracton Law Society. In truth I think all the other Bracton Law Society committee members deserve some blame as well. One quick stalk of the BLS page shows that not long ago these individuals were placed on a pedestal and worshipped by the other committee members who now seek to hide from the limelight.

(8)(3)

Anonymous

Couldn’t agree more, the committee members have handled this atrociously.

(3)(0)

Final Year Law @ Exe

Taking absolute shite…

Pedestal?

Worshiped?

Your revisionist history is the stuff of Clinton-Kaine 2016

(1)(2)

Future trainee at MC

It’s an opinion. As a 3rd year law student at Exeter you obviously know better than me. But it seems these racist losers were actually really popular. Not least because they were voted in but because of the photos in which they get billions of likes. The entire Exeter committee and law society is to be blame for worshiping people who are racists (or that’s how it seems with virtually no hard evidence).

(3)(0)

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Be my friend pls

(0)(0)

Chalky

I’m white and ashamed to be.

For the good of everyone else we whites should be shipped off to an island somewhere so everyone else can be free from oppression.

(1)(0)

The Brown Knight

Can you become a lawyer if you went to Exeter University?

(14)(4)

Anonymous

Of course not following this incident.

(0)(0)

Judge Mental

Their parents must be so proud.

(2)(3)

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Justice and karma has been served.

(7)(9)

The Brown Knight

A dish best served with rice

(3)(2)

John Terry

Why didn’t they roll out their mate Ashley Cole?

(5)(1)

The Brown Knight

What’s this John Terry??? Are you trying to wax my cheese you dirty poo monger!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I am disappointed that Exeter University has expelled students for merely making comments. The administration at Exeter should have been sensible enough to understand that people should be able to express themselves, including racist comments, in a free academic environment and that there can be no such thing as freedom of expression if students are expelled for merely verbally offending other students.
The problem with people like Motivali is that they have been led to believe that the World revolves around their feelings and that institutions like Exeter University should be made squeaky clean for their sake. Unfortunately the University has indulged them in this case.
This is all a part of the erosion of free speech in the U.K.
The U.K. should stop lecturing other countries on free speech when it locks up or expels from work or study, people who have non establishment views.
The U.K. establishment thinks that it can create a squeaky clean nation of unthinking zombies who tow the line, but gradually it will find out the hard way that the more it suppresses people, the more things will go the other way. People like Motivali will also find out that people don’t take too kindly to vindictive snitches like him, which will have a negative impact on his life in the future. He has moved to the U.K. from Iran to get a better life but (in his naivety) he repays the U.K. by suppressing its freedom.

(19)(73)

Fussy about using correct idiomatic expressions

“Tow the line?”

(3)(0)

Anonymous

This post is a damp squid, but I’m on tender hooks to hear the next one.

(3)(0)

Alex

If I was at Exeter uni, I’d find each and every one of them and give them a big sloppy kiss!

(4)(8)

A trust fund with a trust fund

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

Alex Aldridge’s vicar

Hi

(1)(0)

Emu

This case is deeply problematic. Oppressive sanctions such as expulsion will likely lead to more division, not less. The fact these sanctions have been perpetrated by a respected university is extremely distressing. It is vital that all allies in the fight against intolerance condemn this response.

I do not seek to defend the specific comments (surely jokes). I should not have to. We have a proud tradition of free speech. This includes speech that we may disagree with or personally find offensive. Whether the ideas objected to be offensive jokes or even outrageous political ideologies, they can – and should – be disagreed with without shutting down free speech or punishing the speakers.

(9)(13)

RC

these people retain their 5th form mentality, do any of you understand that if you write it down someone will discover it. All social media will catch up with you, when will you all learn

(4)(1)

Jobbie Travers

But freedom of speech I say!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I’ve known these lads not closely but from afar as university acquaintances and this is fully deserved. All really unpleasant people and racist as anything

(11)(5)

Stallone

Cool story, bruh.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

You only know these people from afar, yet you know they’re “racist as anything”?

I smell bullshit.

(6)(3)

Taffy the Sheep-Molester

You don’t have to be BAME to suffer from racism.

I get it all the time.

(3)(1)

Big tool

Baaaah

(0)(0)

BAAAAAAAME?

I waaannaaaa live (with sheep) for ev-aaaaaaah!

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

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