University to introduce ‘mandatory training’ to combat anti-Semitism

The University of Essex has conducted an in-depth review into the experiences of Jewish students and

The University of Essex has conducted an in-depth review into the experiences of Jewish students and staff Picture: GOOGLE MAPS - Credit: GOOGLE MAPS

A university which became embroiled in a row over anti-Semitism allegations is set to bring in a number of changes aimed at tackling discrimination.

Hundreds of students voted against creating a Jewish society at the University of Essex Picture: GOO

Hundreds of students voted against creating a Jewish society at the University of Essex Picture: GOOGLE MAPS - Credit: GOOGLE MAPS

The University of Essex has made clear "doing nothing is not an option" with regard to all incidents of prejudice after serious concerns were raised in February, when the Students' Union (SU) held a vote asking members if a Jewish Society should be set up on campus.

Around 36% of students asked voted 'no' in the poll, hosted on the SU website - sparking anger from politicians, celebrities and the university's Jewish population.

MORE: U-turn on university vote for Jewish society sees fresh poll announced

The Jewish Society has since been established and is now active, with full support from the SU.

University of Essex vice chancellor, Anthony Forster Picture: UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX

University of Essex vice chancellor, Anthony Forster Picture: UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX - Credit: Archant

One member of staff, believed to be computer science lecturer Dr Maaruf Ali, was also dismissed after allegedly posting anti-Semitic comments on social media. Dr Ali denied being anti-Semitic.

Now, in a 32-page review, the university has analysed the experiences of Jewish students and staff - laying out its strategy to combat anti-Semitism going forward.

'Intimidated and frightened'

The report noted "a number of complaints on anti-Semitism" have recently been made by students, and investigations have been undertaken by the proctor.

The University of Essex has since established a Jewish Society Picture: UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX

The University of Essex has since established a Jewish Society Picture: UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX - Credit: Archant

It stated: "It has become clear that students and staff at the university have suffered from a variety of forms of direct and casual anti-Semitism.

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"This has been directed towards individuals and made in wider public and digital media. Some students and staff have reported anti-Semitic comments made in public forums (e.g. on mail lists or social media platforms), and have been concerned that no bystanders have intervened.

"A key common finding is that regardless of specificity of comments, some recipients have felt intimidated and frightened. It is no defence (from individuals or institutions) to indicate that such outcomes were not intended: if they were felt, then they are real."

Improved training for students and staff

The university now intends to introduce "mandatory training" on anti-Semitism for all office holders of the university, from the University Steering Group (USG), to deans and department heads.

In addition, the current "bystander training" for students and staff should be expanded to cover anti-Semitism, and the SU should ensure all future sabbatical officers receive training by the Union of Jewish Students.

Other recommendations include the "explicit and regular presence of a Jewish chaplain", and incorporating "new social media guidance" for staff.

An independent external group appointed to advise on and approve the review has praised it as a "model" response, adding: "We urge other universities to learn from the spirit, actions and content of this investigation, whether in regard to Jewish concerns or those of any other group.

"We sincerely hope that the implementation of these recommendations will better enable Jewish students at Essex to feel properly supported by the university, and that this helps to heal some of the hurt that they have felt."

The report added that the university should make clear the "job is never done" with regard to equality, diversity and inclusivity, and "doing nothing is not an option", even in the case of expressions of prejudice that "do not cross the threshold required for a regulatory response".

'We will continue to challenge ourselves'

University chancellor, John Bercow MP, said: "The University of Essex needed to respond decisively and effectively and that is precisely what the vice-chancellor and senior leadership team have done, strongly supported by staff and students.

"The report shows a real understanding of what has upset students and detracted from their Essex experience.

"The university has always taken pride in being multiracial, internationalist and a champion of equality. It is now redoubling its efforts to promote those values by following-up its immediate response with further steps to encourage a culture of respect for all faiths."

In a joint statement, Judith Judd, chairman of council; Jane Hamilton, chairman of council designate; and vice-chancellor Professor Anthony Forster, said: "We have recognised that we faced a problem of anti-Semitism and we want to thank the independent external group for its support and guidance in helping us face up to this. Our council and senate have unanimously endorsed this report and we will be implementing all 33 recommendations.

"We will continue to challenge ourselves. Our council has therefore agreed additional work should immediately be undertaken to review all areas where there could be discrimination. We want to ensure that we celebrate the diversity of all members of the University of Essex."

The recommendations in full are as follows:

- Recommendation 1: The university leadership at all levels and across all staff groups and grades, and within the SU, should be proactive in speaking about the values of the university, emphasising equality, diversity and inclusivity, and thus embodying the values of bridge-building across groups of different faiths and none.

- Recommendation 2: Human Resources (HR) should ensure that forthcoming work on the Race Equality Charter via the new Self-Assessment Team will address anti-Semitism and support for students and staff of all faiths.

- Recommendation 3: The change of name [The Multi-Faith Chaplaincy Centre] to The Faith Centre and associated support is implemented and communicated by Academic Section, the SU and Communications and External Relations (CER).

- Recommendation 4: Academic Section to lead on establishing, recruiting and embedding the Faith Centre (FC) Manager into the appropriate team in the section and, working across the institution, into the wider day to day work of the university.

- Recommendation 5: Finance to allocate an increased and appropriate annual operating budget [for the FC] via the Academic Section budget.

- Recommendation 6: Academic Section and FC Manager to bring forward proposals in the next Planning Round (2019-20) regarding any proposed changes to funding priorities within the Faith Centre.

- Recommendation 7: This review recommends that i) the Chaplaincy Chair and FC Manager maintain links with Elazar and Alissa Symon, University Jewish Chaplaincy (UJC) regional chaplains, who should be invited to annual meetings of the FC; ii) the regular presence of Jewish Chaplains is advertised to Jewish students for the academic year 2019-20 and onwards; and iii) the FC Manager ensures the appropriate safeguarding checks are undertaken and completed.

- Recommendation 8: Communications and External Relations (Comms) to ensure all relevant chaplains receive all-staff emails and communications.

- Recommendation 9: i) Timetabling to confirm Lakeview Room bookings on Fridays for the Jewish Society, ii) Campus Services to provide kitchen equipment support.

- Recommendation 10: The SU to provide continued advice and support to the Jewish Society.

- Recommendation 11: Faith Centre Manager and Chaplaincy Committee to develop a clear programme of activities to increase interfaith understanding amongst the student body, working with the SU.

- Recommendation 12: Expand the current bystander training for students and staff to include issues relating to anti-Semitism. HR and Academic Section to work on amending bystander training offer.

- Recommendation 13: Ensure that all office holders of the university (USG, deans and deputy deans, heads of departments/schools and sections) undertake mandatory training on anti-Semitism. Organisational Development (in HR) to develop an appropriate training package, and USG to review uptake of training

- Recommendation 14: The SU should take up the offer of training from the UJS, and ensure that all future sabbatical officers receive appropriate induction and training.

- Recommendation 15: PVC-E to lead on an action plan to be produced with recommendations on embedding equality, diversity and inclusion to be implemented in the curriculum for both new provision as it is established, and for existing provision as it is reviewed and developed through the standard quality assurance and enhancement processes.

- Recommendation 16: Heads of department and directors of education should draw the attention of staff and students to the provision that is available through the university's flexible working policy, and university timetable policy, to support changes to the timing of teaching events where the timing of teaching does not support the observance of Shabbat and other Jewish festivals, as well as other important festival dates and times of other faiths.

- Recommendation 17: The university to give support to Dr Ahmed Shaheed [UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief] on implementing the proposed action plan (Annex D); with support from the School of Law, the Faculty of Humanities, and Academic Section via the new Faith Centre Manager.

- Recommendation 18: The review of both the Code of Student Conduct and enhancements to the operation of the Code by the Academic Section as well as the review of the Student Charter should be completed and implemented for the start of the first academic term of 2019-20.

- Recommendation 19: The new 1.0 FTE Proctor should be recruited to the Student Conduct team.

- Recommendation 20: Communications and External Relations (CER, Marketing) to implement changes to undergraduate and postgraduate prospectuses and other marketing materials.

- Recommendation 21: Communications and External Relations and FC Manager (Academic Section) to coordinate Welcome Week countdown and involvement of the Faith Centre in Welcome Week activities.

- Recommendation 22: Communications and External Relations (Recruitment and Marketing) to commission and upload appropriate student profiles from Jewish students, and students of other faiths and none.

- Recommendation 23: Communications and External Relations (Marketing and Recruitment) should ensure the website is revised to offer support to students and staff of all faiths. CER and Faith Centre Manager (Academic Section) to ensure a link to Faith is made from the "Life" section on university website.

- Recommendation 24: Communications and External Relations (Comms) to develop and implement a system for selecting and rotating physical and digital banners in languages of students and staff.

- Recommendation 25: Communications and External Relations (schools and outreach) to implement approaches within National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) and the university's own outreach to ensure engagement with schools in Jewish communities.

- Recommendation 26: HR (Recruitment) should ensure that information on staff recruitment in online and job pack locations contains appropriate welcomes to potential staff of all faiths and backgrounds.

- Recommendation 27: HR to incorporate new social media guidance into existing staff induction and communications processes, and ensure all staff are aware of the institutional expectations on them when using social media for both personal and institutional purposes.

- Recommendation 28: Communications and External Relations (Comms) to ensure appropriate celebrations are made for key times for different faith groups, including the use of appropriate languages.

- Recommendation 29: Finance should allocate funding for the Dora Love prize; CER (Events) should provide organisational support for the Dora Love awards and evening.

- Recommendation 30: Senior staff of the university and the SU should ensure appropriate broad-based attendance at the key event associated with Holocaust Memorial Day.

- Recommendation 31: Communications and External Relations (Comms and Events) should include this guidance in practice, and liaise with Departments and Sections as appropriate.

- Recommendation 32: Essex Food (EF) and the SU should discuss these findings with relevant student societies to map out an agreed plan to ensure the university is providing appropriate foods and refreshments, as well as managing expectations and supporting the diversity of the university campuses. EF and the SU should at the least provide baked kosher goods before and during key Jewish festivals (e.g. during Pesach/Passover; and Chanukah/Hanukkah), and should discuss with Jewish and Muslim students how vegetarian catering might be emphasised and kept separate.

- Recommendation 33: Essex Food should consider the possibility of providing a kosher kitchen facility for observant Jewish students.

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