Christopher Jackson's fight against racism in UK universities

For Nature, Tosin Thompson spoke to geoscientist Christopher Jackson about his experiences with racism within academia:

Last year, Jackson was hired by the University of Manchester as chair in sustainable geoscience. He was excited: “Manchester, as a city and an institution, meant so much to me because I’d spent so much time there,” he says. But he quickly began to feel a lack of support from many colleagues. A month into his job, Jackson was quoted in a BBC news story about the disproportionately low representation of Black people in UK science. He stated that UK-funded science is “definitely institutionally racist” and that senior white scientists do not recognize the ways in which racial biases permeate their institutions.

Four days later, he got an e-mail from the university’s vice-president, Martin Schröder, who said he did not think the university was institutionally racist and that such language was counterproductive. The e-mail included a link to an opinion article calling institutional racism an ill-defined, unhelpful concept. Schröder copied the e-mail to several high-level colleagues.

“I was very angry and upset by the e-mail,” says Jackson, who asserts that his public comments were not directed at the university. He saw the e-mail as an attempt to malign him and his views.

Hoping for support, Jackson forwarded it to his department head and close colleague, volcanologist Mike Burton — but he was disappointed by the response. During a follow-up conversation, Jackson says he got the sense that Burton viewed people at the university as too intelligent and liberal-minded to be racist.

Whew, I got a fire in my belly just from reading that excerpt. It’s so commonplace in any space with a hint of (white) intellectualism and I hate that Jackson has had to go through this. But I also feel for the students who can have their lives and future career paths ruined by these sorts of encounters.

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