Lancaster’s history reveals its role within the 18th century slave trade and an economy built off the profits of slave labour disclosing the reality of a modern local society tied to the oppression of Black people.
Although this period must not be forgotten, it must be remembered with the aim of preserving the memory of Black people in Lancaster, especially with the 21st century bringing some of the most progressive activism towards racial equality seen yet, at the hands of local individuals, initiatives and student groups.
The Lancaster University Racial Equality Network (LUREN) is a student-led group, established in 2018, that has produced and engaged in some of the most progressive local racial equality work in recent years.
They were founded with the aim of addressing examples of racism and inequality at Lancaster University, and are a source of community and support for all BAME students, working to hold the Vice Chancellor and Senior Management accountable if and when examples of racism occur.
LUREN played a vital role in the re-commitment of Lancaster University to the Race Equality Charter in June 2020, which provides a framework for the identification of institutional and cultural barriers challenging BAME staff and students in UK universities.
The establishment of a new Strategic Race Advisory Group in August 2020 with the aim of continuing Lancaster University’s commitment to the Charter and achieving the Bronze award by 2025 was another enormous step made towards the university’s sustained commitment to racial equality.
LUREN has been invaluable in the fight for institutional racial equality for both staff and students, however in 2020, the launching of LUREN’s Anti-Racist Learning and Teaching Toolkit may prove to be their crowning achievement, hopefully establishing a legacy of racial awareness for years to come.
The toolkit is a practical guide for university staff to understand racial inequality generally and in their specific areas of teaching.
It includes tools, key words and definitions around anti-racist works and theory, approaching the highly educated staff of the university with academic, theoretical and practical anti-racist tools and rhetoric that they can use to incorporate in their general understanding of racism as well as their field of study.
In 2018, Sofia Akel published a groundbreaking report entitled; “Decolonising Lancaster University.” It helped to pave the way for groups like LUREN by examining Lancaster’s colonial links, revealing an attainment gap for BAME students and staff as well as recommending how to decolonise the curriculum.
Another important development in the progression of decolonisation and equality at Lancaster was the “Why is my Curriculum White?” campaign, started at UCL in 2016, which – to this day – works to integrate more diverse education and rhetoric into university and school curriculums across the country.
This prompted the organisation of the Lancaster “Why is my Curriculum White?” campaign which has worked to integrate BAME literature, media and studies into courses at Lancaster.
In 2020 they released their report, “Built in Barriers: The Role of Race in Shaping BME Student Experiences at Lancaster University” which interrogated the BME experience at the University and suggested ways in which Lancaster can implement policy to become more actively anti-racist.
LUREN, Akel’s report and the work of the Lancaster “Why is my Curriculum White?” campaign have led to numerous recent organisations and changes around the University.
Initiatives like the ‘Decolonising Lancaster’ initiative, the diversification of the library collection, Lancaster Voices – which provides support for BAME students though counselling and mental health services – and new groups like the Lancaster Environment Centre’s LEC Decolonising Workshop and the Medical School’s Decolonising Working Group are all the result of BAME student activism and landmark reports to initiate self-examination at the University.
More recent activism has included work done by the LU BAME forum in the education of students in the historic significance of Lancaster’s slave trade past and a bid to rename the Sugarhouse that – although ultimately unsuccessful – received paramount support and was a platform to make the origins of the nightclub more known.
The BAME forum is hosting events throughout Black History Month 2021, including online debates, seminars, quizzes, discussions on decolonisation as well as the history and importance of Black History Month.
The modern successes of racial quality in Lancaster can therefore be attributed to the relentless fervor of groups ardent in their approach to the Lancaster community, university curriculum and the establishment of long-lasting groups and initiatives used to highlight BAME history and move forward in making Lancaster an anti-racist advocate.
However progressivism doesn’t halt with just their achievements – showing support for the BAME forum, the “Why is my Curriculum White” campaign and other groups and services at Lancaster is so important in the protection of racial liberty and the assurance of the solidity of these historic changes achieved by BAME groups; your support is invaluable.