Chief Executive of SUSU, Jim Gardner has admitted to Wessex Scene that ‘there’s a recognition probably within the University and within SUSU that things could have been handled differently‘ in regards to the incident of alleged racist language with Mayflower FC back in 2019. This came up in a recent Wessex Scene interview with Gardner regarding the new strategy launch.
The incident, which caused national upset, involved the alleged chanting of a racist slur on a UniLink bus by a member of the football club. Since, the University conducted an investigation, and came to the conclusion that the slur was not used and that no further actions would be taken. SUSU released statements on the issue but many students felt that not enough was done, with then BAME Officer Halima Jibril stating that ‘I truly believe that SUSU could have done more, from when the event occurred in October, to when the conclusion came out [ November 19th] .’
Jim Gardner came on as the new Chief Executive of SUSU back in March but says he had been briefed on the issue. When asked about the incident in a recent interview with Wessex Scene, Gardner implied that SUSU mishandled the situation, stating that ‘for me, what went wrong in 2019 around that incident was about not being clear about how we work with the world around us and how we influence people in power, whether that’s the university, government, whoever. It’s about being clear about our principles, what we stand for.’
Pressing on, Wessex Scene questioned whether SUSU’s new focus on taking responsibility would involve a public announcement of liability or an apology to those affected, to which Gardner stated the following:
We’re talking about something that happened about a year ago now, the exact details of which I don’t know about. I think, as I understand it, was a difficulty of who dealt with this incident? Was it SUSU, because it was one of our sports clubs involved, or was it the University? I think there was that confused approach. The University did their investigations, reached their conclusions and decided there wasn’t a clear cut case. The challenge now is they’ve done their investigation, they’ve reached their findings, it’s done, and perhaps damage is done but it’s a year ago. Perhaps there is a case to apologise, perhaps there is a case to review but I think the important think is to focus now on how we’re going to behave as an organisation, how we’re gonna work with other people and what we stand for. It’s difficult to know exactly how we move on from that.
When asked about how SUSU would work with their new strategy to ensure the safekeeping of those who have been let down in the past, Gardner continued to say that:
‘The challenge for us as an organisation going forward is knowing how we work in partnership with the university and knowing when we have to be assertive with the university … If there is an incident of racism, which ticks our value of taking responsibility, that’s about equality, diversity and inclusion amongst other things, that’s when we have to be assertive and stand strong and be firm and say to the University or whoever it is … We’re not accepting this. This is not acceptable. We need this dealt with.’
Wessex Scene reached out to SUSU for further comment on the issue, to which they responded saying:
SUSU has not been given sight of the full Wessex Scene article but just the headline. In relation to that headline, “SUSU admits fault in Mayflower FC Incident”, we as an organisation have reflected at length over the last year on how both we and the University handled the incident and are confident that we have learned from the experience. Our new strategy makes it very clear that we are determined to stand strong on important issues and use our position to challenge the University when required.
Wessex Scene also contacted the Black Student’s Network at Southampton for a comment:
In countless contexts, Black students, workers and communities are too familiar with the routine of institutions, organisations, leaders and so on having only hindsight to offer on incidents of racism and specifically anti-Blackness. Not vision, not solution; only hindsight. The consistent allusion to confusion and uncertainty in Gardner’s reflection does nothing to support the idea that either the Union or the University understands what a commitment to anti-racism looks like from a practical standpoint. Who dealt with the incident, as he deliberates over, has no implied consequence over the equivocation we were met with in the end. The dust has settled and the fixation on the timestamp of the incident makes clear the priorities in this statement—which, perhaps, have nothing to do with Black students.
The full interview with Jim Gardner will be out on Wessex Scene shortly.