Medical schools endorse BMA charter to fight racial harassment

by Tim Tonkin

A total of 28 medical schools from across the UK have now signed up to a BMA charter aimed at tackling racial harassment.

Location: UK
Published: Friday 2 October 2020
Khadija Meghrawi

BMA medical students committee co-chairs Becky Bates and Tinaye Mapako welcomed the continued growth in the number of schools committing to the charter, while emphasising that they hope to see 100 per cent eventually sign-up.

They said: ‘We are so happy that medical students have championed anti-racism and this racial harassment charter should only be the start of more work across medical schools and the NHS in advancing racial equality.’

Published in March, the charter sets out a series of actions to be committed to by medical schools, aimed at preventing and dealing with racial harassment.

These include ensuring robust processes for reporting and handling complaints and supporting individuals to speak out.

Along with the charter, the BMA also published guidance for BAME medical students on what they can do if they experience racial harassment and guidance for those who witness racial harassment and how to be an active bystander.

Prior to her election as MSC co-chair, Ms Bates was part of a task and finish group at her medical school at Exeter University, where she worked alongside staff to implement the charter. 

She said: ‘I have been thrilled by the reception of staff at Exeter to the charter, and their commitment to it resulting in meaningful change not just for our medical students but for the entire College of Medicine and Health community. 

‘By including both students and staff in task and finish groups based on the areas of the charter, we will be able to pinpoint where we can and must do better in stamping out racism, and find ways forward together.’

An inquiry into racial harassment in UK universities published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission last October found that roughly a quarter of BAME students said they had experienced racial harassment since starting their course. 

It further found that 56 per cent of students reporting racial harassment said they had experienced racist name-calling, insults and jokes, with 20 per cent saying they had been physically attacked.

The report also noted how fear of consequences to one’s educational or professional career was one of the deterrents to reporting racial harassment, something that was especially acute for medical students whose tutors ‘had the potential to directly affect long-term career prospects’.

Immediate past MSC co-chair Chris Smith said he was pleased to see the positive response to the charter from UK medical schools and expressed a hope that this would continue.

He said: ‘The charter has been a really effective way of engaging the faculties at our schools, and for highlighting some of the good work that has already been going on. 

‘We hope to build on the commitments from signatories to ensure we get tangible, transparent results co-designed by students and staff.’

Fifth-year medical student at Leeds University Eyong Ebot-Arrey is one such student who has been actively involved in promoting the charter at her medical school, including encouraging students to sign-up to a petition supporting the charter and promoting messaging around equality and diversity.

With Leeds having adopted the charter in March, Ms Ebot-Arrey said that she is hopeful that it will provide an important framework to support and empowered BAME students facing harassment.

A former MSC member herself, Ms Ebot-Arrey said that she had previously felt empowered and protected in speaking out when she knew she had the support of an organisation such as the BMA.

She said she hoped that the adoption of the charter at Leeds would extend this sense of empowerment to all BAME students.

‘Listening is the key to it. Schools and students need to recognise that medical schools are not isolated from wider society, and the issues that society faces are evident, if not more apparent, in medical school.

‘As we’ve seen with Covid and as we’ve seen with [racial] health disparities in general, people are actually dying from bias and racism both in society and within the medical profession.’

Currently intercalating Bristol medical student and chair of the Bristol Students BME network Khadija Meghrawi (pictured above) said that she was proud that her school was the first in the UK to sign-up to the charter.

She has previously been involved in addressing through the BMA, submitting a successful rider to a motion at the 2019 MSC conference calling for medical schools to formally commit to establishing working groups towards addressing racism and racial representation in medical curricula.

She said: ‘It’s really great that enthusiastic BAME students like myself are getting involved, mobilising and creating this change, but the burden shouldn’t be on us it should be a priority for all academics across all medical schools. I'm glad to have been supported by mine, particularly my diversity lead, but understand this isn't the case across the board.

‘I’m really excited that Bristol has had such success in the commitments they’ve made to increasing the racial representation in our curriculum and addressing the charter. I’m also keen to share the methods I used to inform others and to make this change happen nationally.’   

Below are all the medical schools that have signed up to the charter. To read more about the charter click here.

Barts and London
Brighton and Sussex 
St Andrews 
St Georges