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A university is to hire 20 of its own students to challenge language on campus that could be seen as racist.

The University of Sheffield is to pay students to tackle so-called “microaggressions” – which it describes as “subtle but offensive comments”.

They will be trained to “lead healthy conversations” about preventing racism on campus and in student accommodation.

Vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts said the initiative wanted to “change the way people think about racism”.

The students will be paid £9.34 per hour as “race equality champions”, working between two and nine hours per week to tackle “microaggressions” in the university.

These are described as comments or actions which might be unintentional, but which can cause offence to a minority group.

It gives examples of what it means by microaggression – such as:

  • “Stop making everything a race issue”
  • “Why are you searching for things to be offended about?”
  • “Where are you really from?”
  • “I don’t want to hear about your holiday to South Africa. It’s nowhere near where I’m from”
  • “Being compared to black celebrities that I look nothing like”

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Rather than being about controlling people’s speech, the university says it is “opening up a conversation”.

It says the equality roles are being created in response to demand from students, training them how “to help their peers understand racism and its impact”.

“We think it’s important to be open and honest about racism,” said Prof Lamberts.

A report last autumn from the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned that racism was a “common occurrence” for some students, with incidents of name-calling, physical attacks and racist material on campus.

The equality watchdog said that universities did not want to face up to the scale of the problem because of fears it could harm their reputations.


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