Oxford porters stop me because of my skin colour, says senior don

·3-min read
Prof Mindy Chen-Wishart said it was 'alienating' and 'exhausting' to be constantly challenged for looking 'out of place'
Prof Mindy Chen-Wishart said it was 'alienating' and 'exhausting' to be constantly challenged for looking 'out of place'

The dean of Oxford University’s law faculty has revealed that porters have questioned whether she has the right to enter college, as she calls for more anti-racism training.

Prof Mindy Chen-Wishart, who is from Taiwan, said she was quizzed by porters “all the time” when entering Oxford colleges adding that it happens “so frequently that I would normally never even register it”.

She said it was both “alienating” and “exhausting” to be constantly challenged for looking “out of place”.

“This happens a lot in Oxford,” Prof Chen-Wishart told The Telegraph. “Every time you get into a college you have to get past porters, facilities managers, whatever, people of colour are challenged or searched.

“People will always say they are just doing their job. I would really like to understand why they are so good at doing their job when people of colour are concerned.”

Prof Chen-Wishart, an expert in contract law, described how an incident a few weeks ago prompted her to become more vocal on the issue of race and launch a social media campaign. She said that as she was entering her office in the Law faculty, a building manager asked her who she had an appointment with.

When Prof Chen-Wishart told him that she was the dean of the faculty, the manager said he “forgot” and proceeded to follow her to her office.

She said she “pretended not to notice” this, adding that she assumed it was to ensure she could “corroborate” her account by having the right key.

“It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are, you will be queried,” she said. “Each of these incidents seems small but it’s exhausting.”

She said senior officials at Oxford University are increasingly aware about the importance of diversity and inclusion, adding that a pro-vice-Chancellor recently interviewed her about her experiences at the university as a person of colour.

“I know Oxford is very keen to do something about race and I am very keen to engage with them but only if they actually want to do something,” she said.

Prof Chen-Wishart, who is also a tutorial fellow at Merton College, said since speaking about her experiences on social media, many of her colleagues in the law faculty as well as further afield have supported her.

Professor calls for others to speak out

She has been encouraging people to speak out using the hashtag #RaceMeToo and academics from across the world have come forward to share their experiences.

Prof Chen-Wishart has sent a series of proposals to Oxford’s pro-vice-Chancellor on how to foster a more inclusive atmosphere at the university.

These include more robust anti-racist training to be rolled out to Oxford’s support staff, in particular facility managers and porters, which must go beyond the current unconscious bias and customer service training.

The training must ensure that “people of colour are not constantly challenged and made to feel they don’t belong” by porters.

Prof Chen-Wishart, who took up post as the dean of the law faculty last year, was born in Taiwan and emigrated to New Zealand with her family as a child. Her grandfather was a truck driver and her father, an Olympic gymnastics coach, was the first in the family to go to university.

After beginning her academic career as a lecturer at Otago University in New Zealand, she initially came to Oxford as a Rhodes Visiting Research Fellow.

An Oxford University spokesman said: “The University does not tolerate any form of racial harassment or victimisation and expects all members of the University community to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration.

“We have a robust policy which enables any member of the University community to make a complaint if they feel that they have been subject to harassment from a staff member.”

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