Statement: Our commitment to tackling Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred

A joint statement from the University of Leeds, Leeds University Union, and the Muslim Staff Network

The University of Leeds is a diverse community, and that diversity is our strength. We have around 10,000 staff from almost 100 countries – and more than 39,000 students from 137 countries. This diversity means that global events can have major repercussions for our community here in Leeds.

The terrible current events involving Palestine and Israel impact on many of our staff and students, who are finding this to be an incredibly difficult time with some experiencing significant anguish and distress. The University of Leeds, Leeds University Union and the Muslim Staff Network want to express our continued support for our Muslim staff and students.

As an institution we uphold academic freedom for the multitude of different experiences, perspectives, and interpretations to be found within our community. We can and we will do more to support our staff and students, understand their feelings, provide support for their wellbeing, act to protect the cohesion of our community, and tackle discrimination in all its forms, wherever it is found.

Evidence shows that nationally incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred from all sources of extremism are increasing, with recent figures from Tell MAMA showing that anti-Muslim hate in the UK has more than tripled in the past four months. 

Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred are totally unacceptable on our campus and within our community. We know there is more we need to do to support our Muslim staff and students, and it is therefore vital that any and all incidents of Islamophobia are reported to the University so that we can investigate, support and take firm action. 

You can find all of the University’s support services on our For Students website. The Muslim Staff Network is also available to hear your concerns and to raise them collectively and anonymously with the University leadership. If you would prefer to report an incident to external community-led organisations, Tell MAMA is able to support those facing Islamophobia on 0800 456 1226. 

Since October the University’s leadership has had conversations with Muslim colleagues and Leeds University Union Islamic Society (ISoc) to better understand their perspectives, the challenges they face, and to learn from the discrimination and hostility that our students and staff have experienced. These have been rightly challenging and difficult discussions, but of vital importance if we are to be the welcoming, inclusive University that we aspire to be. 

The Interim Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Hai-Sui Yu has also been in recent contact with Tell MAMA to discuss the situation and seek advice on how we can better support our Muslim students and staff, as well as speaking to Universities UK, the Russell Group and Muslim public figures including alum Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who spoke so powerfully on this issue at the University last autumn with her guest lecture Muslims Don’t Matter’ - Islamophobia and the silencing, sanctioning, and stereotyping of British Muslims.

We know that our actions will speak louder than any words, and this is why the University is committed to working with the Muslim Staff Network and Leeds University Union to develop an action plan to tackle Islamophobia structurally and swiftly without delays.

We recognise that to develop an informed and actionable plan, and to regain trust, we will need to listen and work closely with the communities who have lived experiences. Our aim is to create a series of listening exercises to initiate the process of healing in a safe space, which will then lead to the development of a pragmatic and decisive action plan to tackle discrimination in all forms, particularly Islamophobia and antisemitism, and to consistently promote dialogue, understanding, and equity. 

We look forward to updating and including our diverse community in this important work. Change will not happen overnight – it will take time to promote dialogue and healing – but we are determined to do all we can to improve the experience of our staff and students during their time at Leeds, keeping our values of inclusion, compassion, collaboration, and integrity at the heart of our response.

We also take this opportunity to say to all our Muslim staff and students, Ramadan Mubarak.