Confronting campus hate crime through forum theatre methods

Forum theatre methods enabled us to educate students about hate crimes in an interactive, safe and supportive environment

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Jane Healy

Dr Jane Healy is a Lecturer in Sociology and Crime and Deviance at Bournemouth University.  Her research interests include victims of hate crime, disablist crime and human trafficking. She is co-investigator of the Hate Crime on Campus project at BU.

 

 

According to Universities UK, hate crimes on campus have a considerable impact on student well-being, academic attainment, retention, institutional reputation and recruitment (UUK, 2016). Their report encouraged a culture of ‘zero tolerance’ and the need for visible and accessible hate crime reporting mechanisms for students. To address this, my colleague James Palfreman-Kay was awarded funding by HEFCE to promote student awareness of hate crimes, including where to report them and how to signpost student support. I joined the project in Autumn 2017 and we prepared to launch our first session in the spring 2018. The timing could not have been more prescient: by early 2018 ‘Campus Hate Crime’ was attracting widespread media attention in the UK, with a spate of high profile incidents targeting BAME students, such as, for example, at Nottingham Trent, Sheffield Hallam, Warwick, and Exeter.  ​

Our approach to the project was one of local partnership, working with our student union (SUBU), Dorset Police, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Dorset Race & Equality Council (DREC), Intercom Trust, CPS Wessex and Access Dorset, to identify clearly what our outcomes should be. We engaged the services of Cornwall-based theatre group Theatre Learning to create campus-based hate crime scenarios to present to the students. These scenarios, in the form of forum theatre, were based on reported cases (not from Bournemouth University) and were acted out by professionals. They reflected situations that students might be exposed to and encouraged them to consider how they might respond. Scenarios were designed to include multiple forms of hate crime strands within an intersectional framework.

Forum Theatre (Boag, 1979) is a drama-based, interactive approach to addressing public issues or working with marginalized groups (Hamel, 2015) and gender-based violence (Mitchell and Freitag, 2011). With a strong emphasis on voice and empowerment it has been successful in generating collaborative dialogue between actor and audience. Our goal was to present scenes of discrimination and hate crimes within a safe public arena, where spectators can become participants and identify, challenge and question the decision-making by ‘characters’ within each scenario.

To date, the project is ongoing and involves ‘hate crime awareness’ sessions either built into student timetabling or as independent ‘campus’ events that are promoted through the Equality and Diversity unit at BU. The project continues to engage with new students, most recently during induction week in September 2018, but partial analysis was conducted on student evaluations that were collated after the first events held earlier this (calendar) year. Our provisional findings from 90 participants found that forum theatre had much to offer students, who reported being both impressed and shocked by the method of delivery and the topics under debate.

The students, the majority level four social science undergraduates (71), were asked about their knowledge of hate crime before and after the forum theatre (FT) event, and the impact, if any, that it had on them. More than half of the participants were aged between 18 and 24 (n=76) and identified as female (n=60). Fifty four participants identified themselves as White British, with the remainder Asian, Black, White other, Mixed ethnicity or unknown.

Three main themes emerged from provisional analysis of the impact of the FT method: 1) FT was an informative process which enabled students to know more about recognizing and responding to hate crimes in a ‘safe’ way; 2) participants felt empowered to recognize and challenge hate crimes following the event; 3) participants reported an emotional impact from the sessions.

Comments included:

made me more conscious about people around me and how other people around them could impact the victims”;

eye opening, informative, thought provoking”;

will be more proactive in challenging hate crimes”;

Giving me confidence to report things that are not right” and;

made me understand that my voice has value and to always speak out and that I matter”.

Participants’ confidence to be proactive and report hate crime supports the active bystander approach that is encouraged within the FT method. Participants spoke particularly about how the event was “very powerful” and “opened my eyes on how individuals feel”. One participant asked that the sessions to be “shown to a lot more people” because of the emotional attachment they had to the characters in the scenarios.

As well as having an emotional and practical impact on participants, the sessions also provided greater knowledge and understanding about hate crimes. Participants emphasized how the use of FT was a “much better and interactive way” of learning more, “a great way of seeing certain examples played out and how we would address it” and “the examples were sensitively executed and addressed issues” that were “thought provoking”.

Many participants had expected some form of ‘interactive event’ and reported how the performances achieved this and kept audiences interested in an imaginative way. Three students gleefully wrote how they were expecting to be bored – but were then surprised to report how they gained “a lot of insightful knowledge”, “learnt a lot” and how “my expectations have been exceeded, engaging and informative”. For the majority of participants, the performative nature of FT provided relatable and effective methods of presenting, understanding and responding to hate crimes. Some reported being ‘shocked’ by the method but recognised the value of this as a method of engagement. Participants perceived that FT is a creative way of learning and particularly emphasized that interaction allowed for a “judge free zone” that gave students the confidence to challenge hate crimes in a safe and consenting environment.

Emphatically, we recommend the use of FT as an engaging, effective and safe method of hate crime awareness education.  We have made minor amendments to future events to ensure students are confident as to where they can report hate crimes and to provide more time for them to reflect and consider upon solutions to hate crimes, following feedback.  We found that those sessions that were directly embedded in teaching timetables had the greatest attendance and therefore the better outcomes and impact. We would strongly encourage ensuring a balanced representation of diversity within the FT scenarios so that all members of the audiences feel they are being represented. Interested readers are encouraged to contact James Palfreman-Kay or myself to learn more about our project.

 

Boag, A. (1979) Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Urizen Books.

Hamel, S. (2015) Translation between academic research, community and practice: A forum theatre process. Canadian Journal of Action Research 16(3), pp.27-41.

Mitchell, K. S. & Freitag, J. L. (2011) Forum Theatre for Bystanders: A New Model for Gender Violence Prevention. Violence Against Women 17(8), pp.990-1013.

Universities UK (2016) Changing the Culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. London: UUK.

 

Contact

Dr Jane Healy, Bournemouth University

Email: jhealy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Twitter: @hatecrimehealy

Images: courtesy of the author

Why are hate crimes at record levels in the UK?

With hate crimes at record levels, we need to look beyond Brexit & recent terror attacks to fully understand exactly what is going on

ChrisAllen

Chris Allen is Associate Professor in Hate Studies at the University of Leicester. For almost two decades, he has been at the forefront of research into Islamophobic and extremist hate.

 

Levels of hate crime in the UK have been on an upward trajectory over the past few years. None more so than in 2016-17 when overall numbers increased by 29%: the largest annual increase since records began. During this same period of time, the number of racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes recorded reached record levels. As we enter National Hate Crime Awareness Week, this article offers an explanation for these previously unprecedented levels.

For the Government, recent annual increases are ‘likely’ due to improved awareness, better recording, and a greater willingness of victims to come forward. Given 2016-7’s record levels however, this explanation appears simplistic. While likely to result in a greater number of recorded crimes, there would have had to have been extremely significant improvements for that to have translated into a 29% overall increase. Improvements alone also fail to explain record levels of racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes.

As regards the latter, 2016-7 was notable given how certain events duly impacted the levels of hate crime recorded. The first of these was the Brexit referendum. While ‘Leave’ campaigners have since refuted claims that the referendum catalysed a sharp increase in the levels of hate crime in the days and weeks that followed, official data shows that in the 11 month period following the vote hate crimes surged by 23%. Interesting about this was the unprecedented targeting of white Eastern Europeans, anomalous in the British context where racially-motivated hate crime has historically targeted non-white minorities.

Also unique to 2016-7 were the number and scale of terror incidents in the UK. As the official data illustrated, following each incident – in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green – there was a sharp increase in the number of hate crimes recorded. Noting how this has been a pattern dating back to the 9/11 terror attacks, both research and third-party data from Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) confer legitimacy on the notion that these backlashes are undertaken on the basis of exacting ‘revenge’ against Muslims and their communities. It might be assumed that this would go some way to explaining the record levels of religiously-motivated hate crime.

While the Brexit referendum and number of terror incidents go some way to explaining the size of the increase in 2016-7, they fail to account for the year on year rises. To better understand this, it is necessary to take a broader perspective, one that considers how the socio-political landscape of the UK has changed and developed. For Poynting and Perry, this is important as socio-political landscapes can create climates which bestow ‘permission’ to hate and by consequence, enact hate crime. As they go on, this occurs when political actors and political mechanisms function to dichotomously demarcate ‘us’ from ‘them’: actively constructing ‘Others’ that are indeterminably and unequivocally oppositional, fear inducing and threatening.

This – according to Abrams and Travaglino – was evident in the discourses and rhetoric of Leave campaigners. Building on decades of various political actors routinely and repeatedly demarcating ‘immigrants’ as ‘Others’, Leave campaigners ratified the argument that had been premised many years beforehand that halting immigration – made possible by leaving the EU – would provide a ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’: nullifying the threat posed to ‘us’ by ‘them’. Allen and Young argue that the Brexit referendum achieved this by functioning as a political mechanism that conferred legitimacy on who could and who could not belong: politically and conceptually constructing an ‘us’ from ‘them’ in that it immediately functioned to demarcate who Britain could be ‘home’ for from those it could not. While the referendum was a one-off in this respect, it contributed towards – and fed into – the ongoing construction of a climate that was hospitable to being hateful and by consequence, enacting that hatefulness also.

2017’s unprecedented number of terror attacks can also be contextualized within that process of dichotomously demarcating ‘us’ from ‘them’ that in turn, feeds the construction of a climate that is permissible to hate. This can be seen in how for more than a decade in the UK – at least since the 7/7 terror attacks on the London public transport system in 2005 – political actors have repeatedly identified ‘Muslims’ and ‘Islam’ as problematic ‘Others’ both of which pose something of an existential threat to ‘our’ culture, values and way of life. Attributing all Muslims without differentiation the same attributes and capabilities, it is no surprise that Muslims have become repeat and indiscriminate victims of hate after every terror incident. As Poynting and Perry argue, the hospitable climate constructed by political actors and political mechanisms alike provide a ‘guide to action’ for the willing. For some at least, exacting ‘revenge’ on all and any Muslim can therefore be seen to be justified.

While 2016-7 was therefore notable, to fully understand why the levels of hate crime increased so significantly and why numbers continue to rise year on year it is necessary to look beyond those anomalous events to the socio-political landscape that has emerged and developed in the UK over the past decade or so. In doing so, it is possible to see how a hospitable climate has been established that not only bestows permission to hate but worryingly, permission to engage in hate crime: to justify the use of violence against those deemed to be ‘different’.

With this in mind, it is highly likely that hate crime numbers will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Noting the concerns of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services – the UK’s police watchdog – the UK’s formal exit from the EU in 2019 is likely to catalyse even more hate and by consequence, more hate crime. Add in the potential for further terror attacks, the reality of political actors further adopting nationalistic and jingoistic discourses of ‘us’ and ‘them’, as also the growing threat posed by the extreme right-wing and the future looks increasingly bleak as does the UK’s socio-political landscape.

 

For further links please see the website of the Centre for Hate Studies

 

 

Contact

Chris Allen, Associate Professor, Centre for Hate Studies, University of Leicester

Email: chris.allen@leicester.ac.uk

Twitter: @DrChrisAllen

Website: www.drchrisallen.uk

 

Copyright free images courtesy of author and Wikimedia Commons