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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Press Portal | "Research on racism should become a cross-cutting issue like gender equality."

"Research on racism should become a cross-cutting issue like gender equality."

Since its foundation, the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research (BIM) of the HU has been engaged in basic research on racism, among other things. In an interview, director Naika Foroutan explains what a university can do for itself and society in this important social field.

Prof. Dr. Naika Foroutan is a migration researcher and director of the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research (BIM) and head of the German Institute for Migration and Integration Research (DeZIM).

What role do you ascribe to Humboldt-Universität in relation to the topic of diversity?

Some time ago, the Humboldt University of Berlin developed a structured process to investigate on a broad level the question of where the university has structural and institutional deficits in the equal treatment and representation of vulnerable groups in an AG-Diversity. Unfortunately, the data situation is such that statements about marginalized groups are difficult to make. Although we can talk about gender relations and thanks to the representation for the interests of people with disabilities we can make statements about them, in parts we can also make statements about the social class, but we cannot depict racial discrimination. What is missing here, therefore, is a structuring approach that takes the issue of racism into account from the very beginning. There must be a university institutionalisation and representation on a structural level.

What do you want from the AG Diversity? Or from the centre of the university?

The working group should be more visible and receive more institutional support. Many Anglo-Saxon universities have EDI departments for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. There, there is a much broader basis for equality, representation and visibility of all social groups - especially those who have been structurally and institutionally disadvantaged by centuries of inequality. I think that AG diversity could be oriented towards this. This would mean that there would not only be one working group, but a department anchored in all university institutions that would deal with these issues.

Is one working group enough? What else has to happen for diversity to come into being at HU?

The University could strive for an active community outreach and a stronger cooperation with the urban society. There are NGOs in the city that are critical of racism, such as Each One Teach One (EOTO), which, together with other organizations, work for the interests of black, African and Afrodiasporic people in Germany and Europe, or Korientation e.V., a network for Asian-German perspectives, with the aim of making the diverse realities of life in Germany conscious and visible and thus counteracting racism, or the Young Islam Conference (JIK) or the Netzewrk Jung, Muslim Aktiv (JUMA), all of which actively advocate equality issues and the development of knowledge about particularly racialised communities. Colleagues could cooperate more closely with these young actors in urban society who have access to students when it comes to anti-racism sensitisation, but also data collection, item construction or inputs for the literature to be used in teaching. However, cooperation could also be intensified with federal authorities such as the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, for example, to learn more about the possibilities of reporting racism and discrimination.

What about the field of research at the HU?

Research on racism should also be a stronger focus at Humboldt University or, in the best case, a chair should be created for it. It is incomprehensible that we do not yet have this in Germany - in many European countries there is already an established research on racism at universities. The HU could play a pioneering role here. Thus, research on racism should finally be institutionalised on an academic level. Only research on racist knowledge and practices will enable a discussion at the institutional level - the next step will be to put it into practice. Here, a working group is not sufficient, but institutionalised protective mechanisms must be created which also reflect the question of the institutionalisation of knowledge and practices which go much further than a diversity concept.

How can PoC (People of Colour) who work or study at HU be supported so that the word "equality at HU" becomes reality and not just wishful thinking?

I think it would be good if there were representatives here who could discuss and evaluate this question directly with the students and staff concerned, so that new structures can be planned in which participation strategies are more permeable and open from the beginning. It is often subtle structures and practices that clearly perceive PoC, but which must be made visible. An anti-racist strategy therefore requires the inclusion of PoC in decision-making processes at all university levels.

To what extent are people with migration biographies exposed to discrimination in the academic world?

To be able to say this, we would first have to be put in a position to collect empirical findings. Perhaps this would be a first step that the university could take? However, discrimination begins long before entering the university. Even at school, children with a Turkish name are systematically discriminated against because the teachers expect less of them. This is shown, for example, by a study carried out by our colleague Georg Lorenz at the BIM a few years ago.

How can this actually be the case in a community such as science, which lives from diversity and the broadest possible background of experience and origin?

Institutional racism permeates society as a whole and does not stop at the gates of universities. In the context of the university, other mechanisms of power and hierarchization are added, which follow their own logic. On the one hand, it lives from internationalisation and a collective identity that claims a high degree of self-reflection for itself. On the other hand, the university must also allow itself to ask how it deals with issues of discrimination and racism in its own ranks. Since one considers oneself to be the good and reflective, one often rejects the topic of racism far from oneself. Too little reflection is given to the fact that racially structured societies lay the path for institutional inequalities at an early stage, and that even those who would never express themselves in a racist way benefit from these inequalities. As already mentioned, however, there is no quantitative basis for anchoring theoretical findings in the consciousness of colleagues and decision-makers through data.

How will you continue to deal with this problem at the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research?

Since its foundation, the BIM has been conducting basic research on racism against BPoCs, anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism. The Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates once again that we must continue our efforts to communicate our findings, to create connectable and publicity-effective formats that reach a broad audience. Since the context of Black Lives Matter in Germany is different in terms of migration history from that in the USA, we are making a special effort to focus our research on progressive civil society movement history and movement presence, which emphasizes the self-determined and self-organized representation of the interests of migrant and marginalized groups. Furthermore, we will deepen the already extensive research on structural discrimination and structural racism. Within the framework of the Berlin University Alliance, we have also acquired a project together with the FU that deals with anti-Asian racism in times of Corona. At the BIM, we have also conducted research on questions of quotas and representation and have worked together with the IG-Metall union to this end. We have also collected data and written recommendations for the federal anti-discrimination office. In addition, we have published on educational inequality or discrimination on the labour market. In this respect, we have been broadly based in the field of racism, social inequality and discrimination for years and will of course continue to follow the new social movements and discourses on racism.

What do the demands and messages from Black Lives Matter mean for an educational institution such as HU, for example in terms of participation in career paths or educational opportunities?

Above all, Black Lives Matter demands an active reflection on one's own position and a rethinking of the established structures that go hand in hand with it. For a university of the size and importance of the Humboldt University, it will be essential to offer further education opportunities, sensitisation workshops and other offers for staff both in teaching and administration that reveal precisely these entrenched patterns of thought. In addition, measures must be taken that start with access to higher education. Here, existing anti-discrimination instruments must be examined for their effectiveness and adapted and modified with the help of experts from affected groups. In addition, a fundamental reflection is also needed in the curricula to ensure that racism-critical content is not only dealt with in social science and humanities courses, but is particularly relevant in teacher training courses, regardless of the subject. Research on racism, like gender equality issues, should become a cross-cutting issue.

Interview: Hans-Christoph Keller