Combatting racial harassment 

Newnham College is committed to maintaining an environment for study, work and living which is free from harassment of any kind.

This page explains what to do if you, or someone you know, has been racially harassed. This advice is for all members of Newnham College – JCR, MCR, staff and Senior Members.

1. What is racial harassment?
2. If you have been racially harassed or assaulted
3. Harassment Advisers and other sources of support
4. Emotional support
5. Addressing hurtful comments informally
6. Reporting racial harassment formally
7. Anonymous reporting and informal procedures
8. Reporting to the police
9. Reporting procedures: an overview
10. More information and guidance

1. What is racial harassment?

Racial harassment is an incident or a series of incidents intended or likely to intimidate, offend or harm an individual or group because of their ethnic origin, colour, race, religion or nationality. Racial harassment may be overt, such as physical attacks and insults, or more nuanced and covert. People may find that they are being excluded or ignored. At times, racial harassment comes under the cover of ‘banter’. Apparently small acts or comments may build up over time to become increasingly hurtful. Unconscious bias may cause people to speak or act in a racist way, without them necessarily realising it.

Racial harassment harms mental health, affects people’s studies, and damages careers. Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (October 2019) shows that much racial harassment in Universities goes unreported and is unaddressed. Newnham believes that no one should ever be subjected to racial harassment in any setting, and that we must take steps to recognise and tackle harassment.

2. If you have been racially harassed

If you have been racially harassed, you can choose to

  • talk to an adviser
  • seek emotional support
  • report harassment to the College and University
  • report harassment anonymously to the University
  • report a hate crime to the police

It is your choice which of these you do. Talking to an adviser does not commit you to doing anything else. If you do not want to make a formal complaint, it is still worthwhile reporting the harassment anonymously, to give the University an understanding of the scale and nature of the problem.

3. BME Advisor, Harassment Advisors and other sources of support

All members of College, staff, students and Senior Members, can seek advice from

To contact the Advisors, please send an email indicating that you would like to have a discussion on a sensitive topic, and suggest some times that you could meet them. They will arrange an appropriate time and place to meet. (Our advisers have varied working hours, but are likely to be available during weekdays between 9 and 5. Contact details are on their profile pages, linked to above.)

Students can seek also advice from

  • your own Tutor
  • a BME officer of the JCR or MCR
  • a BME officer at the Student Union
  • a welfare officer of the JCR or MCR

If you have witnessed racial harassment, please report the incident to one of the above.

For 24 hour emergency support, please see the University’s Emergency Contacts information.

You can find other sources of support at

4. Emotional support

Counselling services are available whether or not you decide to report the harassment formally.

The College Counsellors and the University Counselling Service can provide emotional support if you have been harassed. You can request to see a BME counsellor at the University Counselling Service.

Senior Members and staff may have access to specialist support via their union, if they are union members.

5. Addressing hurtful comments informally

If you feel that a hurtful comment was made through thoughtlessness or unconscious bias, you may wish to speak to or email the person directly, to explain how their words made you feel. You may be able to resolve the issue swiftly. Many people would be glad to learn if they were unintentionally causing distress to others, so that they can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If you don’t feel confident about a direct approach, you could speak to an advisor, a Tutor or an JCR / SCR officer and see whether they can suggest a way to address the problem informally.

You may find the College’s guidance on ‘Procedures for Solving Problems’ useful.

6. Reporting racial harassment formally

If you choose to report racial harassment, there are different processes depending on your role within the College (student, staff, Senior Member), and the harasser’s role (student, University staff, College staff).

The College Harassment Advisors will be able to explain the relevant process to you, help you with the report and, where appropriate, offer support during the process.

You may not know yourself whether the harasser is a student, a member of University staff, College staff or neither. This doesn’t matter: the Harassment Advisor can find out and advise you on the relevant process. The different processes are outlined below.

A student should not be disadvantaged for raising a complaint that they believe to be genuine.  If you raise a complaint against a staff member, the College will work with you to find alternatives, so that you do not need to be assessed by or taught in a small group by that person. Again, the Harassment Advisors can talk to you about this.

7. Anonymous reporting and informal reports

You can talk to a Harassment Advisor to get advice without needing to take it further.

If you are a student, you can speak to a JCR or MCR BME or Welfare Officer informally. They will not be able to take formal action, but they will be able to signpost you to sources of support.

There is an anonymous reporting tool ( specifically for reporting racist incidents at Cambridge, run by members of the Department of Sociology. This is a research project that aims to inform the work of anti-racist activism in the University. It will not address any specific incidents. You may wish to report a racist incident via this tool, to give a bigger picture of the issue, in addition to making a formal complaint.

Anyone can anonymously report any type of bullying, harassment, discrimination or sexual misconduct to the University using the anonymous reporting tool. However, its purpose is to gather a broader picture of harassment at the University, not to address any specific incidents.

8. Reporting to the police

Racist abuse and racially motivated assaults are serious criminal offences. You can choose to report them to the police, who have the authority and resources to investigate.

If you report a matter to the police, you can still report a matter to the University or College.  The University is able to take precautionary action whilst the police are conducting an investigation, which will prevent the other person from having any contact with you during the investigation.

9. Reporting procedures: an overview

i. Students reporting harassment by a student

The procedures for students reporting racial harassment are set out in the College’s guidance on ‘Procedures for solving problems (complaints from students)’

ii. Staff and Senior Members of Newnham reporting harassment by other staff or Senior Members of Newnham

If you are a staff member or a Senior Member who has been harassed by another staff or Senior Member at Newnham, the complaint will be dealt with by the College, following the Dignity at Work procedures. These are set out in both the Staff Handbook and the Handbook for Senior Members. These are available via the Intranet.

You can choose whether to make a formal or an informal complaint. The Harassment Advisors can work with you to decide which you would prefer. You may also wish to talk to the HR Manager.

iii. Staff and Senior Members of Newnham reporting harassment by students

If you are a staff member or a Senior Member who has been harassed by a student (either at this College or elsewhere), the Harassment Advisor will work with you to address the case following the student disciplinary procedures, and to support you while this is resolved. You may also wish to talk to the Senior Tutor.

The student disciplinary procedures for members of Newnham College are available here:

10. More information and guidance

The University has a website focusing on Race Equality at Cambridge. This includes details of the University’s two Race Equality Champions, events and training courses, and advice on sources of support:

The Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA) has a very helpful webpage, aimed at students, which explains the process of reporting harassment.