Four current and former employees of the property department at the University of Oslo (UiO) complain they’ve been subjected to racist treatment by colleagues for years. The department head admits there have been problems, and an investigation is underway.
Racism charges shake university
The University of Oslo sprawls over its main campus at Blindern and also has several other facilities at locations around the capital. Those in charge of the buildings and grounds are caught up in charges of racism and discrimination.
The university’s own student newspaper, Universitas, reported this week that the employees have suffered from both harassment and discrimination. One of them, who immigrated to Norway from Ghana in 1986, has served as an operations leader for UiO’s Eiendomsavdeling, which is in charge of operations and maintenance of the university’s buildings, infrastructure and outdoor areas.
According to documents that Norway’s anti-discrimination organization OMOD has sent to the state ombud charged with monitoring equality in Norway (LDO), the man from Ghana has been called neger (negro, or in this context, nigger), svarting (roughly translated, “blackie”), svart apekatt (black ape) and that he was “operations leader for the nigger work.” Colleagues also allegedly have told him that “nigger work is for him and others like him.”
Universitas reported that another colleague of the man from Ghana, identified as “Omar,” claimed he’d been subjected to the same. “You’re not accepted in the group unless you’re blond and light-skinned and have blue eyes,” he told Universitas. All four of those who’ve come forward with complaints say they’ve been subjected to racism by several colleagues. None of the colleagues were willing to comment.
LDO (Likestillings- og diskrimineringsombudet) confirmed to Universitas that it is investigating the charges, but could not comment further until the investigation was completed.
John Skogen, director of the property department, admitted there has been an ukultur (literally, lack of culture) within the department but he declined to go into detail. “What I can say is that in the group that’s under discussion, there have been problems within the working environment for some time,” Skogen wrote in an email to Universitas.
The character of the alleged racial harassment is so shocking and serious that it can be cause for immediate dismissal of those behind it, according to Ervin Kohn of the Antiracism Center in Oslo. Kohn told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday that he’s unsure whether the case should also be reported to police, but that it clearly should have consequences.
“The director has admitted to problems in the department and that they have continued over time,” Kohn told Dagsavisen. “That’s a management responsibility. The university has to clean this up, and so must the department’s management. If there are one or two elements that are behind this, it’s cause for dismissal and management must act on this.”