EVEN though it’s been 30 years since I left Glasgow University, it’s still painful to see headlines like "University admits racism is rife across campus". They first flashed up this week in a WhatsApp group I’m part of, with a bunch of Asian former students.

We held a reunion last year of a social group we formed called Glasgow University Asian Students Association (GUASIA). The headlines generated an enlightening and sometimes poignant thread of anecdotes from back in the day.

As stories of racist incidents from the 1980s and 1990s gathered apace, the WhatsApp group became like one giant therapy session.

At the time, no-one reported incidents whether they were overt racist attacks, name-calling or more subtle forms of discrimination because we had all been brought up with the ‘keep your heid down’ mentality.

When our dads were racially abused in their shops or businesses we’d watch as kids as they’d try to placate the abuser by letting them off with a freebie just to get them out of the shop. When the letters NF were spray-painted on the windows they quietly scrubbed it off, never reporting it to the police.

Back then there were no incident forms to fill in, no surveys to be part of, and a widely-held, firm belief that racism was solely reserved for some of England’s inner cities.

Within GUASIA, I remember some of the students wanted the group to be more political but this was flatly rejected by the majority, and those who wanted to speak out were regarded with suspicion.

A few did rock the boat, notably one of the group members Aamer Anwar who, years later, went on to become the university’s Rector. In the 1990s he led a campaign to have anonymised marking introduced at the university after some ethnic minority students in the dental school suspected they were being marked down.

For most, though, in the circumstances, the best course of action was to get on with it, don’t mention racism, internalise it, get your degree and make you own life. I noticed at last year’s reunion they all had made their own life – two teachers, an accountant, a lawyer, a women’s aid worker and a few media types all sipping coffee with, in true Asian style, about two dozen doctors.

But, by focussing on ourselves, keeping it all inside and not speaking out about racism, have we done a huge disservice to the black and minority ethnic students who came after us? Could we, the children of the first modern immigrants from the Indian subcontinent to Scotland, have done more?

I don’t believe we could have. The support structures were simply not there at that time – they still had to be built. Racially aggravated crime was rarely seen as such. The so-called ‘brown pound’ was not recognised. There were no black or Asian MPs and barely any people of colour represented in popular culture.

Add to that the fact that most of us were living with a foot in two cultures, spoke two or three languages and carried the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our hard-working immigrant parents heavily on our shoulders, and I think it’s fair to say most of us were otherwise too occupied to get too worked up about injustice, inequality and inclusion. On this week’s chat I sensed a flicker of regret, guilt and a little bitterness too.

The over-riding comments from the class of 1989 was: why haven’t things changed? The fact that now half of black and ethnic minority students surveyed in this report have been racially harassed, and there was a 10% degree awarding gap between black and ethnic minority students and their white peers in 2018-19 indicates that there is a mountain of work still to be done by the university and other institutions in the country. It’s astonishing that there is no ethnic minority representation on the three major decision-making bodies of the university.

But I do think change is happening, albeit glacially slowly – 30 years on there are now the structures where students’ experiences can be reported and logged, there are statisticians to make sense of the data and, crucially, the Glasgow University students and staff know that they will be heard, in a way that we did not.

After the murder of George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, governments, organisations and institutions began to listen – the push towards equality and inclusion became irresistible, and now, rather than ‘anecdotes’, there is data-led and visual evidence to back up the realities.

But the biggest impetus for change is predictably financial. Universities, entrepreneurs, TV commissioners, advertisers and football teams are recognising the value of inclusion and equality and are waking up to the fact that this makes their output or product all the more richer, representative and most importantly for them, income-generating.

Now Glasgow University, presumably with half an eye on income, has published a plan to move towards the next stage — hopefully one where 30 years down the line the black and ethnic minority students of 2050 will feel comfortable that they are treated as equally and fairly as everyone else.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.