Three female students at Edinburgh University report incident as hate crime
04/04/2013 06:28 PM
THREE STUDENTS at the University of Edinburgh have been left hurt and humiliated by a photo uploaded of them accompanied by the caption “With Aids”.
The photo, which shows second year law student Khanya Mtshali, first year economics and accounting student Thungo Kuwani, and first year law student Pamela Gaeyo Molosiwa, was uploaded onto the Facebook account of politics student Roman Beckett as his profile picture.
One of Beckett’s Facebook friends joked: “Looking good Roman”. In response, Beckett wrote: “Takes a lot of time to look like that!”
The image, showing the trio at nightclub Moonshine, and offending tag were uploaded on February 27 and remained public until it was taken down on March 20.
Beckett has since denied he posted the image and “Aids” tag. Fellow student and friend, Kyle Ismail, has taken responsibility for uploading the image onto Beckett’s profile, but like him, denied writing the caption, and claimed the authors were unknown.
The three students have complained to their student union, the university, and have also reported the incident to Scottish police as a hate crime.
“This incident happened at a pub with a large crowd of people. There were many people there and the phone was indeed passed around. I have no knowledge of who tagged the picture,” Ismail told The Student, the university’s oldest student newspaper.
“I would like to clarify that I did not tag the picture with ‘Aids’ as that is cruel and racist. I absolutely abhor racism and anyone involved with it. I, a Pakistani, have endured racism first hand.
“The practice of changing things on people’s Facebook when left open is very common. My change of the profile picture was not racially charged,” Beckett’s friend added.
When contacted by The Voice, Mtshali remained sceptical about the explanation given and said there were “mistruths” within it. Furthermore, the length of time the photo stayed public has confounded the 20-year-old law student from Johannesburg, South Africa.
“When I saw the image of ours with the comment ‘Aids’ I was completely shocked, and I could not believe it,” she told The Voice.
“I pretty much stared at the screen for 10 minutes.
OFFENDED: Khanya Mtshali has been left hurt by the incident
“I sent the photo to two of my other friends in the photo, and they were like: ‘you’ve got to me kidding me, no one could do such a thing.’
“They asked [Beckett] to take the photo down, but they got no response from him. I decided this was utterly unacceptable – it had been up for a month. I would understand if it had been up for a day or a couple of hours,” Mtshali added.
The law student, who described the tag accompanying the photo as “not just a hate crime, but also inexplicable online bullying”, did not want the incident to be dismissed as “just a Facebook thing”.
After Mtshali, Kuwani, Molosiwa sought advice from the university, its principal, and dignity and equality officer, they decided to go to the police.
“We decided to because this is not just some unique case – it represents a lot of attitudes held in Britain to people of colour,” Mtshali said.
“We didn’t want to get personal or have revenge. We just wanted this behaviour to be made an example of, and for the university to take a stand and say no to discrimination, racism and anything else that has to do with stereotyping others.”
Speaking out has come at a personal cost to the student. “Because I really want this issue to be dealt with properly, it has compromised my studies to a certain extent,” Mtshali added.
“I am quite hesitant to go out to the club nights, which happen to be predominantly white. I do have reservations, because I don’t want to be stared at and ostracised.
“I do feel some people resent me and my friends for speaking out, and that has been challenging.
“Also, we are now known as the ‘AIDS girls,’ and that’s been the most disappointing thing, the fact that people have assigned this tag to us.”
A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “We take any allegation of racism extremely seriously and will be investigating this incident.
“We encourage all our students to think carefully about how they use Facebook and have reminded students via social media of their responsibilities to others in this regard.”
A police spokesman said: “Police are carrying out enquiries in relation to an offensive message posted on Facebook.”
ACCOUNT HOLDER: The offensive caption that accompanied the image was used as Roman Beckett’s profile picture