Against racial discrimination

Respect is a fundamental value of our university. In its charter, it guarantees its members respect for fundamental human rights. UNIL wishes to promote a healthy, inclusive and non-discriminatory working and study climate, allowing each member of the university community to feel respected, to develop and to mobilise their skills to ensure the success of their study, research and/or professional projects. Racial discrimination is not tolerated.



Racism describes an ideology that divides people into supposedly natural groups on the basis of their ethnic origin, nationality or religion (so-called ‘races’) and arranges these groups hierarchically. People are thus not treated as individuals, but are viewed as members of pseudo-natural groupings which are assigned shared characteristics that are considered immutable.

As a social construct, a ‘race’ is not only defined by its outward appearance, but also by supposed differences in culture, religion or ancestral heritage. It is used, for example, to justify existing socio-economic or educational inequalities by
attributing them to ‘natural’ biological differences based on a person’s ethnic, cultural or religious affiliation.

Racial discrimination

Racial discrimination describes any act or practice by which people are unfairly disadvantaged, humiliated, threatened or their life or health is endangered on grounds of their physical appearance, ethnic origin, cultural characteristics and/or religious affiliation. Unlike racism, racial discrimination is not necessarily underpinned by ideology. Although sometimes conscious, it is frequently unintentional (taking the form of indirect or structural discrimination, for example).


Xenophobia, which literally means ‘fear of strangers’, describes an attitude based on prejudices and stereotypes that creates negative feelings towards everything that is perceived to be foreign, strange or unfamiliar. Social psychology tells us that hostility towards ‘foreigners’ gives rise to a belief in the superiority of one’s own culture over others. The pictures built up of those who are perceived as ‘foreign’ or ‘other’ are not rooted in anthropological structures, but are instead based on sociocultural criteria. In other words, they are not an inherent part of the natural order and can be changed.

The danger in using the term xenophobia is that seeking to explain stigmatisation mechanisms in terms of psychology and biology (as indicated by the ‘-phobia’ suffix) is tantamount to saying that violence and exclusion are inevitable given the nature of things. However, the term is useful in describing a vague attitude that is not necessarily rooted in ideology but which represents a general rejection of everything ‘foreign’, a fear of ‘over-foreignisation’ and the desire for a discriminatory, restrictive immigration policy. Another reason for using this term is the fact that it is enshrined in international treaties and documents (commonly paired with racism as ‘racism and xenophobia’).

Multiple discrimination

Multiple discrimination describes the situation where an individual is discriminated against on more than one ground (e.g. physical appearance or religion plus gender, social class, disability or another characteristic).

In the case of intersectional discrimination, several forms of exclusion interact concurrently in such a way as to give rise to a very distinct and specific form of discrimination. For example, a racist act directed at a woman may manifest itself as sexism or, vice versa, an act inspired by sexism may appear to be racially motivated.

Find out more

Follow us:    

Capture d’écran 2021-09-28 à 15.04.20.png

Vieux Pressoir  -  CH-1015 Lausanne
Tel. +41 21 692 20 59