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Students' Unions and #BlackLivesMatter

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Black Lives Matter written in white on a black background with a white fist.

I’m a white officer working in a predominantly white Students’ Union. I love where I work and what I do, but there’s a lot of problems calling yourself a representative when there’s only white voices in the room. So I’m taking a lead from Jo Swo, Welfare Officer at UEA SU, who has called for SU officers to start the conversation on why they support the BLM movement. 

BLM started in America but is relevant in different ways all over the West, particularly in the UK with the after effects of Brexit hanging around. The rate of discrimination that is experienced daily by Muslim people in the UK is atrocious – just yesterday I watched a video about a woman experiencing islamophobia while doing an interview on the very subject. What’s almost worse is that post-Brexit everyone knows about this rise in islamophobia and racism, so it’s just become accepted. “It’s the people who voted to leave,” everyone is saying, “we aren’t the problem. But I do think…”

Look. Racist people voted to leave, but racist people voted to stay. People who strive not to be racist voted to leave, but they also voted to stay. You can’t divide racists and non racists into leave and remain, all that does is remove the responsibility of remain voters to tackle racism they may perpetrate or stand by and watch. 

Universities are a difficult environment to talk about racism in, because everyone believes they’re too well educated to be racist. There is an unspoken assumption that having a degree means you are suddenly exempt from being “one of those people” who further inequality in our society. Which isn’t only racist but classist as well, two of many problems universities are well submerged in. 

Which is where Students’ Unions come in. We have to be the ones that open this conversation in universities and keep up the momentum – it’s all well and good that BME attainment gaps (a very real problem) are a point on an action plan but until the good work starts and gets an institution wide focus its only there for brownie points or money from access agreements. We’re the ones that bring points to the table not just to benefit a majority of students and look good on the National Student Survey, but to help bring equality to institutions that were structured with white men in mind and never really changed, only tweaked so that we can shout about “widening participation”. 

I love ARU. It’s such a welcoming place and our staff truly want to do the best for the student body; even if we don't always agree with them. But I’m a white student in a very white institution; of course I think that. Let’s make sure BME students and staff are at the table making these changes, let’s use our voices as allies to big up reforms that BME people have decided are best, let’s break down attainment gaps, tackle racism in our lecture halls, liberate our curriculums – and then see how much better Higher Education can be. 

 

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