Category Archives: Black Students Officer

Our call for a full-time Black Students’ Officer

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Members of BEMA (Birmingham Ethnic Minorities’ Association) are issuing a call for the introduction of a full-time Sabbatical role of a Black Students’ Officer to work alongside the President and Vice-Presidents of the Guild in order to address and specifically tackle the issues affecting the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students who constitute 28% of students at the University of Birmingham[1].
The need for a full-time Black Students’ Officer at the University of Birmingham is a reflection on the extent of the issues at hand here – where levels of BME under-representation, underachievement and disengagement are starkly at odds with the proclaimed values of our institution, and the diversity of our student population.

That virtually all respondents surveyed[2] believed BME students were at a high risk for discrimination, can be taken as an indictment of society at large;
that 1 in 6 BME students surveyed[3] confirmed experience of racism within their educational institute, should highlight the pervasiveness of discrimination;
that 18.4% less BME than White students achieve 1st or 2:1 honours degrees at the University of Birmingham[4], that exclusion and racial bias are reported as a significant issue by Birmingham BME students, and that Birmingham BME graduates are far less likely to be in full-time paid work and far more likely to be unemployed, indicates a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately and with urgency at our University.

The creation of a Black Students’ Officer here would be a crucial step towards tackling locally the widespread and systematic oppression of BME individuals across the country – a reality which BME students are far from immune to.
A full-time BSO would ensure that there is always a representative for BME students prioritising and campaigning for BME issues, and with the resources adequate to effectively deal with those issues. While the BSO would enforce zero-tolerance on overt discrimination within the University, a key part of their role would involve challenging and tackling the covert and structural forms of oppression that characterise many BME students’ racial experience on campus. They would work alongside the Equality & Diversity officers of the Guild and University to address the inequalities in academic attainment and outcome among BME students. And they would campaign for the Guild and University’s provisions – in terms of welfare and services to the content of the taught curriculum – to be more inclusive and representative of BME demands and contributions.
The role of BSO would be to ensure the Guild can respond more proactively, robustly and effectively to the specialised needs and requirements of the BME student population it is supposed to represent, with those struggles being led and developed by members of the disadvantaged group – this being the autonomy and self-organisation aspects fundamental to Liberation groups and campaigns.

The current Non-Sabbatical position of Ethnic Minorities’ Officer is underequipped to tackle these issues, as the part-time/voluntary nature of the role inherently limits the ability of the Officer to maintain all of the entailed responsibilities alongside their studies.
The resignation of this year’s EMO for personal reasons particularly relating to the pressures of the role illustrates the demands of the position, as well as the need for the security of, and Guild support for, the position.
Creating a BSO in itself will not solve the myriad issues afflicting BME students; the role deserves and requires support from the Guild at a structural level to ensure there are no further barriers that would prevent the BSO and BEMA fully actualising the role and its aims.

Furthermore the current EMO position as it stands allows non-Black-ethnic individuals who identify as ‘ethnic minorities’ to run, which undermines the autonomy of the position, and is the reasoning behind adopting the political definition of ‘Black’ to represent ethnically African, Asian, Arab and Caribbean students (in line with the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, for example). The creation of a BSO would show that the Guild recognises the racism and discrimination which these BME communities historically and presently continue to face.

This call echoes the recommendations of the NUS Race for Equality report and the NUS Black Students’ Campaign[6], which highlight how the creation of the role elsewhere has seen increases in BME student participation, mobilisation on campaigns like anonymous marking, brought to prominence the issues of racism and race-based oppression, and has fostered the development of more inclusive student unions and campuses.

BEMA’s call for a full-time Black Students’ Officer is based on principles of Liberation, and so we extend our support and encouragement to any of our fellow Liberation Associations also seeking the creation of Full-time officers for their campaigns.

[1] University of Birmingham Equality Scheme 2011-2015 Evidence Base (2011)
[2] Ethnicity and Gender in Degree Attainment; Jacobs, Owen, Sergeant and Schostak (2007)
[3] NUS Race for Equality report (2011)
[4] University of Birmingham Equality Scheme 2011-2015 Evidence Base (2011)
[5] NUS Black Students’ Handbook 2009-10 (2009)

Signed,

Sacha Hassan (former EMO/BEMA co-Chair),
Akil Henry (BEMA Vice-Chair),
Runako Celina-Bernard Stevenson (BEMA Marketing officer),
Jamila La-Malfa (BEMA PR officer),
Andrew Isabirye (BEMA Treasurer),
Malia Bouattia (NUS Black Students’ NEC rep),
Azfar Shafi (BEMA Guild Councillor),
Olivia Ogolo (BEMA Chair-elect),
Zarah Sultana (BEMA Vice Chair-elect),
Ayesha Latif (BEMA Local Liason Officer-elect),
Mischa Howell (BEMA Local Liason Officer-elect),
Sahar Abdulrahman (BEMA Treasurer-elect),
Samira Musa (BEMA Campaigns officer-elect),
Mohammed Mumit (BEMA member)
Sofia Ahmed (BEMA member),
April Saowani Reilly (BEMA member),
Aaron Kiely (NUS Black Students’ Officer)

Edit 15/3: Updated citations, including directly crediting one initially secondary-sourced.

BEMA interviews NUS Black Students Officer, Aaron Kiely

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Aaron Kiely was elected as the new NUS Black Students Officer, succeeding Kanja Sesay, in May during the NUS Black Students’ Conference 2012.  Aaron represents the largest constituency of Black students in Europe and during his term, he will be campaigning on a local and a national level about all issues affecting Black students.  BEMA will be working very closely with the Black Students’ Campaign this year, and we have got Aaron to answer a few questions for us about himself and his aims for his term as Officer.

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