Reflecting on Black History Month and Looking Forward

After an incredible Black History Month, President Kate Roberts and VP Wellbeing & Diversity Henn Warwick reflect on the different events put together throughout October, and the work that we as a Students' Union will continue to do beyond this month in order to create an anti-racist culture.

As Black History Month draws to a close this year, we reflect on our series of webinar events and look towards our upcoming work on anti-racism.

This year we have come together with nine other Students’ Unions across the UK to bring you a fantastic series of webinar panels with a huge number of brilliant guest speakers. You can find a round-up on the first three webinars here.

What went down?

On Monday 19 October we caught up with Dr Jason Arday (Associate Professor in Sociology at Durham University) and Professor Kehinde Andrews (Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University) to discuss the role of universities in racism and anti-racism.

It was a truly informative event with discussions focusing on how universities have come to shape racism within the broader society and act as microcosms for societal injustices. Our two guests spoke about the role that universities can play in anti-racism work and provided personal experiences of their journey in academia as Black students.

Key issues around staff diversity, terminology and data were highlighted alongside some advice to students to continue carrying out anti-racism work and holding senior leaders to account.

The same week we also turned to look at intersectionality in the Black community on Thursday 22 October. Serena Owusu (Women of Colour Collective President, Royal Holloway University) joined us for a second time, alongside Tamandani Mzandu (PTO Equality for Ethnic Minorities, University of Derby SU) and Mia Katola (ACS Committee, University of Derby SU).

We started the webinar by discussing the definition of intersectionality and what it means individually to our panellists, within the wider anti-racism movement. The discussion went on to reflect on the role of universities in promoting and supporting students with intersecting identities alongside how universities can improve in this area.

An understanding of how students can support anti-racism work through a lens of intersectionality as well as a discussion on the role of student groups in this area were touched upon, with the panellists providing inspiring and thoughtful insights.

Our final Black History Month webinar focused on the continuation of celebrating Black history and engaging in anti-racism work beyond October. We were pleased to be joined again by Hillary Gyebi-Ababio (NUS Vice President Higher Education) as well as welcoming Theresa Ogbekhiulu (Education Officer, Swansea University SU), Dwayne Williams (Civil Engineering student at the University of Brighton), and Rachel Harvey (RHUL LGBT+ Society BAME Rep).

We concluded our Black History Month discussions with a reflection on the month itself, and its’ role within society and universities, alongside looking forward to the future of anti-racism work in order to keep the discussion going. We spoke about holding leadership to account when it comes to anti-racism work as well as discussed finding hope within the movement in this difficult time.

The idea of ‘allyship’ and the centring of different voices within the movement was explored, with brilliant insights on what it means to truly be an ally in this society. It was an informative and passionate discussion to end the series of events and we are very grateful to the panellists for giving up their time.

What’s next?

At the Students’ Union we know that we have work to do in order to create a truly anti-racist culture within our organisation, and through lobbying the University to do the same.

The end of Black History Month is by no means the end of our work in this area and we are looking forward to continued progress being undertaken throughout the academic year.

Reflecting on work carried out last year to understand the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student experience, we are continuing to push for implementation of the 25 recommendations and will be providing an update on this work soon. You can find the full report and recommendations here. We have also continued to make significant progress in the key commitments we highlighted to you back in June.

Anti-racism work is a marathon, not a sprint, but we hope that working collectively to introduce these recommendations over the next few years will be a significant step towards improving the experience for Black students at Royal Holloway.

We are immensely thankful to all of the panel guests who participated in this webinar series and to everyone who joined of the sessions. Overall we heard from 19 panel guests from across the student movement and spoke to 113 student attendees at the six webinars.

This webinar series was part of a Black History Month collaboration with University of Bradford Union of Students, Edinburgh Napier Students’ Association, University of Derby Union of Students, King’s College London Students’ Union, Lancaster University Students’ Union, Swansea University Students’ Union, Teeside University Students’ Union, Worcester Students’ Union, and Ulster University Students’ Union.