The importance of the Black Lives Matter movement
Tuesday 25 May marked the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, Mark Duggan, Stephen Lawrence, Christopher Adler, Joy Gardner and countless others unnamed highlight the institutional racism against Black people. Many higher education institutions including Leeds Trinity University put BLM statements which have been criticised as tokenistic and performative due to a lack of support provided to Black students and staff and little action taken since. Therefore, the Leeds Trinity University Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team (RECSAT) organised an online event, Black Lives Matter: Accountability, Transparency, Action, to ensure that our University’s statements are genuine and impactful. Three days before our event, BLM activist Sasha Johnson, who was one of the organisers of the first-ever Million People March to protest against systematic racism in the UK, was left in critical condition after being shot in the head, showing how there is still much work to do and reinforcing the importance of our event. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sasha Johnson.
Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment
In November 2020, we became the first University in Yorkshire to achieve the Race Equality Charter (REC) Bronze award. The Bronze award means that we have acknowledged and developed an action plan to address institutional and structural racial inequalities that disadvantage our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and staff. Through our self-assessment which started in 2017, we identified that not all students benefit equitably, and we disaggregate Black, Asian Minority Ethnic groupings where possible. In terms of recruitment, there has been an increase in Black students attending Leeds Trinity from 1.3% in 2017/18 to 4% in 2019/20. Our Black students are now representative of the Leeds population but below HE averages (8%). Our level 4 Black students’ pass rate in 2015 was 66.7% which has increased to 84.8% in 2019. At the time of our REC application (2020), our degree awarding gap for good degrees was 2.4%. However, our Black students are less likely to have good honours compared to other ethnic groups. We will not be satisfied until we have eliminated the degree awarding gap. In our National Student Survey, we found that, compared to all other ethnic groups, our Black students have the lowest overall satisfaction scores. In our follow up focus groups, our Black students reported that there were insufficient events and opportunities for Black people to promote their cultural backgrounds and lived experience. This partly led to Black students feeling they do not fit in or feel represented at the University. The Black Lives Matter: Accountability, Transparency, Action event was a chance to give our Black students and staff who are often forgotten about a platform to speak about their lived experiences and educate non-Black people about the message behind the BLM movement.
Black Lives Matter: Accountability, Transparency, Action was put together through consultation with our students and staff. The event started with Black students Macy Iwediebo, Chanelle Jones, Jael Lutandila and Rena Anderson alongside alumnus Letsatsi Makhokolo discussing their lived experiences. Next was a keynote interview with our Vice-Chancellor Professor Charles Egbu who shared his higher education journey from being an international Nigerian student to the first Black Vice-Chancellor in the UK. This was followed by a workshop with Letsatsi Makhokolo, Senior Lecturer Ricardo Barker and Senior Teaching Fellow Syra Shakir on institutional racism using Ricardo’s award-nominated film Re:Tension. The event closed with a poem recital about George Floyd and BLM from student Macy Iwediebo.
Whilst we are proud of the work our University is doing to address racial inequality and achieving the Race Equality Charter Bronze award in November 2020 for our work so far, the RECSAT holds the view that there should be an emphasis on embedding race equality rather than achieving the award but the mark helps hold the University to account. We are committed to becoming an anti-racist University and are now focussing on the next phase of our action plan; embedding race equality at all levels and developing a culture in which our students and staff can thrive. Engagement at Black Lives Matter: Accountability, Transparency, Action has also inspired plans for future events and workshops with our Black students and staff, to ensure that our actions are equitable and have real impact.
Shames Maskeen is a PhD researcher and RECSAT Operational Lead at Leeds Trinity University. You can revisit all the Black Lives Matter: Accountability, Transparency, Action sessions on YouTube.
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