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The panel session explored the lived experience of our Black students and alumni and gave them a chance to share their truths. The conversations were structured around the experience of being Black in the UK and being Black in higher education. The panel discussed the importance of the BLM movement and how it has allowed for conversations about race to open up. It is not enough for our University just to listen to the experiences of our Black community, now it needs to take action. Subsequent to the panel session, the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team is considering several actions to support our Black students as part of our ongoing work to eliminate racial inequalities. 

The panel discussed feeling isolated in higher education, feeling overlooked by their lecturers, and the pressure of having to be exceptional all times to be accepted. This is in conjunction with panel members experiencing microaggressions which were anything but ‘micro’ and impacted their sense of belonging and mental health. 

There was discussion that all Black people do not have a homogenous experience with Macy discussing her experience of being Mixed race and how she was perceived differently. Jael discussed that her experience differed from other panel members as she was born in another country and felt like a minority within a minority. Jael discussed that she was treated differently to other students by teachers and people held stereotypes about Black people which impacted her mental health. Jael went onto discuss the importance of having support networks and speaking about mental health. Chanelle shared that young Black women who are confident in themselves are perceived negatively and labelled as somebody with attitude problems. Chanelle shared the importance of role models changing the stigma of confident Black women. Rena discussed the importance of not hiding your identity to fit in and conform to the expectation of others. 

Below, I have shared some of these personal reflections from the panel. 

Macy Iwediebo – Level 6 Forensic Psychology student

It's quite beautiful that Black people and White people and other people from other communities have all come together in solidarity for Black Lives Matter and it's not just one part of the world, it's all over the world. That's what it means to me; it's like a real feel of community that everyone supporting Black lives and that people do actually care and that Black voices are actually being heard. 

Letsatsi Makhokolo – Film alumnus

One thing that I can remember is just a small microaggression but it really resonates for me, it was at the beginning of my first year of university, I’d just met these new guys, friends or whatever, and I think we'd been to the gym or something, and we were walking to get food, and I swear to you, I just heard from a window, “Oh, look, it's NWA” and I just thought, like how? Like what? How? Why is that the thing you see when you see five Black men together? That's the first thing you see. You don’t see students, you don’t see people trying to create a better life for themselves and their families. You don't see just people. What you see is NWA. And then, yeah, that set the tone really for the rest of the experience. 

Jael Lutandila – Level 5 Broadcast Journalism student

I understand completely how racism can affect mental health. Personally, for many years, I felt really stupid as a person because I knew that Black people in my country are presented as stupid, as people who come from a really poor country, who don't study, who don't have any degrees. So, coming from that country, it's really hard to feel appreciated and all my life, I didn't really feel appreciated by my teachers or by the class I was in, even from any people I was also friends with. So, it takes your mental health to a really weak state, as you feel unappreciated, you feel less than everyone and you feel like you are up against a lot of people. 

Chanelle Jones – Level 4 Broadcast Journalism student

When you're confident and you want to express yourself in certain ways, I've learnt that there are ways to express yourself, but not dim yourself. I would say adults will kind of want to do that (dim you) if you're overly confident or you come across a certain way. I can speak from the perspective as a young Black woman and how you handled that as a teacher of a different ethnicity, and being like you’ve got this attitude blah, blah, blah, and labelling somebody and I kind of grew up thinking yeah I’ve got an attitude. But, at the end of the day, I'm expressive about the way I am and I just take what the women's movement is trying to change, when Beyonce is like “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss” and she kind of changed that for young Black women. 

Rena Anderson – Level 5 Television Production student

Just be yourself because you're going to struggle if you're going to try to be someone that you're not just because it's university. When you're in a new place, just always be yourself, really, and you're going to feel comfortable, you're going to make more friends, just be yourselves.

 

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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