In January 2021 the University of Chester Student Race Advocates group was officially formed.
This followed the establishment of the University’s Race Equality Challenge Group in June 2020. This Group was formed in order to promote and coordinate positive change in relation to race equality and diversity at the institution.
The Student Race Advocates are all University of Chester students and are responsible for actively supporting and promoting the needs of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students through contributions to numerous aspects of the University’s work.
There are currently nine Student Race Advocates in position.
Pictured above (from top-right anticlockwise), they are:
Fatimata Ali: MSc International Business
Ivan Bernardo: BSc Biomedical Science
Barni Ali: BSc International Relations with Chinese
Tamirah Bass-Grant: BSc Psychology and Sociology
Taofikat Fadiran: MBA
Bilal Kazi: BEng Chemical Engineering
Manuel Mendivil: MSc Management
Jide Olanipekun: PhD – Chester Medical School
Gemma Sparkes: MSc Marketing Management
In order to get a better understanding of their vision and the work they currently do, the nine advocates answered the below questions collectively:
Who are the Student Race Advocates?
We are a group of students aiming to make a positive change within the University, specifically focusing on BAME-related topics. BAME students can use us in order to be heard and address issues they feel need to be changed. The Race Advocates are passionate about the role, and want to ensure all students feel they can see positive changes based on their feedback.
What is your purpose and what do you want to achieve?
Our purpose is to drive change for an environment where everyone is treated equally.
We will strive to create a platform for the voices of BAME students to be heard within the University, leaving tangible impacts. Since we started in January 2021, we have already run three events within the Diversity Festival. These events allowed us to connect with the University of Chester community and gain feedback from students – we’re in the process of using some of this feedback to create change within the institution.
Additionally, one of our long-term aims is to drive change and positivity throughout the University and wider communities
How and when were you established?
In June 2020, the University established a Race Equality Challenge Group to promote and co-ordinate positive change in relation to race equality and diversity across all sites, faculties and professional services departments at the University of Chester. One key initiative that the Group has taken forward is the development of the role of Student Race Advocates. We are proactive and motivated students who were appointed from January 2021.
Why did you want to become Advocates?
We all have a passion and desire for making genuine and positive change. We want to put words into action, instead of just talking about change.
The death of George Floyd impacted our views and we wanted to represent people and ensure they felt represented. Instead of being angry about any lack of change, we want to be the ones who initiate it.
This role allows us to make a positive impact. For example, to our knowledge, we believe minority groups within the University are not interacting with each other, so we want to try and create a real sense of community across the institution.
Being one of the original Race Advocates and making a difference at a time of change internationally, as well as at the University, is something really distinctive which we can be proud to add to our CVs.
What are the challenges you feel BAME students currently face?
Statistically BAME students have been underrepresented in some areas of the University and this can deter us from seeking support. There is a sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ – it seems like we are on the outside looking in at times.
What are the biggest challenges you believe the Advocates will face?
We feel that the biggest issue we’ll face is the resistance to change. Some people may think that nothing needs to change, but it does and the University creating the role of Race Advocates is part of that process. Resources is another issue – we feel it may be tough to get the word out there about the team and what we’re trying to achieve, but we are working hard with the University to ensure that people will discover us and feel they can ask us to help them with anything.
What have you achieved so far?
We hosted three events as part of the University’s Diversity Festival. The first was a ‘Meet your Race Advocates’ session online. This event allowed us to introduce ourselves, say what areas we are focusing on and answer any questions people had.
We also hosted a ‘Sharing our Culture’ event, where several international Advocates spoke about their cultural background and homelands. This talk gathered a lot of questions and comments – everyone was very supportive and the feedback was great. Finally, we held an event with Liverpool’s first black MP, Kim Johnson. She told us about her career journey and the obstacles she overcame on the road to making history.
We have also created social media channels, allowing us to speak about a range of topics and keep BAME students updated with any important developments.
Whilst we have achieved a lot in three-months, we are in our early days of existence and still have a lot more coming up. We are full of passion, teamwork and keen to collaborate, so we’re always looking for things to improve and change for the benefit of our students.
Many of us are now fully trained Mental Health First Aiders; we have attended formal meetings and committees to give views and suggestions for change; we are linking with staff across the University to review policies and practices through a BAME-student lens and we are contributing to work on an inclusive curriculum.
What would be your message to staff and students at the University?
Have an open mind and be open to change. Working together will allow us to break down any barriers and continue to create real change.