As the project coordinator for the buddy(su) scheme and mental health first aid instructor at UEA SU, my role really focusses on providing support for students from widening participation/disadvantaged backgrounds – disabled, mature, carers, first-generation, BAME. HE statistics show that students from these backgrounds may access HE, but don’t succeed as well as their affluent white counterparts. As a BAME graduate who was the first in her family to go to University, I have experienced this inequality first hand. And this is something that drives me to make sure we provide better support for our current students and why I love my job.
I got to this point (and this job) because I knew how much social injustice students from disadvantaged backgrounds faced. I knew that the top of the chain was predominantly white, male and upper-middle class. And I also knew I wasn’t okay with this and that it needs to change. This led me to go into roles where I supported people to become leaders and support one another.
Before joining the students’ union movement, I worked a lot with volunteers – Foodcycle and Foodhub – bringing communities together. With this change in mind, I hope to develop further and be in a senior position where I can implement more of this change on a strategic level for an organisation. And I hope the Rise Leadership Programme will equip me with the skills I need to do this.
I signed up to the Rise Leadership Programme because, quite frankly, it’s needed. I do feel like Students’ Union may (though unintentionally) be incredibly white, and sometimes it’s hard to find a role model in the organisation who shows you leadership is an option for you.
As soon as I went to the first session of the programme – Leading Self – and was befriending a large group of BAME staff that’s when the penny fully dropped, and I realised how much I catered for the white environment. But here during this session, I felt comfortable to be in my own skin(tone!). I didn’t feel like a minority, and that was a first for a long time. While I have really enjoyed learning how to become a leader, the thing I appreciated and enjoyed the most was networking and building contacts with BAME staff members in the students’ union movement. We exist. And the leaders exist too.
This is what makes me look forward to the remainder of the training. I am getting to know a huge group of talented Students’ Union staff members who understand my background, my problems and me.
The training has made me realise that BAME staff members do exist. The issue is we don’t always know about them because they tend to be in low/middle area roles. While we may be at a coordinator level, there are few on a higher level. It’s changed the way I work in the sense that I now make more of an active effort to instil the belief in our BAME students and staff members that they too can become a leader.
My one piece of advice to inspire Black staff in the movement would be the following:
Instil and empower our BAME students and staff; we can and will achieve fair representation.
– Jumara Begum – buddy(su) Project Coordinator, UEA Students’ Union