Minority societies and BME Officer reflect on BME Campaign

This October has been marked with events revolved around Black History Month, run in partnership with Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Campaign and the African and Caribbean Society. In light of this, The Student spoke to cultural minority student societies this week as well as the BME officer. They spoke about their student experiences as minorities, and how they believe the university is responding to it. 

President of the Edinburgh Malaysian Student’s Association, Shaqil Amin, described Edinburgh as a safe and welcoming space for minorities: “I believe that Edinburgh, in comparison to other parts of the UK, is one of the more welcoming places for minorities,” he said. “I think I speak for a majority of my society when I say the town is obviously diverse in terms of culture and it doesn’t take a long time for us to fit in.” 

The Student also spoke with the Edinburgh University Japan Society’s Events Coordinator, Dylan Oshima, who agreed with Shaqil to an extent. Nonetheless, Dylan raised concerns that diversity within the student community is an issue.

“I’ve noticed that there are basically groups of students from the UK and then there are groups of students from everywhere else, like cliques,” he told The Student. 

Shaqil and Dylan were asked on their knowledge of the BME campaign and what they would hope it would achieve more of. However, both were clear in that they did not know anything about the campaign at all. 

Shaqil said, “Apologies, but the Edinburgh Malaysian Student’s Association hasn’t particularly been involved in the campaign in any way so I can’t say on what bit it can be improved upon.” Likewise, Dylan responded that, “I am not so aware of what is going on [with the campaign], and I think that is a part of the problem.”

In an effort to address these concerns, The Student spoke directly with the Students’ Association’s Liberation Campaign BME Officer, Isabella Neergaard-Petersen. 

Her goals include to, “help enable the BME community to grow and to be a network of students of colour,” to be “working with LiberatED to continue the work of decolonising our curriculum by encouraging schools, within the university to create a more diverse and inclusive syllabus” as well as to be “fostering inclusive connections between the intersections of the other liberation campaigns. For example, holding events for queer people of colour or disabled people of colour.” 

Isabella further elaborated, “A lot of people tell me that racism is not a problem at the university, and those people are white… and I think that negligence of the problem is one of the biggest issues on campus.”

Beyond this, she emphasised the many forms of racism that students are unaware of that racism exists within, for example, micro-aggressions. 

Racism on the internet was another matter she touched upon, which has also recently been a major issue with the Facebook page, Edifess. 

“It is exceptionally easy to post these malicious and hateful comments behind a screen, or in Edifess’ case, under the condition of anonymity. 

“The nonchalant attitude of ‘we’re only human’ reeks of entitlement and demonstrates how much work we have to do in this institution and by extension in society.” 

Isabella also mentioned how it is important that white students speak out when they see racism and not be passive. She also highlighted the fact that BME students are “not your educators. If you can google the question you’re about to ask us, don’t ask it. It is so exhausting to be at this academic institution which happens to be extremely elitist, so don’t expect us to be another spokesperson for our community.” 

Overall, Isabella also made it clear that she wants to have events for all students of colour, as well as ensure international students of colour feel welcome.

“I want to do more collaboration with more cultural societies like the Japan Society and the Thai Society because it would be really beneficial for the individuals of those societies to view the BME campaign as a way for them to be a part of this community of students of colour as well.”

Image: Dienu Prihartadi

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