At every stage of my life, though originally I didn’t know it, it was easier for me than it was for a Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic person; for a woman; for someone disabled; or for a member of the LGBTQ+ community to be shortlisted for jobs, to be elected by a majority, and to get the big opportunity. Even with comparable qualifications, experience and ability. My life has not been played out on a level field. I have had a constant, unearned and unfair advantage. I acknowledge exactly that privilege, and call the student body to renew action for marginalized groups in our union, university, city, and world; building on the comments of our newly elected BAME officer Nayomi and the work of current and former YUSU officers over many years from BAME backgrounds. This privilege I have mentioned is fundamentally true for white people in the UK. The barriers and injustices Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people face are profound to say the least, and something many others like me will never experience or fully understand.
It is of paramount importance to proactively listen to the complex oppressions of these groups first and foremost, so we can open up a real conversation about racial inequality at York. Every single one of us must take action to tackle inequality and injustice in our society beyond the work that YUSU does and will continue to do. It is down to you, the student, to care, to educate yourself, to listen and to be an ally. The scale of this issue requires all our officers, JCRCs, CSAs, student media, societies, students, and institutions, to be the momentum needed to create lasting social change. Our work needs to move beyond self-critique and proactively into what concrete action we can take in real terms. Such action includes talking about and acknowledging privilege in a way that enables us to inspire people to constructively challenge injustice, to extend a hand to help up someone who doesn’t look like us, to diversify our curriculums and develop new forms of marketing.
I want a union where those with privilege don’t feel offended by having it pointed out, but can educate themselves and be a part of a positive movement that brings us together for a more equitable and positive future. As a white president it’s important that I use the platform I have to talk about this, but it’s also vital that I, along with all the aforementioned groups and unions, create more spaces where BAME voices are heard. Racism is a form of social exclusion – at least from swathes of mainstream society. But we can’t solve this problem simply by helping the vulnerable to tackle the injustice they face. It’s important to recognise that our unconscious mind makes most of our decisions. White people must understand the dynamics of privilege, and be honest that hidden beyond our selfimage sits a range of prejudices we have gradually adopted. We have grown up and live in a world with messages about difference. Let’s increase the volume and frequency and breadth of this conversation. It is a priority.
I am working witthin the Union on a new academic strategy that specifically looks at social exclusion. I am submitting proposals to the University for funding to enable participation in clubs, societies, and volunteering for those who currently can’t afford to engage. I am setting my current officer team and every team that follows the challenge to increase the diversity of leadership and engagement in the Union, the University and wider society. If you are a white College Chair, elected Union officer, Club captain, Society Chair, newspaper editor, academic, senior manager or vice chancellor – educate yourself, acknowledge your privilege and question your unconscious bias. Become more practiced in bringing your and others’ unconscious biases in to the light and tackling them more effectively and quickly. Find ways to empower and recruit more BAME people with lived experience into your teams, your communities, your activities, your courses. The diversity of the team is important and diversifies our decisions and actions. We are striving to make this true of our trustees, sabbatical officers, and staff.
We know we have work to do and we are committed to addressing this but it is a collective responsibility. Recommend BAME students you know for leadership roles and support them in going for those. Build awareness in your teams of racism and privilege and the subtle ways in which it operates. Create spaces in which people can discuss and explore lived experiences from each other, question norms but understand that people who have less cultural protection may protect their privacy strongly. Challenge your departments to diversify their curriculum and teaching. Support your course and faculty reps in making this conversation a priority. Be an active bystander, educate yourself on microaggressions and challenge others on discriminatory attitudes, behavior and language. Report discriminatory behavior or language through the university’s student misconduct form or to the relevant external authority.
Seek guidance if you don’t know where to report. I need to stress that these views do not aim to appropriate the experience of people of colour to further my own profile. I’m absolutely not suggesting that it’s only white people’s responsibility to tackle the status quo. I am recognising that white people across society and leadership create this inequality, and that everyone must tackle it. I really hope that people will want to work with me to find ways of advancing equality for all in our Union, our University, our student communities and wider society. We all must work towards a greater self-awareness of how our privilege benefits us, and be conscientious in using it to enable everyone.