Black British Academics: a brief review of Leaders Forum conference 2014

Black British Academics, set up by Dr Deborah Gabriel and directed by Shades of Noir founder – Aisha Richards, aims to ensure that black and minority ethnic staff and students enjoy equal opportunities and rewards within academia.

The first Black Academics Leaders Forum conference took place on the 8th October 2014 at Westminster University. Delegates at the conference included a broad representation from UAL; Natalie Brett – Head of London College of Communication and UAL Pro Vice Chancellor; Stephen Reid – UAL Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as well as representatives from the Equality and Diversity team; Nina Rahel and Tilli Andoh.

I was invited to attend the event along with LCC Vice President Bee Tajudeen – both students given an exclusive opportunity to network with our Head of College and other prominent members of British academia.

Dr Deborah Gabriel gave a touching presentation about her journey through academia which included studying Journalism at LCC, a path I have also taken. She described the challenges she faced as she voiced for diversity to be injected into the course. And it’s perhaps because of those before me like Dr Deborah Gabriel 10 years ago, that Franz Fanon is still included on the reading list of BA Journalism.

Aisha Richards gave a presentation beginning with a perhaps the strongest reason about why she is an active campaigner for change; she’s a mother of a young black girl and she wouldn’t want her daughter facing the same challenges she sees many black students facing today. As well as being Lecturer who teaches at MA Level both at CSM and CLTAD (the Centre for Learning and Teaching) for over 10 years, Aisha Richard’s other hats include being the elected Co Chair GEMS (Group for the Equality of Minority Staff -The largest and longest standing staff network) that has tripled in membership whilst she and Tanicia Payne have chaired, elected Academic Board Member UAL (the 1st person of colour to be elected) and still a creative practioner working with international companies.

Other people of influence in academia to give a presentation included Terry FinniganDr Dibyesh Anand, Dr Martin Glynn with a passionate reading of his poems, and Connie St Louis – Director of the MA in Science Journalism at City University and award-winning broadcaster. Professor Connie St Louis gave a memorable and unique presentation during the after lunch “grave-yard shift” aided with use of music which was symbolic and kept us all intrigued through her journey from the BBC to present.

Despite arriving as a closed book not knowing what to expect, I left open-minded towards the solutions for change within the academic system slowly taking place from the grassroots.

The event was powerful in many ways, however intimidating in other ways; with so many strong, opinionated characters in one room, I struggled to have my voice heard during the open discussions at the end as I waited patiently to be noticed with my hand held up. I give in and sat listening thinking – doesn’t change come from also giving (the quiet) students a chance to speak? Perhaps this symbolic of the academic system – do you have to shout to be heard? And the real question is – am I prepared to do so?

I left the event empowered that “change” starts within me, and I was reminded of one of Mahatma Gandhi‘s simple yet powerful quotes; “You must be the change you wish to see…” – and in this case – in academia.

“… change doesn’t have to mean shouting at the opponent, but rather inviting them to sit and LISTEN is more effective.” – My feedback on the event. More feedback/testimonials on the event can be found here.

Words and pictures by Kai Lutterodt

Find out more about Black British Academics CLICK HERE

Related post:

Race equality in academia: We’ve got a huge way to go


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