What should BAME students in higher education expect?
Many BAME students will have very positive experiences when joining university for the first time.
But, it is good to be aware that you’ll be meeting various kinds of people, from different backgrounds, who perhaps have never encountered someone like yourself.
So just be mentally prepared to come across people who question your background and beliefs and generally have a lot of curiosity about you.
Often BAME students have felt that the notion of racism was entirely a taboo topic itself, one not being appropriate to be discussed within higher education institution, which makes it harder to address the issue.
Don’t be afraid to bring up conversations around racism, or even your personal experiences of racism.
Your peers can learn from these topics if they are more openly discussed within universities.
Many individuals can feel nervous and slightly isolated when starting out at university.
This feeling may occur very early on during first year, even during your first week of starting university.
Some examples of this and how it can be overcome include:
- Feelings of not really ‘fitting’ into the space of higher education: One way to overcome this is by researching and reading beyond your subject area. Reading and attending optional seminar events will help you gain a better grasp and understanding on how higher education works and help you connect with other like-minded people.
- Struggling to integrate and engage within lectures or seminars: Do not be afraid to seek or consult help and advice from your lecturers and seminar tutors. There is a reason why they have assigned office hours, so it is good to go and interact with the academic staff who are not your teachers and are happy to ease any academic concerns/worries.
- The fear of being seen as ‘less academic or intellectual’: At least once in life, everyone stumbles upon ‘imposter syndrome’, it is completely normal to feel less academic. Remember, the whole of purpose of university, is to learn, grow and develop yourself, so remind yourself this whenever you doubt your ability!
- Isolation from the social side of university: It is a good idea to join some university societies early on so that you can try and find others with common interests to you, whether that be through a musical society or netball; university is a great place to learn and find new hobbies.
- If you find there is a lack of BAME representation around campus: If this is the case, it’s a good idea to raise this in a constructive way to your course leader or someone with the authority to make some positive change here.
- Lack of diversity in positions such as, student union, course reps and ambassadors: Why not put yourself forward for these positions, which will enable you to have the opportunity to speak up and improve systems and processes.
- University social life focusing on a drinking culture that may not resonate with you: if that is the case, it’s best for universities to promote consistently social events such as, mini golf, picnics, and day trips etc. As an alternative, this will allow people who do not feel comfortable with clubbing, to have the chance to meet and bond with other students in a relaxed social setting.
- Party and clubbing aspect as a cultural barrier: If you are not comfortable in such a setting, you won’t be alone. Whilst for many people this is a large part of the university experience, there are also many people who will feel the same, and having the confidence to speak to people about their interests early on will help you to sought out these individuals with common ground.
Subtle forms of racism can be prevalent in HEIs.
Even in HEIs, BAME students can often experience hostile or derogatory remarks made by their peers or academic lecturers.
It should be no surprise that such form of subtle racism takes place. Often, BAME students do not report such incidents.
There have been numerous incidents recalled by students whereby white students and staff have dismissed the feelings and personal boundaries of BAME students.
There could be more measures implemented by universities to prevent or reduce such experiences from happening. Some examples of this and how they can be applied include:
- Create and introduce a reporting system for incidents of racial harassment and microaggressions that remains consistent with addressing such issues.
- Improve wider awareness and understanding of racism, racial harassment, and white privilege amongst all students and staff.
- Implement anti-racist training, so staff members can accurately identify incidents and intervene immediately.
- Ensure expected behaviours for in-person and online behaviour are clearly communicated to both students and staff, as well as disciplinary sanctions for breach of conduct.
- Record and collect data on incidents and share results regularly with governing bodies, staff, alumni, students and local partners. This ensures that everyone is well-informed and is encouraged to take shared responsibility for positive change.
Don’t be afraid, or nervous, or hesitant to educate others about your lived experiences.
Sometimes at university there are some people who are ignorant about the different cultures and religions/ethnicities around the world.
So, it is important for you to speak up and voice your concerns. Join initiatives and advocate for diversity/race in general.
Importantly, if ignorance, isolation, and microaggressions are met with education and advocation for change, your university experience can be a positive one.