My name is Shanell Johnson, I am the BME Students’ Officer for UCLU. BME stands for Black and Minority Ethnic; this includes people who are from African, Arab, Asian, and Latin American origin. It is important to have representation because equality of opportunity, regardless of race and/or colour is vital to Britain’s future –imagine a Britain without Black contribution! This problem cannot be addressed overnight and may take generations to solve. We can, however, do our best to promote peace, equality and share culture.
As a Part-Time MSc student, I remember my first contact with UCLU, was via the handbook. When I arrived, I didn’t know anyone who had ever attended UCL and the only reason I chose the university was because my course director who was able to advise me on the issues that mattered to me: student-teacher ratio; career prospects; destination statistics; and teaching styles.
So, having missed the Welcome Fair due to a work conflict, I read the handbook cover to cover and decided to stand for BME Officer (which was, at the time, a part-time office). The elections were a month away. I hadn’t met anyone outside my course so my cousin and best friend helped run my campaign. I had been involved in campaigning for the rights of young Black people at a national level, addressing United Nations delegates, speaking at global conferences and lobbying the UK government for change…but I did not win the election.
While all that was happening, there was a simultaneous attempt at UCLU to make the BME position a full-time office, as well as a push from the National Union of Students Black Students’ Campaign, to have a Black Students’ Officer in every union. UCLU was leading the way. At the NUS Black Students’ Conference, our Union was awarded Student Union of the Year for creating the first ever full-time BME office in the country.
It is an honour and I am humbled by the hard work that went into making this office a reality. It is my sincerest hope that you get involved in the activities planned this year around sharing culture, building bridges between different groups in society, challenging harmful attitudes and helping us overcome institutionalised racism. Look out for the BME Talks, amazing food, music events, spoken word, dance, fashion and other cultural activities planned this year. October is Black History Month, Welcome Fair and it’s the start of election time so it is a great chance to get involved. Everyone is invited to be apart of the change they want to see in the world!