In this special edition of the Surrey SabbCast, BioScience student Muse Berhe and teaching fellow Dr Alfred Thumser discuss their own personal experience of race and racism; growing up in the UK as a black student, and in South Africa as a privileged white during apartheid respectively.
Both provide powerful testimony for the need to do more every day on campus and in wider society to end racism.
Welcome to the Surrey Sabbca news from the University of Surrey Students Union, all about your student life and what your elected officers have been doing for you this week, representing you across the University of Surrey find out more at www.ussu.co.u or find us on Instagram and Facebook at Surrey U Hello, and welcome to This Week sorry Sabb Caste. My name i Lizzie and I am your studen union president. As always, I' here with Theo, Maya, Aaron an Izzy your VPS and this week, w have two very special guests Muse and Alfred who are going to talk all about the student experience on campus. Without further ado, I'll let them introduce themselves and hand over to them. Hi, my name is Musa Berger. I'm a final year biochemistry student. And I'm here today to talk with one of my lecturers dr Hamza, about the beam attainment gap student experiences, whatnot. Hello, everyone. My name is Alfred Thompson. I'm a teaching fellow in the bio sciences. I'm as you might hear from my accent, I'm proud South African my mother tongue is actually German. So I'm a cultural mess. But this informs the discussion I hope today, right. So Moosa, I've taught you for three years. So I've known you for a while, but I've never really talked you we smile at each other and say hello. But we got talking. Recently, when you wrote an article that was published in the insight journal and your article title is how activism affected my mental health. Could you give us a short overview of this article, please? This summer, you know, following the death of George Floyd and activism and all of that going on, I decided to jump on activism myself. And something I talked a lot about in my article was how I felt sort of ashamed. Right, because I sort of it was like sort of a bandwagon effect. I didn't start Initially, I waited a bit until I saw everyone else doing it, right. And what I really wanted to talk about this article is how something like that just something as small as posting every day could really get on your conscience and really start affecting you mentally, especially because that happened to be around exam season. So I talked about how I met who else was affected, I gave an example of a project that I did alongside some of my students for my secondary school where we wanted to hold a teacher accountable. I talked about things that helped me with my mental health. And I sort of summarised everything in the article, and I gave my feedback on how I wanted to move forward. And to not let myself get affected like that, again, I read your article, and we got talking. And there were two aspects of your article that I really liked. One was the mental health side, because males in general, don't like to talk about the emotions and mental health. And then the other one was about injustice. And I'll quote from your article, and the quote starts, I do not want to be complacent with injustice any longer, close quote, can you tell us a little bit about your experiences with racism, or a little bit more about your experiences with racism and how they've affected you? So I was born here in the UK, born and race, and I'm, I'm black, like, my parents are both from a country called Eritrea, South Eastern Africa. So I sort of had this like identity thing where I don't completely identify with being British. Technically, I am. And I think my first experience of racism actually was when I was a kid, right? And what happens on the playground was with my sisters, and then this is one kid, and he started throwing all these slurs or some whatever, right? And something they'll always remember is I was only like six years old, but I didn't really see race as being anything, really, until that very incident. And since then, I've been a lot more conscious. And fortunately, it's been mostly good. But yeah, I've had to do a racism secondary, primary, sixth form, uni so it's sort of been there all aspects of my life. Really. Thank you, Melissa. I come from the from the opposite perspective in one way in that I grew up up in South Africa, under white privilege, I can't remember how old I was when I started feeling seriously uncomfortable with living under that spectrum, if we want to call it that. And I'll be quite honest with you, when I was growing up as a kid, nobody saw the end of apartheid. I didn't, nobody else did. And fortunately, it did happen. And we had a great president, a great man called Nelson Mandela, who saved our country, for me, so. So that's the perspective I've come from. And I found it quite strange. In the UK when I first came here, it was immediately assumed that as a white South African, I had to be hardcore, racist, or racist of any quiet time, I found that quite strange. And what I found even stranger is the complete absence of knowledge about colonial Africa. When I got here, I'm going to go on to another topic, which I think we can we want to talk about we both of us feel strongly about, and this is the attainment gap, and especially what some people call the BMV attainment gap. Others call the ethnic minority attainment gap, or the race attainment gap, some of those will be uncomfortable terminologies to some people, right, so I just want to give my understanding of the PA mi attainment gap. And essentially what this means is that there is a significant difference in degree outcomes between so called white student, and so called ba mi students. So less ba me students get a first class degree, that's a first or a two, one, then do white students. And as I said, this is a significant gap. And this is a gap that we need to close, at least we should close from my perspective. I came here I started uni in 2018. And I walked into I think it was my first ever lecture. And there's so many people in the bio sciences lectures, you know, I'm, I'm only seeing like, maybe like, eight to nine of black people out of like a lecture. First off, it felt like 400 or 300 people that were sitting in that first ever lecture, because there were so many different courses that had this sort of general module lecture to begin with, right? I'm seeing like eight or nine other students. And I was like, Whoa, right, because I've been to primary school similar to that, and the secondary school semester that my sixth one was quite diverse, but to come into an environment where it really felt like I'd never been a minority in that sort of sense before, like, at that magnitude. That was that was weird, but I didn't, I didn't really well, no, then we think about it too much. I, you know, because I could just sort of make friends with everybody, right? But then what slowly started happening is you, you slowly start to get like small things happening around campus and you'd hear about things happen to your friends around campus, right. So one day, I was just walking on campus, and it was raining, I was with my friend, and then two guys would pass me and then one of them said, you know, like, he said something along the lines of what a Edward, you know, I'm guessing I'm not allowed to say it. But he said he said that, right. And I was just a small thing. But so many things add up. And all these factors are what are influencing debate attainment gap hit uni? Right. So I actually read the previously people this is Aj ajimobi, his report on the baby attainment gap five, and she goes into how we need to tackle lots of different angles. If we really want to make change, and I fought I was really profound. And I truly believe that that's the that's the best way forward. So yeah, those are my thoughts on the aim to make it unique. So musei fight. If I may respond to you. I don't think using somebody using the N word is a small thing. I think that's just completely unacceptable. And that's something that we need to get rid of in society in the bigger Guilford area as well. I've also read Aj ajimobi. Report. I hope I say your name correctly, and she's got some really good recommendations at the end. My question is and maybe the the the Saturday And President can come in here. What's happened with these recommendations? Probably something for me to answer that. So I I took over from AJ as the as the new VP voice. And I actually quite pleased with how the University have responded to that they, they took the recommendations, really to heart. And they've been one of the core things of the two, there's a committee that meets called the beam attainment grap group. And it's one of the things that kind of is right at the heart of their report that they wrote. And it's got a whole lot of other changes, including some of the ones that ag recommended. And it's something they're kind of working away through. And it's being headed up by Emily Williams, who's sort of in charge of a lot of that kind of claim attainment stuff, you know, all the lovely acronyms like APAC, and Ei. And who if those of you who don't know that stands for equality, diversity and inclusion, that's what it stands for. Yo, if I may respond, I'm an academic. I'm not even aware of that committee, which is a little shame. But some Mussa did you want to carry on with your questions? Or do you want to? Do you want to play this? Sorry? Yeah, sure. I had some questions that I wanted to ask you actually. Um, okay. So here's my first question, right? So I remember having a conversation with you about a month ago, and you're talking to me about how you've been pretty active within the university championing for, you know, reducing the beam attainment gap alongside other such issues, right. And my question for you is, what have your experiences been like educating your fellow colleagues and anti racism initiatives and whatnot. So mooseheads been frustrating, and to be quite honest, so I gave a talk with two other colleagues last year at an away day. And I can remember looking at the audience, and thinking to myself, I could have seen the same faces, and the same response. In South Africa 20 years ago, or maybe 25 years ago, the feeling I got was that everybody was looking at everyone else thinking it's not me, it's everyone else. But it's all of us, you know, we we were party to the whole engendering of this attainment gap, if I may say so. I've also more recently, actually, the most recent one was two weeks ago, done a presentation in bio sciences. And the response I get, quite often relates to what is known as the deficit model. The deficit models states that ba mi students come in with lower grades, and have a different socio economic status. And this affects how the degree that they get at the university. However, people that know more about this than I do, have clearly shown that the deficit model is incorrect. The beam attainment gap needs to be owned by universities across this country. If I get asked a question as well, I'm interested to hear what you both think about that representation within our academics within our university lecturers, I can't remember the statistic off the top of my head, but I know the statistic of me lecturers compared to white lecturers is no very low. So I'd be interested to hear what you both had to say about the impact I can make for students having an extra that looks like themselves. Um, so personally, I, you know, I've been here like two and coming up to half years, right. And suddenly a lot of lectures that my fair share of lectures. And something I've found is, anecdotally speaking, I don't have I don't feel like I don't think I have a single beam lecture this year. But if I'm just talking about, like, overall my time here, sorry, there's been one, one off the top of my heads. And I'm really struggling to come up with any others soft my head, but point being is, I don't really see lectures sort of look like me. And I know people will dismiss a comment like that. They'll say, you know, what does that matter? They'll say, you know, they'll talk about racial quotas and forcing stuff and whatnot, but I think it's a lot easier for like students who aren't beam so like white students to say things like that because all of their lecturers look like them, right. So they're really think about it. But I'm sitting in my first year lectures, and I was only thinking to myself, I was like, it'd be very cool if I saw just like one black lecturer because I sort of started to, you start subconsciously thinking, Oh, the entire industry is like this, which obviously isn't. But that's sort of what just goes through your head. Right? So yeah, that's, that's my response. What are your thoughts? Alfred was like, I completely agree with you. In the bias sciences, we've got one black lecturer, which is, in my view, completely inadequate. If we look at the ratio of students, as one student said to me, not too long ago, where are our role models, you know, the people that we can talk to, and know how we're feeling how how we're thinking, What's affecting us. So in my view, yes, I completely agree with you. Students set responding that way. I think we need to work on what I call cultural intelligence. And when I say we, I mean, the whole, the whole university community. And can I just jump in? And was an oscillator to ask you a question. And we're just moving away a little bit from the academic side of things, because sort of my, my role is, as I look after everything in society related, and so I wanted to ask you a question about team. Sorry, I don't know if you've if you've been involved in team sorry, if so what clubs have you involved in? And sort of the thing that I really wanted to work on this year is I'm looking to do an EDR report consistently, there's not a lot of big students that actually, you know, get involved with Team Sorry, I'm myself I'm, I consider myself a data student. And I can tell you that in my first year, when I went to join the football team, I felt really anxious because I didn't want to go there and think that everyone's going to be you know, why to British democracy, I've got a different accent, I look different. And I was actually really nervous about joining the sport for the first time, even though, you know, I've played football my whole life, but I guess it was just really daunting. You know, taking that first step when you know, maybe aren't from the UK, I'm sorry to ask you. Have you had any sort of maybe negative experiences within team Sorry? Or were those experiences positive? And do you think I need to do more as my role is with the activity to ensure that beam students have equal opportunities take part in sports clubs? Yeah, if I fail, sir. Excellent question. So I am somewhat involved in team Sorry, I haven't been going to sessions this year. But I'm, I'm a member of cross country in athletic societies. So first year, second year, I went to a lot of the Monday sessions were like a casual sort of run rate. There weren't many, like sort of similar to lecture lectures, there weren't many, there wasn't much representation outside of myself, my friend, at least black shoes, black shoes, there weren't many black shoes at the sessions. And I think that sort of flexion that there's, like progress has been made. And that's, that's great. It's just, there's so many more, there are more things that we can do. And I remember talking to one of my friends closer, go to ACS, right. And I'm going with him to my first ever ACS. That's true. And that was during second year. And it felt so weird, seeing like, a whole room full of shoots at that, like you. And I was, you know, up until that point, I would just sort of fall down. Now, many black students, they weren't many black students at the uni. Right? And that sounds silly to say it because there's so many students at uni, right. But it feels weird, just walking into a room seeing so many people like you. And it begs the question, if there's so many students, you know, hit me a beam. It's interesting, because you're wondering how you can get them from a society where everyone looks like them. And they feel very competent, because people have the same sort of cultural background, should we say in your thinking, how can we get those students to attend? You know, team, sorry, stuff as well? because that'd be great. Like, I'd love to see representation personally. Yeah, thanks for the answer. And I think definitely, we should probably work together in the future if you'd like to, and you can help me out with my epi report. Because I'd love to hear some of your experiences, and maybe some other people that, you know, if they've had negative experiences, I really want to know that I don't want to sort of brush things away, just pretend they don't exist. I really want to sort of confront the issue if there is an issue, and really find out why more ame students don't want to get involved in team sorry, is it that they don't feel comfortable? Is it because of the stereotype that you need to look a certain way to play a certain sport? And the thing is, the answer is, I don't know. I don't know what the issue is. But I'm really, really keen to find out. So if you're interested in that, we'll say definitely get in contact with me and I'll be more than happy to work with you. I have a couple of questions, if that's all right, so and so first one's for you. That sort of echo what Alfred said a moment ago when, obviously, you were called the N word, and that that's no small matter. And so and I don't have a size that down in terms of like experiencing racism, like at the University of Surrey, do you? Is it something that happens often? And is it just from students? Or do you find it's also from academics and their potential stereotypes and prejudice? Thank you, sir. That's a great question. So I think when I mentioned the N word earlier, and my sort of attitude towards being quoted, I believe that just sort of how I've been, that's my friends influence over June 6 form they'd be calling it, they'd be saying that to me every day, right? So I sort of got desensitised. And then when I did when I did speak up, and they'd get annoyed, they would say things along the lines of, you know, words only have the power you give to them. But I don't actually think that's entirely true. Because I, you know, I enjoyed that, like, sort of two years sort of alone. He spoke up about it recently. I think it was this summer, it's one of the first things that I ever said, when I started doing activism, I'll send people to not take disrespect that that. Yeah, I've found it's mostly from I wouldn't say it's from staff as much. I've definitely had a few things from staff, like I used to work at TNT. So that was sharpshooters union. And this wasn't explicit racism. But I gathered the one time an unhappy customer was a bit too unhappy about a situation. And I suspect that adds obviously, my race, Dawn, not sure. But they're just small things in there, that I've experienced on like staff members. So that was one situation. And I know often experience within a lecture where a student had this, like, another student had, like, sort of taken a picture of them, and then said something along the lines of sorry, it was this person, their friend, and they're both black, right? And then this person who's in front, in front of them took like a selfie of both the men, and then said something along the lines of too ugly, like Edwards or something. And then he posted his story, right. And I found that out through AG, previous VP voice. So personally, I found it to be coming more from the students themselves as opposed to stop go, I think certain stuff attitudes, as I touched on before with Dr. tonzura is definitely sort of facilitating this environment. And it's not really it's sort of preventing us from making the progress that we want to make our lives. Thank you for that. I am honestly, so sorry to hear about those experiences. I mean, I was only I have a question that you asked Alfred. But before I go there, like, like, how was that sort of? You said, you basically were called to the N word for two years. So like, how not just seems like how was that experience for you in terms of reflecting on that? Yeah, that wasn't, that wasn't great. So Amber, Amber, like, I got the sort of somewhat desensitise to it after sort of about a month, and it didn't bother me, it is still bothering me, even if it was just one person saying it to me in isolation, right. But the thing that made it worse is like a friend would say it to me, and they'd say it loud, right? So so like enough that no, this would be those people around, right. So everyone just sort of tones and they've been they've, they've seen who said it, and they look at you next week to you to do something because that made it even worse, where you don't know how to act when you experience acts of racism, because like there's that there's like social stigma about like, black guys being violent and stuff. So you don't, you're told not to feed into that. So you can't really say anything, and you can't really do anything, because you've got you've got been a big person gotta think about bigger picture, right? So it gets it you off the wall, then I've got like, younger siblings, right. And I don't really want them to have to go through what I went through under the false pretence that words only have as much power as you give to them because people, either No, I believe that. That's true. And no, it isn't true. So yes. So those are my thoughts on that. Yeah. Wow. No, that's it. Yeah. The stigma attached to that is deeply horrific. And like the fact that you're then restricted in your expression of something that is not right in between any means between what you've recalled that I'm so sorry, leaving office or that you've said earlier about how something that Alfred's looking into I have a question in terms of Alfred, how have you this is sorry, this is quite a hard, hard question, but have you witnessed racism within the academic circle at the University of sorry, have I witnessed Racism? I can i say that i have not, I have not was witnessed explicit racism within the academic community, or I have witnessed it in the greater Guilford area, but not within, I would say that the ease. Some people call it unconscious bias. I think that's a bullshit term. I think there is a low level of implicit racism amongst the university stuff. It may be unconscious bias, as some people call it. But I think that's bullshit. You can only do something if you're conscious of your bias. And I have plenty of biases. But we can only change things if people become aware of their unconscious bias, if that makes sense. And I think part of the problem is education. And what mu says just said, makes me extremely sad. But staff need to hear this, you know, these things that happen to our students, also to our staff, and I think we need to educate staff and make a change. Does that answer your question? It doesn't do. Thank you. You're happy for me? To quickly jump in just a question for me. I think both of you have really outlined the fact that there needs to be changed, then then needs to be changed at sorry. Because the stories that we're hearing from one of our own students, and one of our own academics just isn't acceptable in isn't acceptable anywhere, let alone any university. So it was my question to both of you is what? What do you want to see the university do? What do you want to see? And the students see and do to make sure that we are protecting them students as much as we can? I'm going to try and answer this question. And clearly I don't have all the answers, I just have a very biassed perspective on this. I'm going to start with a comment that I read recently. And that is, we need to start with the end in mind. So as a university, students, Union, staff, students, let's make a decision about where we want to be in five or 10 years time, if you want to call it that. And so we know where we're going. I think we need role models. And I'm talking about role models in a very broad picture perspective. get people to come talk, you know, ba me, scientists, for example, there's a group called the Black British professionals in STEM, they can come talk, we can get x students to come talk. We need student mentors, we need student mentors for staff, to educate us, and to what happening. So the stories that Lucy has been telling us things like that, we need to learn from other universities. I'm thinking here, Kingston University, Birmingham City, other universities, they have closed the attainment gap, which is where our discussion started. We need to learn from those people. We need to be much more explicit with ajs report. I know that certain people in the university know about this report. Many don't. And they are, as I said, some really good recommendations, we need to take these recommendations forward in a very explicit way. And the last thing I would suggest is that we need cultural intelligence type training for students and for stuff. That's my wisdom, who said, Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with you, our friends, I fundamentally believe that AJ has done some amazing work. And that's the foundation that we need to build upon more proactively more explicitly, as Alfred put it. And I think something that isn't touched on as much that I would love to see more from the university is sort of greater, greater emphasis on increasing like sort of diversity within like clubs and societies. And I'm well aware the bps are conscious of this and, and now they're working on it based on what I've heard today. So I'm happy that progress is being made, but I feel like that could be made more public because I feel like ageing Report is sort of the foundation that we need to be working upon. And obviously, as Alfred said, we need to be pulling from the experiences of other universities, Kingston, Birmingham City who have closed the beam attainment gap. And we've done that here. Sorry, too. But there's, there's always more we can do. Right. So I feel like we need to pull from the experiences of, of universities, and we need to be a bit more public. Because most people don't know about ages report, I only found out because I was really curious. So I did some digging about and then I found out, but I felt like greater publicity for things like that, a greater advertisements of people actually a bit more conscious of what they can do to help and what the university is doing to help. Because I know quite a few people would just sort of feel that the university aren't really doing enough, the University of doing stuff that they they have their own feedback and input they'd like to university to act on. So if we increase transparency, if we increase the number of opportunities for feedback, then I think that's a good start and a good way to move forward. Can I just jump in very quickly. Thank you guys, for for talking to us. Firstly, I'd like to say Ivan, I'm worried I'm gonna have to kind of bring it back a little bit to some of the things you talked about earlier, cuz I've been sitting listening to you talk. And so one of the things that Alfred brought up earlier was the the model of talking about the attainment gap, how, you know, traditionally, students, you know, you could argue, who come in with, you know, lower levels and, you know, social background, and that's why they're the attainment gap is there and average completely right. It's, it's not true at all, measurably both nationally, and sorry, you can see that students that come in with the same grades, you know, whether that be a star, a whatever it is, who are, you know, who are black do worse in their degrees than those who are white. And that either shows that there is a problem that occurs at the university, not just it's not something that happens beforehand, it's those ones coming in on the same grades as well. The second thing I wanted to ask you about, and Missy, you mentioned your experience working in teams and teams about how you had how you've both had people being kind of explicitly racist to you. And you know, kind of subtly where you you weren't sure, but you thought that you know, it might be and it reminded me, I did a disciplinary panel a few years ago now. And it was it was a racism case, and there was a guy, so the panels are three people as one of the other guys on the panel was black. And he and he talked to me about how not only do you have the damage of being, you know, insulted at the time when someone is racist to you. And that's obviously, really horrible. But on top of that, there's also the fear that it puts in your mind that there are people out there like that. And every day you have to go through life, kind of thinking, Oh, did I not get that job, because of my race or you know, did this not go right for me because of this. And it sounds to me, like you had a little bit of that yourself when you know, when that person was received u and T's and T's your you know, your thought is, Oh, is that because of my skin colour and that's our, you know, a horrible place to live in, you know, your experiences have put that in your mind as a result of other people's actions. And, you know, at the university, obviously, we want to try and stamp that out as much as possible. And the only way we can really do that is if people report it. So at the moment, we have the report and support system where people can report things like racism, and you know, any other forms of abuse and harassment, but it's not as used as widely as we would like it too. And we were having conversations recently about kind of lack of trust in it. And, you know, maybe that's one of the or what's the point in reporting if they're not going to do anything? So I realised it's like the long winded question, Mr. But my question to you is, is there anything that you can think of that we would be able to do to increase trust in that system and make it so people are more likely to report it when when those sort of things happen? Yeah, thank you that question. Something came to mind actually. And I would, I would actually suggest that we make it like a core component of the university or send like its advertise a bit more within like society. So maybe societies will have to, like at least mention at some point, perhaps during freshers week when they first had their sessions. And that would go into the well being champion, because I believe that every society has to have a well being champion, right? So that could, yeah, so that could be one of those Watts's responsibilities where they would say something along the lines of, oh, if you don't feel comfortable saying anything to me, and then go on to talk about the report and support scheme and I believe that would get it more publicity and I believe if it comes from someone they know people are more likely to listen as how I feel anyway. So if it's someone like a society committee member They're more likely to follow on from that suggestion actually report something if it weren't happen, and people might forget. So perhaps it could be sort of like students could be reminded of reporting support support scheme. I'm not sure how often but I felt like that would be a good. No, I think that's great idea. That's certainly something we can do. And I completely take on board, you're saying about how, you know, when you have that sort of peer to peer message, as opposed to coming from the, you know, the University of the union that can sometimes, you know, get a bit harder. So, you know, certainly something we could look into. Thank you for that. On that note, I just want to say a huge thank you to both of you for joining us on the podcast and for, for coming to us as a Students Union. And to talk about the baby experience of students and staff or sorry, it's been a hugely open conversation. And the recommendations and comments you've both made will continue to outline the importance of supporting the beam students and staff that we do have here. Sorry, just for any listeners who are listening to the podcast. If you have any further comments, or questions, please do get in touch. We want to hear for all students from all walks of life. So again, thank you for joining us today. That's everything this week from yourselves. Join us on Instagram and Facebook where you can see what's happening until next week's edition. If you want to get in touch Find us on Microsoft Teams, Instagram or email us on sorry 365