We spoke to Lancaster’s BME Student Officer Elect about the uni’s response to BLM

‘Just because the uni likes to promote its diversity, doesn’t mean its diverse’

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s death, many students have looked to Lancaster University to represent them and speak out against systematic racism. What we have been met with is a wall of silence, with a disappointing response at least. This leaves many students searching for someone who can elevate their voices and represent them at the university, one obvious answering being the BME Student Officer.

Max Kafula is Lancaster’s BME Student Officer Elect, officially coming into his position at the beginning of July. We have sat down with Max to talk about what BLM means to him, how he feels the university has dealt with the situation, and what support he plans to put in place going forwards.

What does the black lives matter movement mean to you?

“The black lives matter is so much more than police brutality. It’s a continuation of the civil rights movements which was lead by Dr king. It’s a continuation of the moment that address the racial injustice that black people are still facing today. Whether it through, education, healthcare, welfare, criminal justice, employment and our basic civil liberties. As a black man, I’ve grown up thinking that whether I am, I should never get comfortable. I grown up thinking that I will always will be treated as a 2nd class citizen in the country I grew up in. I’ve grown up thinking that I will have to tell my younger brother, that the world will never be kind to us because of the colour of our skin. I’ve grown up trying my hardest not to be a stereotype. Black lives matter means to me is a movement that wants to protect my life, to give me hope to say that I was safe to be a black man. To give me hope, that someday, my children won’t suffer the same issues that we are facing. Black lives matter is a symbol of hope.”

How do you feel current events impact your position as PTO?

“What happened over the past few days and weeks, show is not enough not to be racist. We have to be anti racist. We have to fight injustice. We have to fight an institutional racial oppression that kept so many BAME people to the ground. It made me realise that I have to fight even harder to bring change. It means that my position should not be a politician token for the Union and University to virtue signal, but as position to drive meaningful reforms and progress. Progress in which, BAME Students can hopefully say that they were glad they came to this uni. They were glad that this uni acknowledged its institutional problems and worked to address it. To say they that were glad that this uni didn’t seek to profit out of them. They were glad that this uni celebrated its culture and identity, not only just having one single event at the start of the year, but continually having events and campaigns that showed that they care about them. That they glad that they did not feel invisible or forgotten. This means that under my position , I need to make sure that this will happen. I need to fight to help BAME students.”

How do you plan to put in support for new BAME students in October if welcome week is online?

“In my manifesto, I stated that I would help new BAME Students feel more included within the university when they start in October. What this means, I wanted to create a guide for new BAME and International students coming to Lancaster. This would be in collaboration with the new International Officer PTO and College JCRs, where we list:

● All BAME and International societies on campus

● Local places of worship

● List of contacts within the unions and Uni, ( where I would put all means of ways of communication for PTOs and FTOS, JCRs, Mental Health team,etc)

● Local GP and medical practices

● Cuisine shops/ restaurants.

● Resources for financial assistance/ services.

● Use of emails and mailing system to expand the reach of students

This has not changed, myself and other PTOs elect created a similar guide in light of the pandemic. Which has been advertised around the university social media platform and our dedicated forums.

Thus, I would on expand on this and would look to collaborate with FTOs to increase the level of resources.”

How do you feel the uni have failed BAME students so far?

“Firstly, I will say that there are good people within the university and union that are dedicated to help BAME students and tackle the discrimination. However, that does not mean racism is present within the union, whether it be explicit or institutional. But I do agree that within the union, institutional racism is present. The most obvious sign is that BAME student don’t feel comfortable to report racial discrimination and issues to the Uni. That is shocking. How can we sit here and say that this uni represents and care fort all BAME Students, where it’s own students have repeatedly said that they don’t feel comfortable reporting issues to them. When I was campaigning, BAME students told me that their issues and concerns fell on deaf ears. Investigations swept under the carpet or not taken seriously.”

“A prime example, is the FGH security incident that was made public. In which the uni failed to protect the victim, even though according to sources and witnesses, they we were not in the wrong. In addition to that, when you have the former VP of Welfare accuse the union of racism, has to be another red flag. The fact some students even dismissed her claim by stating it should be taken with a “pinch of salt”. Regardless whether you agreed with the former VP or not, we must take action where racism exists within the union. Dismissing it only entrenched the racism that exists. We as students, as a community must challenge racism. We have to be anti racist. If not, then how can you expect BAME student to have the reassurance that their issues will be taken seriously? That is why I am introducing the first ever Ethnic Diversity Welfare Secretary, to provide reassurance to BAME students that if you come forward with any issues, how big or small. It will be dealt with.”

Have you yourself experienced racism at Lancaster University?

“Yes. I got called by the N word, by a taxi driver. In addition to that, I’ve been asked do I consider myself as a Namibian ( where I am originally from), or British. It was phrased in a way, where one nationality was the superior than the other. While to some that may not have been explicit racism, but rather xenophobic. It’s a type of discrimination that I had to face at this university.”

Are you aware of Chloe Long being suspended over the snow sports scandal and how do you feel about this?

“I am aware of the scandal yes. I made a comment about this in which I said, “a s**** protocol with s****rules. If someone got suspended for doing the right thing, then you need to ask yourself if these rules and protocols were ever right, to begin with”. What I am talking about, is what led Chole to do what she did. I’m not saying what she did was right or wrong but I understand. You have to ask yourself why. Why did the Snow sports members allow people to write discriminating statements? Why did the members not stop them? Why did no one intervene in the first place? Why did it take the university to take 4 weeks to intervene? Why did the university think they should initially be given a slap? Then you will understand what Chole did. She saw how the university was trying to sweep the incident under the rug. She saw injustice and she took action about it. I was raised wherever you see injustice, you must stand up. You must fight it. Chole Long wouldn’t have done what she did, if she had trusted in the protocols in place. The protocols that this uni has to deal with racism is what led Chole to do what she did. Was she right or wrong?, that’s up for you to decide. But I understand why she did it.”

@Lancsters recently claimed ‘the uni isn’t racist’. This account has over 2,000 followers, presumably students. Can you respond to this?

“While I don’t know the identity of the OP, but I will say this. It’s easy to say a place/organisation is not racist if it’s not explicit. However, when you speak to students and hear their stories, there is a massive institutional racial problems here at Lancaster university. Students feel under represented, students voices are sidelined, issues are dismissed. This is from what I’ve seen, god knows how bad it is from the inside. Also, just because the uni likes to promote its diversity, it doesn’t mean its diverse.”

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