This is what it’s actually like being a person of colour at London university
‘Where are all the black people at?’
After spending two years in one of the most acclaimed universities in London, I’d like to speak about my experience as a black woman (Disclaimer that this is my personal experience, and I cannot speak for all the black alumni in UAL.)
I am a second year student studying fashion journalism at the London College of Fashion. With the start of this new academic year, I started to discover better UAL and its multiculturalism. Especially with my first year spent in between on-site but mostly online lectures, wearing PJs and enjoying brekkie during 10.00am lectures.
Walking through the campus hallways I feel surrounded by all the diversity and multiculturality that UAL has to offer. With a variety of students coming from different parts of the globe, you can easily spot alumni taking pictures of their outfits for their Instagram feed, others sipping an oat latte whilst talking about the latest fashion trends and scandals in the fashion industry, or creating the next greatest collection to be exhibited at the V&A.
However, in the midst of all this diversity, accentuated by the sound of all the different accents I come across echoing through the hallways as I make my way to my morning lecture, there is still one question that keeps running through my head: “Where are all the black people at?”
To be completely frank with you, I don’t even know how many black people should be in a class – five? Maybe 10? Or 25? As my personal experience completely differs from many black students studying in the UK, it’s just hard to know what to expect.
I grew up in Turin, a city located in northern Italy. I was raised in a mainly white neighbourhood – no, it was definitely not a posh one, trust me. This meant that whilst growing up I was not surrounded by the most diverse environment.
As a matter of fact, in elementary, middle school and even high school, the number of people of colour in the whole building could be counted on my own fingertips. Although in terms of diversity there was indeed a lack, I was surrounded by the most welcoming and accepting environment. As a matter of fact, most of my closest friends are from my childhood.
I’m not going to lie, I was left quite disappointed to find out the lack of blackness in UAL. Especially when I found myself being one of the roughly eight black students in my course, which is taken by over 60 students.
When I first started this academic year, I was thrilled I could finally get in touch with people from different parts of the world and cultural backgrounds. In particular I really wanted to meet more black people who I could bond with.
I had this idea in mind that I could find my own crowd with people I could resonate with, share the same struggles as being part of the few black students on campus, and be vocal about the day-to-day issues that affect younger people for the black community.
In the past year, UAL has been under the spotlight because of harsh critiques and accusations received by many of its black students for bad misconduct and racism towards POC alumni. For instance, this article calls out racism that occurred at UAL.
Fortunately, I cannot resonate with these experiences. Overall, in these two years, I have never experienced any acts of racism or discrimination from any party, both students and lecturers.
In contrary to some of these claims, I am having a good experience so far. I do resonate with my lectures, there is a safe and good learning environment where my opinions always feel to be validated and taken into account, or in the contrary case, there’s always some positive criticism or feedback given.
I do feel at ease, I’m not concerned that I may be a victim of any unrequested harassment, nor anxious about not fitting in or feeling isolated, because of the colour of my skin.
Of course, this is my own individual experience, and I cannot speak for all the many POC, black students, minorities students at UAL. Maybe mine is just an isolated case because of my upbringing, but being a UAL student has been quite fun so far, except for those boring essays – please can we have a petition to make them less long.
My overall experience may be a slight reflection of how today’s society is steadily moving towards the right direction. I bet we are all aware of how racism persists to be a continuing issue in the country.
However, these little changes make me feel slightly safer as a black woman in today’s society, even though so much progress needs to be made still.
But it is comforting to see how as a society we are progressively evolving, educating ourselves better on social issues and racism to build the basis of a better future. A society that is more accepting, willing to learn and educate itself in order to defeat cultural barriers, stereotypes and prejudice towards what is considered unknown.
Naina Patel, UAL Race Champion and Chief People Officer, told the Tab: “In April 2021, we published our Anti-racism Action Plan – developed in consultation with our students and staff.
“While we were not starting from scratch, the plan recognised the urgent need to build on our existing initiatives, create new ones, learn from our mistakes and make sure the pace of change is accelerated at UAL.
“This includes a commitment to increasing the proportion of BAME students through our Access and Participation Plan and a pledge that at least 30 per cent of our staff will be BAME within three years. Everyone should be able to thrive at UAL, regardless of their background.”