Black History Month: Societies Showcase – Exeter’s ACS Society

Hi everyone, we’re back with our second post of the month. Our theme for this month has been based on Black History Month, and we wanted to showcase one of the fabulous BAME societies that we’ve worked with. We sat down with Panashe and Musa from Exeter’s ACS Society, to discuss their thoughts and opinions of Black History Month in 2020, and what it’s like to be a minority in one of the UK’s most prestigious (and least diverse) universities.

Hype: Hi Musa and Panashe, thanks for speaking with us today. Could you tell me a little bit about yourselves?

Musa: Hi, I’m the social secretary for the ACS (African Caribbean Society) at Exeter University. I’m a second year neuroscience student.

Panashe: I’m from Zimbabwe and I’m the Vice President of the ACS Society. I study Accounting and Finance.

Hype: What does being part of your society include? What events do you run?

Our society has had to make changes due to covid, but usually, our summers would involve speed dating, barbeques and so on. Then for winter, we would do club nights. We also do career events and mock parliaments, to help black people find jobs and enhance their CV’s.

Now that our events have moved online, we’ve been able to collaborate with not only other societies on campus, but also other ACS societies across the UK. For black history month, we’ve worked with the university directly to successfully host educational and engaging talks via zoom. These included ‘black people in the diaspora’, and the challenges we face as black people coming in to unknown countries and the stereotypes, and ‘modern racism and appropriation talk’, which ended in an open discussion for people to speak freely on the topic.

Hype: What are your goals as a society?

When we were all elected, we each brought separate aims and objectives to the table. Some of them included more African food to be sold on campus and bringing more awareness to micro-aggressions in Exeter. As a group, one of our main goals is to be more inclusive to other ethnic minorities. We want to build a large and accepting community, where people can feel comforted and safe if they need somewhere to go.

Additionally, we’re always fighting against racism. Anyone who’s black will tell you that racism will never be extinguished, but you can work towards diminishing it, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Hype: What are the societies views and opinions on Black History Month in 2020, especially regarding the BLM movement?

Panashe: This year was a big year for black people, especially considering George Floyd. This affected the whole society, and our planning for Black History Month and other agendas was accelerated because of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Exeter, we’ve had our own cases where people have been assaulted, or stabbed. These events were reported, but the culprits are rarely brought to justice. In fact, one of our own members was stabbed in a hate crime in Exeter.

We have also been let down by some of the universities decisions. An example of this was the invitation of Katie Hopkins to campus. The debate society wanted her to attend one of their events, but they had to get the permission of the university. It caused an uproar in Exeter, and there were protests in town and everyone was discouraging it, but she was still allowed to attend. The black community were really insulted. Due to this, we are currently trying to get on decision making panels at the university. We want to be the voice for the feelings and perspectives of black students at Exeter.

During the BLM protests, we contacted the university, as we knew we needed to make a difference. We held meeting to put together events in collaboration with the university, and tried to get the word out as far as possible.

Another change we thought was important to make, was the way the University addresses students in their emails. There are certain emails that we are now editing ourselves, to make sure the perspective expressed is as inclusive as possible. This was due to one of the emails that were sent out during the BLM protests, where the movement was used as the headline, but it was only given a paragraph, and attention was taken away from its importance through discussing other matters, such as finance. We strongly believed this wasn’t enough. If you are going to speak about BLM, you need to dedicate an entire email, so it’s at least respectful.

Finally, we spoke to the university on the way that they use diversity as a selling point for the university. If you’re going to use diversity as a selling point to the university, there needs to be resources for BAME students on how to report hate crimes and micro aggressions, because they currently do not have the guidance that they need.  

Musa: It’s interesting, whenever Black History Month rolls around, everyone wants to get involved with our society, and get our thoughts on things. However, I question how genuine their motivations are, because some support and communication isn’t sustained.

However, I believe that through the BLM protests and other occurrences of this year, we’ve been able to begin a good relationship with the university.

Our relationship with the guild of students is not as stable. We’ve had some situations where they’ve told us that what we’re trying to do is only going to benefit the ACS and no other people. What they don’t understand, is that if you make a positive impact to ACS, you make a positive impact to all black students.

Panashe: We’re often encouraged to hold our events by the guild, but they don’t advertise us as much as other societies, and they also do not give us support in spreading the message as wide as possible.

Hype: What would you say are the first steps for universities to work towards a better sense of inclusion and diversity?

Musa: The first thing that comes to mind is admitting you have a problem. As an international student at Exeter, I could probably point out most of all other international students. If you’re seeing the same people everywhere, then the actual admission of BAME individuals to the university needs to improve.

Panashe: A lot of people are unaware of the reporting process for racist incidents, and the university does not make that clear to any ethnic minorities, until something actually happens.

It’s also important to remember that Exeter has an incredibly white and privileged university demographic. These people are coming from a background where there are very little BAME presence, so it’s not surprising that they’re not educated on unconscious racism.

As a minority, it’s incredibly hard to educate people who are ignorant to black struggle. For example, I was coming home from a football game with other students, and someone puts some hiphop on, and they say ‘hey Panashe, this is for you’, and I just thought ‘what do you mean?’. People may not realise that what they’re saying is racist, because they’re uneducated on how to be appropriate. You can’t stand up and say anything, because you’re intimidated by the white majority, so you just have to sit there in silence.

Musa: I went to private school, so I was surrounded by white and privileged individuals. I’d go to rugby games, and people would point out other black people and say ‘do you know them?’ or speak in a mock African accent to me. I tried to stand up for myself, but it’s tiring to react to every single micro aggression.

Panashe: One thing that is also important to mention is the mistreatment of black women on campus. We value the women of our society, and we try our best to give talks on female empowerment, because a biproduct of racism is the abuse of our women. So to relate back to the university, their student population have a big issue with racism, but also misogyny on campus, and this needs to be addressed and acted on.

I think the university is putting plans in place to make a change, but they’re still failing to acknowledge that there is a problem of racism on campus and in the institution itself.

Hype: Finally, are there any organisations you’d like to mention for Black History Month?

SEO London. They’re a company which help black students towards their career journey. We’ve worked as a society to help first year black students to know what skills are valued for grad schemes etc.

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