Theresa Ogbekhiulu: On the BAME Student’s Advisory Committee
By Bethan Collins
Bethan Collins: So, let’s start off with you introducing yourself and explaining your role within the Student’s Union.
Theresa Ogbekhiulu: My name is Theresa Ogbekhiulu and I’m the education officer at the Student’s Union. My role covers everything ranging from ensuring students have a voice in their education, to representing the academic interests at all levels within the university. I sit on the Learning Teaching and Quality Committee amongst many other committees I sit on, and I’m the lead student reviewer when it comes to reviewing the universities’ quality processes. This year I sit on the council, which is the highest governing body in the university. This allows me to ensure students are represented at the highest-level possible. Of course, there’s more behind this, but that’s the bulk of the job.
B: Could you tell us what the BAME Advisory committee is?
T: My main vision for this is for the group to be able to review policies, to ensure that BAME students are not being disadvantaged in any way. We don’t have a lot of representation in staff members, so it’s hard for staff members who don’t have the same experiences to speak on behalf of black students. It will serve as a soundboard for the university in terms of enhancing BAME student experiences. So, from running events, campaigns, reviewing policies, and general operations within the university.
B: What does the committee aim to do?
T: We want to pull together a committee of students who can represent the voices of students in the BAME category, although the term BAME is problematic and I do have an issue with it. I’m aware that I can’t represent all black female students, which is why it’s important to continuously engage with the students I represent. The committee is a good way to launch conversations in the university about race and move away from treating students as data and addressing their experiences, because that’s what counts. We want to make sure that the university is being held accountable on all the promises they’re making and drive this agenda forward.
B: What inspired the committee?
T: This started from a burning desire to ensure that students who look like me or have had similar experiences to me have a voice in the University. Being a student, I noticed that a lot of mainly engaged students are usually white, straight men, so it felt like there wasn’t a lot of room for students who were Black, Asian, disabled or had a different sexual orientation. Studying as a medical student and finding that all your lecturers talk about is how diseases look on white skin. It leaves you as a person out of the picture. The education system is failing to teach students how to treat patients with skin other than white.
So, from research and the Black Lives Matter Movement, I had a conversation with the University senior management team and questioned them on what they’re doing to support Black students, and there wasn’t much. There’s the general advice and support, wellbeing etc. But when you look at these services it feels like they’re mainly targeted to white students, so it’s left underrepresented students feeling like there’s no room for them in these services. The people who run these services don’t look like them or share their experiences and might not understand where they’re coming from. Prior to that conversation I ran a focus group to get a real feel from the black students of Swansea and they proved my thoughts right. Lots of students felt unrepresented and didn’t see themselves within the university. After this we had a conversation with the Professor of Diversity and Inclusion at Bradford University. When speaking to her, she said it wasn’t until the university started listening to student experiences that they were able to make meaningful changes. So, I was like, ‘okay, this makes sense then.’
B: Finally, what are your ultimate goals for the future?
T: I’d like to see it transcend beyond a committee. Currently there will be ten students to attend meetings, and I would like this to grow to become more strategic. More importantly, I don’t want this to need to exist. Thinking long-term, this is meant to solve a problem. I wouldn’t want it to exist for a long time because that would mean the issue is still there. We will have ensured that students know there is a safe space for them, and a place for them to progress in the University. BAME students face an attainment gap of 23%, once that gap is closed, we would no longer need the group.