Our CEO and founder tells us a little about her experiences as a Black scientist and the work she does to challenge the status quo.
As a young black student studying a chemistry postgraduate degree, there has been a great motivation to organise events such as Diversity in STEM and Being BME in STEM. During the completion of my undergraduate science degree, for four years I saw the severe lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) inclusion not only within undergraduates but postgraduates and staff across the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. I saw the significant lack of BAME role models in higher academic and industrial positions alongside the lack of acknowledgement and education of the BAME contributions to STEM. And so, I aspired to change this for the better. This was a scary prospect, met with many challenging moments and periods of growth. With an amazing team of black and brown students as well as my chemistry society committee, I was able to co-organise two novel events that are detailed below.
“You can use your privilege for good once you recognise it is there”
I was excited to follow on from the great work of the ‘BME attainment gap report’ presented by Hannah Dualeh, as I saw many of the problems I experienced as a young black female student resonated amongst the wider population of BAME students and staff. From this, I became eager to create solution-based events where a safe exchange of different narratives and ideas could flourish. The aim of both conferences was to provide helpful improvements to the university, STEM departments and workplaces. I recognized that we need to understand how we can best support and inspire BAME young people so that we can begin to build a bridge across the BAME attainment gap and improve the retention of BAME people within STEM subjects, whether that is in academia or industry. In doing this, it may become possible to build a better, more supportive environment which will hold together the framework of a more inclusive society.
What we discovered when executing these events agreed with prior research around this topic. Feedback showed a more encouraging and inclusive working environment is integral to an individual’s ability to progress and excel within their chosen subject. Though a more welcoming, safe space for both BAME students and staff has begun to be established within some universities across the United Kingdom (UK), continued work within institutions is necessary to tackle the racism, microaggressions and ableism that exists in their core fabric. Each conference overtly showed the importance of understanding the root causes to the minimal minority group representation in academia and higher industrial positions but also discussed possible solutions for change. It was a form of collective catharsis, talking about these issues, hearing from brilliant minds and activists throughout events and learning from each other. Allies were also encouraged to confront their lack of active anti-racism and were shown how they can begin addressing their privilege while using it as a spring board for further EDI work.
I believe within the STEM sector there is much work to be done in promoting representation in postdoctoral and professorial roles. These role models and mentors will be key to young people unlocking their potential within STEM by increasing aspirations. Additionally, it has been identified that curriculum diversification that can reflect a wider narrative of the contributors to STEM is needed. Often BAME representation in the curricula taught in schools and universities is is Eurocentric . Across the STEM community within Bristol there is a severe underrepresentation of people of colour within higher education and local STEM businesses, despite Bristol being a thriving, multicultural city. The University of Bristol is one of the best universities in the world for research within STEM but is also one of the Russell Group Universities with the fewest number of BAME students (especially domicile UK Black students, see the included figures for data). More must be done.
Since these events, positive change already begun at the university has come to light. The University response detailed their work with the charity, IntoUniversity that has two centres in Bristol, one in Withywood and one in Easton. Into runs a sustained mentoring programme with primary and secondary school students. The University also funds the third sector organisation With Insight to provide mentoring for BAME students across the country. This mentoring is provided by BAME undergraduates for BAME sixth form students. Recently energised by the Black Lives Matter movement discussions, I have increasingly recognised the decolonising the curriculum work that has taken centre stage in the fight to improve and diversify the pedagogy at the university. Seeing these few steps forward provides me with hope for future generations of STEM student.
The work I have done only forms a small part of the movement towards the inclusive transformation of STEM institutions but I am proud of the conversations it has started.
James Baldwin once said ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can changed until it is faced’.
Data References: Black Representation in UK Academic Chemistry