By Lily Gordon Brown
With voting a fortnight away, I had the opportunity of speaking with Safyan at length about his candidacy for one of the seven roles for LUU’s 2020/21 Student Exec. Safyan is running for Education Officer. We spoke extensively about the reasons why and what he hopes to achieve.
His visions centre around decolonising the curriculum, abandoning hidden course costs and
improving mental health services. Read on for more.
Tell me a bit about the role you are running for?
The Education officer is one of the seven roles in the Student Exec. The role particularly looks at how they can enrich the students’ educational and academic experience, looking at a lot of things like the curriculum, increasing informal study spaces, hidden course costs (cutting those)- making sure the academic side of university works for all students.
Why are you running, what experience have you had?
I am third year IHP student, I am BAME Liberation coordinator here at the Union, I have
done a lot of work with the Union about liberation politics, how we can reach out further
to the BAME, to the Muslim student population, and making sure that we are not ignoring
their voices. I think the reason I am running is because based off the work I have done as a
Liberation Coordinator and a student of history; I have never felt that the curriculum has
been representative of the diversity of the student body. That is one of my key manifesto
points- decolonising the curriculum and supporting the ‘Why is my Curriculum White?’
Could you please delve into that campaign a little?
The campaign was born in Leeds a few years ago, right here in the University by a previous
education officer. It was basically raising questions of why our curriculums are not
representative of the student body. Why are we not acknowledging the legacies of Empire?
I have experienced this a lot as a history student, narratives pushed that only white
scholars, white voices and white histories are the only one’s worth studying. The
dominance of white history embeds the perception that they are the most important
histories. Supporting this campaign is a two-fold: incorporating the lived experiences of all
but also enhances the set of research and employability skills of students.
Could you give me a bit of background about yourself and some of your lived experiences in relation to this?
I am BAME, Bengali and a Muslim. It has always been quite a stark reality that I don’t feel
my history has ever been incorporated in the curriculum. Would you have ever known that
nearly 3 million Bengalis were massacred in the 1971 Liberation War? The curriculum
became very personal to me, through school and university.
Was it something you noticed first at school, or did it become more prominent as you entered into the university sphere?
Subconsciously I noticed it first at school. I remember in year 7 and 8, I used to never want
to learn about the Tudors. When I began to unpack the reasons why, it was related to
monotony, being taught the same old histories. It continues at university, you and me both
have written the same essay about the Cold War multiple times.
Do you think with the white curriculum goes beyond the humanties?
Leeds has hosted a hugely popular and informative ‘Decolonising Geography’ and
‘Decolonising Psychology’ events- the former discussing the ways the ‘white saviour’
colonial narratives are perpetuated a lot in geographical studies in continents and regions
across Europe. STEM subjects also have a lot to work on, in looking at the figures they
study but also recognising diversified contributions in technologies and sciences.
Decolonising goes beyond the curriculum. We need to dismantle barriers the university
poses to BAME students- this requires diversifying the staff and addressing the BAME
Could you expand more on the BAME attainment gap?
-What we are seeing is that BAME students have a higher dropout rate than white
counterparts, and they are getting less 2:1s and 1:1s by almost 10%. We need to address
how to close this gap. Studies have shown by the NUS amongst others that the more
representative curriculums are, the less apathy is felt toward education by BAME students,
the more involved and engaged they feel. University is for everyone to enjoy, to thrive.
After covering that extensively, could you expand on some of your other manifesto points?
- I would like to encourage and implement culturally aware mental health services. There is
currently a damaging ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health, which prevents a lot of
students from different backgrounds reaching out to attain the help they may need. We
need BAME counsellors, alongside adequate cultural awareness training. Fundamentally,
the counsellor must understand where you’re coming from- culture often acts as a barrier.
Culture and background have effects on the mental state. Mental health is a ubiquitous
problem across our universities, the exec might not have the ability to control this directly,
but we have the ability to alleviate stresses and mitigate the impact of difficult
curriculums, stressful examination methods- that is what we are here for. This will be at
the heart of everything I do.
Do you have more to say on this manifesto point on mental health?
We can’t wait for students to be coming to us, we have to be listening to them. All need to
feel comfortable whether your black, brown, trans, LGTBQ+. This also needs to address the
survivors of sexual misconduct, we need to provide for those victims of sexual abuse,
misconduct and harassment. University needs an up to date approach, we are at a
stagnant point. The waiting lists are too problematic, as are the fact students are only
offered 3 sessions- people will not reach out for help if the end feels nigh. We need to create
a proactive nature in the LUU.
What does your manifesto point about ‘hidden course costs’ relate to?
This is a big barrier. It is ridiculous you may have to pay around £50/£60 for course
textbooks, pay for graduation (including extra costs for gown and pictures)- this is a
moment where you’re supposed to be celebrating three years of university. We are not
allowing students of all classes and financial backgrounds to enjoy the day.
Why is it fair for some people to have access to all their texts online, whilst someone might have to pay £70 for just one module? There is a completely discrepancy here, right?
We need to be critical, inquisitive and transparent. This is also a problem when we are told
there is only one or two copies of a textbook in the library- it creates a culture of
competition. It should be readily available for all. Bursaries are good way to tackle hidden
course costs, we should most definitely have more robust graduation bursaries and
academic support bursaries. I also believe in extending the dissertation travel bursaries.
Most humanities students will more likely than not be travelling in and out of London for
research. The reality is, it is currently a very ‘survival of the fittest’ culture.
What about your ideas surrounding what you term ‘student-led activism’?
This is an umbrella point that a lot of the Exec will have to work on collaboratively. This is
the vision. This will include workshops- providing students with the tools to enrich their
academic experience beyond the library in extra-curricular activities. They should feel they
have the agency to get involved, to secure their rights and to support events like the
current UCU strikes. There is nothing wrong to get students engaged. University is the
vessel and the space to set students on a path beyond higher education.
Do you have any last points you’d like to address?
I am fundamentally driven by my principles. I don’t necessarily have a huge background in
student politics but what I do have is passion and principle, and that has always been my
guiding force. Liberation has been at the heart of everything I do: whether that’s been
elected twice as an NUS delegate, a BAME coordinator or a student ambassador. I want
people of all backgrounds to feel safe, and to feel listened to.
Finally, if you’ve liked what you’ve read, please consider voting Adam for Union Affairs,
Leila for Equalities Officer and Yas for Activities Officer. We support one another, you want
to elect a united team. LUU needs a big change up, we’re the right people to provide that.