Malia Bouattia, the NUS President elect, visited UEA to participate in a panel discussion on institutional racism in education as part of the Why Is My Curriculum So White? campaign.
The campaign, founded at University College London in 2014, encourages discussions about the alleged alienation and oppression of black and minority ethnic (BME) students in UK universities.
Bouattia also spoke out against David Cameron’s apparent “tokenising” of black students. Cameron claimed the government is endeavouring to investigate the black attainment gap in higher education. Bouattia said that BME students have waited too long for change: “surely we want better. If our education system has a hand in creating systems of oppression, we want better”.
Despite acknowledging the benefits of further education in the wider societal context and the potentil for emancipation of BME students, she feels that BME students are at a significant disadvantage within the British education system, something that she hopes this campaign can rectify. “I’ve repeated oppression a lot, but there’s no other way to put it than that”. According to Bouattia, campaigns like this are “two-fold. They’re about…dismantling any inherent barriers of our institutions, but they’re also about informing people.”
Furthermore, she believes it naive to think that awareness of equality and oppression go hand in hand with intelligence. “We shouldn’t just assume that because we’re in higher education, everyone gets it. We didn’t get it, those of us that are on the frontline of these campaigns once upon a time did not understand.”
Her main criticisms of the curriculum originate in humanities subjects. “Traditionally it starts in arts and humanities departments, you see this within history, literature, philosophy in particular.”
Despite this apparent attack of arts and humanities subjects, Malia has little to say on the matter in regards to scientific subjects, however, still asserts that students of all disciplines should be aware of this alleged discrimination.
“There’s a process of informing and educating, but engaging people and they can see their role in this wider campaign and how it fits into our overall goal of social justice and liberation..”
When questioned on her policies, and small mandate at only 50.9 per cent, and the consequent encouragement of several universities, including UEA neighbours Cambridge and Essex, to hold referendums on membership of the NUS, her answers were fairly vague. She returned to the idea of community, seemingly dismissing her critics.
Bouattia stated that: “generally, there is strength in unity and our efforts are amplified when they are collective”. She described NUS liberation campaigns as “incredible spaces”. However, she chose to not to respond to questions regarding how the NUS plans to convince disenchanted students and unions across the country of the benefits of remaining affiliated. They will engage with community groups who are non-affiliated to students, but naturally staying together under the organisation or umbrella, only furthers strength and opportunities where officers and students on the ground can access spaces of training, conferences, networking spaces and generally be like informed and have access to resources and toolkits. So there’s just really I’d say ultimately a lot of strength in unity.”