• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

The Student meets with two candidates for BME liberation officer

ByRufus Lee-Brown

Mar 9, 2021
BME Liberation Officer Candidates Samantha Likonde and Marwan Al Lamki

CW: discussion of racism

A year of turbulence for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students has brought renewed importance to the role of BME Liberation Officer. The position is more pertinent now than it ever has been. After a series of racist attacks on Edinburgh students earlier this year, both on campus and online, a heightened need to amplify the concerns and opinions of BME students has emerged. Many are seeking to lay bare the racial inequalities rife within the University. The Student talked with two candidates running for Black and Minority Ethnic Officer, Marwan Al Lamki and Samantha Likonde, to discuss their motivations and plans behind their campaigns.

(The Student reached out to all candidates running for BME officer, but only Marwan and Samantha responded to our request for comment.)

Samantha Likonde

Samantha is a third year Law student, running with a wealth of experience and understanding of the anxieties facing students of ethnic minorities. A co-founder of the BlackED movement, which successfully petitioned to change the University’s David Hume Tower to 40 George Square last summer, and Vice-President of the African Caribbean Society, Samantha understands the complexity behind getting BME student voices heard by the University.

Chief among her manifesto pledges is to implement a representative student counselling service. “Only 1.5% of the student body is Black,” Samantha tells me, “which is less than any other Russel Group university intake.” Despite recent actions by the University to make a more inclusive counselling service, Samantha highlights the struggles BME students still face. 

“As a Black or Asian person, you can’t go to a white counsellor because you realistically can’t explain your struggle to them with the perspective of being in the same community… you’d have to explain why [any particular] micro-aggression was bad.” When asked about the recent addition of two new BME counsellors at the Advice Place, Samantha says “it just isn’t enough, particularly given the number of [BME] students that need counselling.”

In her manifesto, Samantha also promises the implementation of an ‘enquiry service,’ in attempting to trace, extinguish, and deter racism within the University. She claims the University’s response to the slew of racist attacks was inadequate: “they were reassuring and apologetic, but that’s also a very easy response to give. It’s just an email, and it really didn’t do anything.” 

With an enquiry service, Samantha anticipates that the threat of investigation is enough to put off would-be racists and micro-aggressors. “Even [up to] a couple of years ago, there were parties where people dressed up in blackface and made fun of Asian students. They were confident enough to have these parties, take pictures and post them, and know that nothing would happen to them. Even if [the University did something], we would never have known…. Even before [any enquiry has taken place], the service would let BME students know they’re valued and respected.”

Samantha is a proud believer in the power of racial literacy, calling for mandatory racial-sensitivity training for first-year students and staff. Driven by her own experience of racist remarks and encounters by staff, she underscores the importance of such training in making BME students feel appreciated on campus. “It’s such a disheartening thing to happen at University; it’s one of the highest levels of education you can achieve, you would think people here would grow out of [racist behaviour].

Ultimately, Samantha believes the University hasn’t done enough to advance the causes of BME students. When asked her about the steps its governing body has taken since the summer, she says that while it is listening to its student body, “a year is a long time … more could definitely have been implemented over the past year.”

Follow Samantha’s campaign on Facebook and Instagram (@likondesamantha).

Marwan Al Lamki

Marwan, a second-year Law and Politics student, tells The Student he is upset and ultimately dissatisfied with the University’s approach to handling the grief and upset felt by the BME student community over the racism that exists on campus. Marwan, also campaigning with experience as Vice President of the BAME Law Society and Manager of The Macmillan Forum, aims to put this grounding to good use in office. He explains that his motivation to run for BME officer, “stems from being a BME person … I’ve been through trauma myself. A lot of [minority students] feel marginalised, and could go through violence and trauma. I understand the difficulties of being a minority.”

In his manifesto, Marwan pledges to construct a resilient BME community that prioritises intersectional causes; a community that ensures its voices are heard at the highest levels of University governance. Recounting his shock over the racist attacks on campus, Marwan tells me he is just as frustrated over the University’s response.

“Following the Library attack, the University’s representative spoke to the [the BBC] before they spoke to their student body. That disgusted me … Students managed to form a walking group in the span of just a few hours, while [the University] took days to respond to their own students … And that’s just one incident!” 

Marwan is set on ensuring that the University’s complaint and counselling services are fair and accessible to all BME students, saying that improvements need to be made. “There are a lot of institutionalised barriers. The University can say they have [services for students], but have you communicated this to us? Have you accommodated and contextualised the difficulties [BME students] go through? That’s one of my main motivations [behind counselling reform]: I’ve been through this process, so I can relate.”

Set on constructing a stronger community for BME students, another of Marwan’s more ambitious campaign promises involves constructing a student app that collates all of the University’s services, with the intention of making some of less popular services more widely known. “You should be able to apply for counselling through this app, join societies for example.” His manifesto’s central theme of community also stretches to this app, saying, “I want students to work with me on this. This is an app for us, made by us.”

Marwan’s campaign is driven and defined by a passion for helping students hard done by the University, fundamentally moulding an ambition that, he explains, will lead him to success in the role of BME liberation officer, striving to improve the University relationship with its students. “I may not be the most established candidate, but I’m definitely someone who puts their all into everything. I’ve been through the complaint’s system. Actually, I haven’t just been through the system, I found every single person I can go to – the Advice Place, the police… I’m ready to fight for [the students]. That’s my motivation.”

Later in our conversation, Marwan adds, “If the university was doing enough, I wouldn’t be this passionate. I might be standing out of interest and passion, but I wouldn’t be as fuelled if they were doing enough. If they were doing enough, student’s wouldn’t be getting beat up, bombarded by [racist comments], and the University certainly wouldn’t be on the BBC.”

Follow Marwan’s campaign on Facebook and Instagram (@marwan4bmeofficer)

Voting in the Edinburgh University Students Association Election is open March 8-11.

Images: Samantha Likonde and Marwan Al Lamki