The Students’ Union is an organisation which works in partnership with the University of Nottingham and is recognised as the ‘voice of student representation’. The main goal of the Students’ Union is to make the voices of students at the University heard and to implement a fundamentally student-based decision-making process. This Black History Month, Impact’s Sophie Robinson sat down with the SU Liberation Officer, Ife Oyedeji, to talk about equality, diversity and inclusion at the University.
During Ife’s time as a student, they were president of the Feminist Society and were involved with both the BME Network and the Women*’s Network. When asked why they wanted to become the Liberation Officer, they said: “I think as a person I have this big core passion for liberation, revolution – whatever term you want to put to it, that is me.” Ife also explained that their time as a student played a role, saying: “through my own lived experience of being a marginalised student at university, I think I just always have that priority of making sure that other students feel like they have a space.”
“I’m interacting with the students and finding out what our marginalised student communities need …”
Ife explained that, after dropping out of their medicine degree, they went to a BME leadership event run by the Student Voice Team where they met the past Liberation Officer, Sully Chaudhury, and the EDI Coordinator, Janette Alvarado-Cruz, exclaiming: “I was absolutely obsessed with them”. Following a university-wide campaign, the job was Ife’s.
Asked about what they have been doing as Liberation Officer so far, they said: “I have been working with the student voice team on Black History Month and then we’re jumping straight to Islamophobia Awareness Month – I’m constantly in the pre-planning stage. I’m interacting with the students and finding out what our marginalised student communities need and what they need the SU to hear.”
“There is a real alienation and racial segregation that is not discussed which goes on at university.”
“I’m in charge of the sexual health and sexual violence side of things, and that is something I am very passionate about as well, so I’m very excited to be putting that on. What else… the Liberation Hub, that is my main thing as of recently. It is intended to be this space for community. I think I definitely experienced a sense of alienation that comes from being a student at the intersection of so many identities and then not feeling that the University is a space where you can form community or feel represented. It is a space I would have needed, and I really hope to establish for students now and in future years.”
“There is a real alienation and racial segregation that is not discussed which goes on at university. That is not only racial – there’s segregation based on whether you’re able-bodied or not, whether you’re neurodivergent or not, whether you’re queer or not. My big aim is to create spaces where you can commune and you can see people like you.”
In addition to the Liberation Hub in the SU, Ife explained their other plans for the year: “I’ve been trying to think of different ways to engage with marginalised student communities that may feel betrayed by the University or the Students’ Union. Sport is one of our spaces within the SU that seems directed at a specific audience and makes other students feel like they cannot access that space. So that’s something I’m working on with Sean [the UoNSU Sports Officer] and the UoN Sport people.”
“The problem with the education system is they invite students to study, yet don’t consider that different students need different support and adjustment to access the same university experience.”
“Also, I want to try to tackle a lot of accessibility issues. A big win that we’ve had is the Project Period and seeing lots of students utilising the free products which we should have been giving years ago. In terms of academic accessibility, there is a lot that contributes to the race attainment gap, the mature students’ attainment gap, the disability attainment gap, and I’m trying to put pressure on the University to not stray away from this responsibility. The problem with the education system is they invite students to study, yet don’t consider that different students need different support and adjustment to access the same university experience.”
Ife also explained their big plans to fight discrimination and hate crimes on campus: “we have our ‘Report and Support’ services which are feeding back that a big problem for students is public sexual harassment and sexual violence. It’s more of a prevention than a cure, what I’m trying to focus on now. It’s not a good thing that we’re receiving tons and tons of reports. I’ve been involved with some amazing anti-misogyny groups like our new one, UoN SASS [Students Against Sexual Violence and Sexism], Sexpression, and our Women*’s Network.”
I just had to ask Ife about all the great Black History Month events which have been taking place: “Black History Month is an exciting time for me. We had our Black History Month carnival; we had a Jerk Kitchen caterer, we had a DJ, we had a face painter, and we had black heritage student society stalls. It was a very nice moment because Black History Month can get very heavy when it comes to the nitty gritty of what black history is in the context of this country and colonisation.”
“We are not a homogeneous student community, and I think there’s so much that can be done in terms of seeing these differences.”
“We had a well-being seminar by this lovely woman called Toluwa on being enough, self- care, burnout, and confidence in a space that doesn’t necessarily feed you with that 24/7. The Lakeside Gallery also has an exhibition up which is available until 6th November, called Blk this & Blk that.. a state of urgency by Michael Forbes. It says a lot about the state of blackness in this country.”
Asked about the extent to which the University celebrates diversity, Ife revealed: “the University is operating from a space of profit and assessment. They claim to be trying their hardest EDI-wise, but I just don’t see that oomph to make students and staff feel seen, represented and heard on campus. We are not a homogeneous student community, and I think there’s so much that can be done in terms of seeing these differences.”
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