By Amelia Mya Alleyne
In recent times, the socio-political climate has triggered me to investigate the institutions and systems around me that position people of colour at a gross disadvantage. In addition to justice systems and police departments across the globe being exposed for their unjust treatment of BAME people – but more specifically black people – thousands have taken to social media to express their experiences of institutional racism within education.
I hosted a documentary episode not long ago discussing the many ways in which various industries and institutions are predominantly white spaces, and was privileged enough to interview a reader in Toxicology and Clinical Biochemistry, Dr. Winston Morgan. He confirmed several niggling feelings many black and minority ethnic students feel in relation to what they’re being awarded grade-wise in comparison to their white counterparts.
To cut a very long (however, interesting) conversation short, Dr. Morgan concluded that, in what constitutes a successful journey in higher education, there are many stages one must go through – these being; progress, admission of assignments, and completion. All these factors are then taken into consideration when the final mark is being awarded. And surprise, surprise, the outcome for BAME students can often be underwhelming.
And those feelings you feel – and I’ve definitely felt – as a black student are not you “playing the race card” because you feel like you’ve been capped. This is not you exaggerating the fact that you and your white friend wrote the same answer for an essay and they were awarded higher than you. This is real, and it’s known as the ‘BAME Attainment Gap’.
In short, it’s a series of statistics collected over years of research which confirms the once-theory, now-fact that BAME students on average are more likely to be awarded a degree that’s of a lower class compared to their white counterparts – a worrying statistic for black and minority ethnic students in the UK as they make up 22% of all enrolled students at universities across the country.
I think the question we all want to know is why is this the case? The answer may seem black and white, but it’s a little bit more layered than just “the education system is racist”, and so Winston and I debunked our reasons as to why we think the statistic stands as it does.
Our first theory (introduced by Winston) was that universities and schools alike desperately lack BAME members of staff, which can heavily affect the academic attendance and achievement of BAME students. Even top institutions like the Russell Group universities have been known to struggle with retaining students from non-white backgrounds, probably due to a lack of representation in those educating them, as opposed to challenges they may face academically.
The idea that a lack of representation in lecturers and teachers who share the same ethnicity as us doesn’t just stop there; it also appears in our courses too. In the interview, I explained that for me (personally), I found that on my course at university I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of white people studying my subject, and I’d often find myself being the only black person (or person of colour for that matter) in any given module that I took.
I have now, nearing the end of my time at university, adjusted to this, though initially it was a very isolating, lonely experience. And for many BAME students across the UK, this has not only led to thousands dropping out or changing course, but due to a decline in mental health. For many, this has also greatly affected the academic outcome of many students from a minority ethnic background.
I’d love to finish on a happy note and say that these statistics are no longer reliable, strong or even existent – but that, unfortunately, is not the case. But as I always say, conversation is the catalyst for change. And so, these discussions will eventually help destabilize and decolonise a rigid institution built on white supremacy, with the hopes of allowing our people to be awarded what they deserve and worked so hard for – just like their white counterparts.
Amelia Nya Alleyne is a final year English Literature student at the University of Surrey.