As Black History Month 2022 draws to an end, we wanted to highlight some of the most unique, impactful and considered ways universities are commemorating Black History.
Black History Month was first observed in the UK in 1987, becoming an annual event each October. Fast forward to 2022 and we are more aware of the importance of Black History than ever before.
As a result, we expect more of the brands and educational institutions who commemorate it. “Happy Black History Month” written across a Pan African flag, situated in an otherwise unrelated Instagram feed will no longer cut it.
Today’s students demand tangible action from their university, actions that last longer than the month itself. In fact, one of the main takeaways from BHM is that it is in an ongoing conversation, not one reserved solely for October.
Here are some of the best ways universities in the UK are doing the work and continuing that conversation…
University of Bristol - The World Reimagined
As well as internal action, one of the best ways a university can contribute to the conversation is by curating resources and events related to the cause.
While not put on by the university itself, the World Reimagined project is doing vital work to create a future for racial justice through the medium of experiential learning and interactive sculptures.
Set out across the city, these sculptures highlight untold, important and educational aspects of Black History. These sculptures have a particular significance in the city of Bristol.
In 2020 Bristol found itself at the centre of the UK BLM movement after a statue of slave trader was torn down and thrown in the river.
Young people in Bristol have proved they want to reclaim and rewrite the city's heritage and installations like The World Reimagined are a step towards this.
University of Plymouth - Creating conditions for confident conversations
A difficult but necessary aspect of Black History Month is the acknowledgement of both overt and ingrained racism in our society, and crucially, how we overcome this.
As part of Black History Month (and beyond) the University of Plymouth has partnered with AdvanceHE, a member-led, sector-owned charity that is helping to tackle racism on university campuses.
Of course, no university is going to condone racism, but acknowledging that students of colour can and do experience racism while at university is a big step towards change. Working with the right kind of charities and organisations also shows an institution has done its due diligence in finding the right partner.
NTU x NTSU - Black Leadership Program
As well as looking to the past throughout Black History Month it is also important that we look to the future. Specifically, a future with equal opportunity and diversity as the norm.
For BHM 2022, Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham Trent Student Union have come together for their Black Leadership Programme, an initiative designed to empower students of colour to become resilient and inspiring leaders.
The programme, which is taking applications until mid-November, focuses heavily on self-worth, empowerment and belonging, all facilitated through community-building and community engagement exercises.
Oxford University - My Complexion
As much as Black History Month is a time to reflect, it's also a time to celebrate Black culture, heritage and identity. A great way to do this is to give a platform to Black creatives like Oxford University did recently.
For one of their Black History Month events, Oxford put on an exhibition highlighting the work of local artist, Annan Affotey.
My Complexion, features striking and beautiful depictions of Black identity, made all the more impactful by expert use of negative space and complimentary colours.
The exhibition was inspired by Affotey’s youth growing up in the presence of strong women and the cultural diversity he experienced living in Ghana, Europe and the United States.
Due to popular demand, My Complexion will continue to run until the 4th of December and is definitely worth the trip.
University of Essex - Decolonising the Library
One of the main reasons we have Black History Month is to highlight the fact that much of history has been whitewashed from a European colonial point of view.
This can be problematic for a number of reasons, but particularly damaging in an academic setting. Which is why the University of Essex launched an initiative to decolonise reading lists, curricula and the library in general.
For October, Essex students and staff put together a Black History Month book collection to highlight how diverse history can be. Best of all, these efforts are ongoing and not confined to BHM, which is arguably the best kind of action an institution can take.
The key takeaway from all of this is that actions speak louder than words. Black History Month is a starting point of a conversation that needs to be had year-round, and while a lot of universities are working in the right direction, there will always be those who need to do more.
Could your university do more to support students of Black heritage? If so, what? Join the Student Hut Opinion Panel and let us know.