The University of St Andrews is criticised for its lack of diversity within the student body. This lack of diversity is exemplified in that fact that only 10.9% of UK students fell into the BAME category in 2018-2019 while 23.6% of HE students are BAME. The result–many BAME students, me included, have experienced a hostile and exclusive environment. For this reason, I was thrilled to learn about the new Student Association Subcommittee: The St Andrews BAME Students’ Network. Given the current political climate, in order to create a more diverse St Andrews–for current and as well as prospective BAME students–it is imperative that the University establish a supportive presence. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Co-Presidents of the new Subcommittee, and I was able to get a good picture of what they hope to achieve. I will outline their goals below and explain why I believe this network is particularly important for St Andrews.
Last academic year, The BAME Students’ Network was created as part of an informal group chat; it was originally a support network for Black students at St Andrews. There was an urgent need for a community where minorities could have their particular issues addressed by the Student’s Association, so Ananya Jain–the Association BAME officer–alongside other BAME students decided to establish a student network as a subcommittee of the Student Association. One apparent goal of the Co-Presidents is to encourage more BAME students to apply to St Andrews and create a more diverse student body. They hope to improve the University’s access and outreach by actively going to BAME communities, engaging with prospective students, and creating a comfortable and safe BAME community within St Andrews to encourage applications. As well as focusing on prospective students, the network aims to create a safe and inclusive community for our current BAME students by electing officers for wellbeing, education and events. These officers will work to provide support and guidance to BAME students and to create change in course material to reflect more inclusive and diverse curriculums. Additionally, the BAME Network will encourage other society and committee events to become more inclusive in the hope that BAME students will more easily become involved in university culture. Not only is the focus on current and prospective students, but the Subcommittee also hopes to reach out to students that have graduated. They hope to keep in touch with BAME graduates and expand the network so that BAME students will be able to reach out to a community, even beyond their studies.
So why was it important to create the BAME Students’ Network in St Andrews? Well, as mentioned before, St Andrews has an extremely low BAME population, especially in comparison to the proportion of BAME students in the UK. In order to encourage students to apply it is important for them to have representatives of the BAME community working with the University to ensure that they attempt to improve their access and outreach for BAME students. Currently, the stereotypical St Andrews student is from a ‘white’ and ‘privileged’ background and it is important that we break this stereotype and exhibit that there is more than one type of student at St Andrews. Additionally, for our current BAME students, it is important that they feel supported by the University, are represented in the student association, and are assured that their problems will be effectively dealt with.
In my opinion, the BAME Students’ Network is something that is particularly needed in St Andrews. From my own experience, I’ve encountered many students who have lived in areas or studied at schools which possess racial uniformity. As a result, many do not know how to act or behave when introduced to someone from a different culture, leading to a somewhat ignorant and hostile environment. The new student network has the indispensable opportunity to not only support students who feel excluded, but also to educate the whole student population through their presence at the University and through their events. Consequently, I believe that the BAME Network has the potential to be a great influence on the St Andrews community, by encouraging inclusion and education as well as a sense of community for minorities.
The aims and goals for the BAME Students’ Network are strong, and they will help the University to progress in the aspect that is arguably one of their weakest. A more diverse student body is necessary, and I have high hopes for this Subcommittee to make a difference. If you would like to get involved with the Network, please contact Co-Presidents Ananya Jain or Aida Ndiaye. Otherwise, keep a lookout for the Network and their work in St Andrews.