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Living Black At University – One Year On

by Osaro Otobo | Feb 3, 2023 | People & Culture

Today marks one year since Living Black at University was published. This research, which Halpin conducted for Unite Students, was a landmark report looking at the lived experiences of Black students in accommodation.

Much of the conversation about racism in higher education focuses on academic achievement, the Black awarding gap, decolonising the curriculum and the Race Equality Charter. We go to university to get a degree, but our experience there is so much more than that. The wider student experience also impacts achievement: whether we drop out, whether we struggle or whether we excel.

When we look at where students spend a large proportion of both their time and money, accommodation is often high on the list. Conversations about university accommodation usually focus largely on affordability. At the time the report was commissioned, there was limited research on the experiences of students, and no reports of this kind looking solely at the experiences of Black students.

This was both a challenging and rewarding piece of research to conduct.

The project was conducted at a time when many people were trying to engage with Black students due to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Black students were experiencing consultation fatigue and many would have given their thoughts on racism before without knowing or seeing how their feedback had helped shape change.

Writing the report in the best way possible to ensure Black voices were uplifted and heard throughout was a top priority for us. As a research team we had to be firm and have strong conviction in not watering down any of our findings or recommendations on behalf of the sector.

The risk with all research is in it getting forgotten.

One thing that has filled me with hope is seeing the different ways both Unite Students and Halpin are making sure this work continues to have an impact:

  • At Halpin, we are working with individual higher education institutions to carry out their own specific ‘Living Black at University’ research and consultation.
  • A national commission has been set up by Unite Students to implement our recommendations on a national scale.
  • The ‘Creating Meaningful Change: A Living Black at University conference’ has been organised by Unite Students.
  • A Higher Education Policy Institute blog series has been created to keep the discussion around the report going.
  • A podcast episode has been published by Unite Students as another way for people inside and outside the sector to engage with the research.
  • And lastly, some members of the Halpin research team are working on a publishing a Living Black at University book and organising a symposium.

Personally, it was and still is an honour to have played a part in the project. I hope and believe we did the research participants justice and look forward to seeing this report continue to live on.

The Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University was created to respond to the findings and action the recommendations in the report. One year on from its publication and as a response to those actions, the Commission is holding a conference ‘Creating meaningful change’, on 7 March 2023, at Newcastle University, in partnership with CUBO.