NUS Black Students Conference: Winter 2013


Twice a year, African, Caribbean, Asian and Latin American students from universities and colleges across Britain meet at the Black Students’ Conference of the National Union of Students. Black Union Officers elected by the students at their university or college come together to meet, learn and organise around issues that affect Black students and wider issues of social and global justice.

Gathered at London’s Institute of Education, delegates were greeted with a keynote speech from Diane Abbott MP. Leading a panel on Black Representation, Abbott spoke about her experiences as one of Britain’s first Black MPs. Her highlighting of the elitism of British parliamentary politics, the shame of the wars and the privatisation she has continually challenged and the importance of standing up to institutional discrimination were met with both applause and searching questions. Joining her on the panel was, among others, Simon Woolley of OBV, sought to bridge the gap between the keen, young, politicised students and the corridors of power in which they remain grossly underrepresented. This inequality, Woolley reminded the students, still remained despite some gains, and they should “turn their anger and frustration into political action ” if they wanted real change to happen.

Rosemary Campbell-Stephens talked about her work in education, reminding students that even if they managed to break through the glass ceiling, they still had the responsibility of lifting others from their communities up with them. Highlighting the importance of Black leadership within education, she was also critical of the government including only Mary Seacole in the curriculum, as many feel that, as a humble servant of the British Army, she is possibly not the most inspiring historical figure in Black Britain’s rich and varied history.

Both community and police organisations presented to the conference on issues of racism and anti-racism. Rob Berkeley of the Runneymede Trust talked about the important research and campaign work his organisation is involved in, with a stall outside challenging students to make a pledge for political action towards ending racism.

Southall Black Sisters came to speak about the racist immigration raids carried out by UKBA, and how the community just outside West London is resisting them. International Peace and Justice panellists discussed Palestinian and Venezuelan solidarity, as well as the reparations movement in the Caribbean islands and other former European colonies. The Free Talha Campaign brought the truths of modern imperialism back to British soil, encouraging students to question the cases of on-campus surveillance as well as imprisonment and extradition of British Muslims taking place in the ‘global war on terror’.

Providing a brief musical interlude, UK hip-hop artist Akala received a standing ovation. His lyrics covered many pertinent issues: the prison industrial complex; the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade; economic deprivation; the Windrush generation; intracommunal violence within Black communities; the war on drugs; pre-colonial African history; the hip-hop industry. He also addressed the importance of Black educational empowerment and political organising, asking the delegates: “Marcus Garvey organised more than six million people / With no Facebook or Twitter / Why is this something you cannot equal?”.

A panel in which BARAC and TUC were represented debated the cuts faced by universities and Black communities. The students from across Britain then divided into groups to plan for resisting the likely sell-off of student debt. While Bradford youth services are being cut by over 70%, financial institutions responsible for the recession are profiting from the sale of £890m worth of debt for just £160m; given that this could lead to interest increases, mobilisation, targeting of the financial companies responsible and pressuring local and central government was proposed by the delegates.

Organising workshops took place on the second day, which gave Black students an opportunity to discuss various issues such as Black Feminism, International Solidarity, Policing, University Elections, Fighting Fascism and the Media. The Northern Police Monitoring Project and the Islamic Human Rights Commission both addressed issues relating to police racism, violence and corruption, with the latter running a workshop on Stop and Search.

The workshop on Black Feminism discussed the particularly aggressive way in which bouncers at student clubs treat Black women. Issues relating to domestic violence and the importance of female voices within the anti-racist movement were also highlighted. Media Diversity UK facilitated discussion on underrepresentation within the British media, and how young Black budding journalists can enter the industry, or create their own outlets.

A jam-packed weekend of education, communication and plans for action, the NUS Black Students’ Conference provides a vital platform for Black students from across the country to resist racism. Facing a wide range of issues, Britain’s diverse Black communities are united in their common struggle for equality. From free education for all to liberation in the Global South, this opportunity to network and offer mutual support was once again well utilised by the emerging generation of Black student activists.

By Adam Elliott-Cooper