Maribel Schonewolff is a PhD student in Biochemistry at Wolfson College, where she is also the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic rep. Originally from Germany, Maribel has been studying at Oxford since 2019.
Maribel tells us why events for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students are so important and what she hopes can come out of the University’s Race Equality Taskforce
As an international student and person of colour I thought the BAME Leadership event run by Oxford SU offered a new angle that I’d never thought about before. It made me realise there should be more dedicated events like this. It looked like it would offer me the skills and tools to advance in my career but also an opportunity to meet people.
I thought the event was great, it was inspiring and I felt very energised and optimistic afterwards. I felt good about the future of my career. Online events are great because they allow more people to attend who could have not been there otherwise. The speakers were really inspiring. They all had interesting and impressive personalities and stories, their advice and real life experience was really valuable.
Why these events are important
Compared to other personal development events I’ve attended this one was more tailored to the experiences you specifically encounter as a student of colour. It felt like a safe space. I had the chance to speak about things that in a different environment I would feel less comfortable sharing. There are certain parts of our social history that are specific and delicate and it’s easier to talk about those things if the people you’re talking to also understand those experiences. It’s great to hear someone you admire say “Sometimes I couldn’t get involved in activism as much as I wanted because I needed to focus on my degree”.
Apart from strategic and motivational tips it was helpful in terms of advice like dealing with the frustration of fighting for equality and creating an event but then the turn out isn’t as good as you would have hoped. The speakers shared their experiences like this and were able to speak to us on the same level.
What the Race Equality Task Force can do
I’d really like to see more events like this and hope this is something that could come out of the University’s new Race Equality Taskforce. It’s already the first step towards changing the narrative. At the event one of the speakers, Shakira Martin (who was the first Black woman president of the NUS) said that, although the University is an old, heavy, big institution with lots of issues, its recent hiring strategies made her realise that it is ready to shake things up. It’s exciting to be that shaker and mover. Creating a task force is one of the first steps to putting it out there.
Most importantly, I’d like to see more events tailored towards the needs of those from ethnic minority backgrounds and marginalised groups, groups with specific needs.
More work needs to be done with regards to the speakers and professors that the University employs and I hope the task force can do that work on a higher level. Decentralising has its benefits and all colleges and departments do things differently but the entire University needs to send the same message on this so it’s working across the inside and outside.
Why training bystanders is important
Another thing I’d like to see is support to train and develop Black Asian and Minority Ethnic allies. So people who do not identify as Black Asian and Minority Ethnic but would like to support us. I’m the BAME rep at my college’s diversity team and recently we had a new rep join us who doesn’t identify with a marginalised group but is interested in the work and goals of people who do. There are allies who would like to educate themselves and supporting and thinking about training bystanders would be great. I’d also like to see all Oxford students and staff do unconscious bias training to tackle issues that are under the surface but are ingrained in our society.
It’s time for more action and I’m excited to see what the task force comes up with.