UCL Minds


Episode 1: transcript

Welcome to the debut episode of Black Lives at UCL. Host, Tunde Banjoko OBE is joined by three UCL academics. 

  • Dr Lele Rangaka, a Clinical Associate Professor at the Institute for Global Health, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town and a member of UCL TB, a global tuberculosis research network. 
  • Dr Lola Solebo, an NIHR clinical academic and winner of the prestigious National Institute of Health Research Clinician Scientist award. She works at UCL ICH and Great Ormond Street Hospital.  
  • Dr Mike Sulu, a Lecturer in the Department of Biochemical Engineering and Co-chair of the Race Equality Steering Group.  

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Transcript: Academics

Tunde Banjoko  00:05 

Hello, welcome to Black Lives at UCL, a new podcast that amplifies the voices of UCL's Black staff and students. In each episode, we'll be hearing from three people from the UCL community about their experiences of race, racialisation and systemic racism, and asking what we need to change in order to be better. My name is Tunde Banjoko, OBE. I'm a social justice advocate, UCL alumnus and the founder of multiple initiatives that are trying to help make the world a fairer place, initiatives like the charity Making the Leap, the UK Social Mobility Awards, and our latest venture Black Charity Leaders. I'm here to start a conversation with Black staff and students here at UCL. I want to know more about their life as part of the UCL community, both the good bits and the not so good bits. More than that, I'm going to be asking my guests to draw on their experiences, and talk about what we need to do to change. This is Black Lives at UCL. So let me introduce my guests. Today, I'm going to be speaking with three academics and they are  Dr Lele Rangaka, a Clinical Associate Professor at the Institute for Global Health, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town and a member of UCL TB, a global tuberculosis research network;  Dr Lola Solebo, an NIHR clinical academic, and winner of the prestigious National Institute of Health Research Clinician Scientist award, working at UCL ICH and Great Ormond Street Hospital; and Dr Mike Sulu a lecturer in the Department of Biochemical Engineering and Co-Chair of the Race Equality Steering Group. We're going to get to know each of them a little more before moving on to a discussion about their experiences here at UCL. So I'm going to start off with you Lele. Can you tell us a bit about what you do here at UCL? How long have you been part of the UCL community and what is your research focus? 

Lele Rangaka  02:19 

So I joined UCL in 2014 and I was moving from South Africa, University of Cape Town, where I had lived pretty much all my life and I joined the Institute for Global Health under Ibrahim Abubakar. And my research is all about tuberculosis, tuberculosis and vulnerable populations, which invariably means, you know, new entries to the UK. And in Africa, that means people at risk of TB, which is pretty much everybody, but specifically HIV positive people, and here at UCL I mainly do research, I do some lecturing, but that is not a big part of my portfolio. I am associated with the Institute for Global Health, but as well, the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at UCL. So I split my time between these two. 

Tunde Banjoko  03:14 

It seems a lot of your research is global, what's it like working on research with people from outside of the UK? 

Lele Rangaka  03:19 

So to just kind of declare what my lens is, my lens or the way I look at the world is pretty much as a South African, as a Black, you know, African. So when you talk about me doing research outside of the UK, that's mainly what I know, you know. I studied in the University of Capetown, and did my first big trial and TB prevention while I was in Cape Town. So that is the global part of me. I'm basically trying to bring in some of that work culture into what I do at the Institute for Global Health. And also, I guess I would be one of those people who are stressing for fairer, sort of, dealings when we're talking about global health research, because I was one of those people sitting on the ground where what we used to call helicopter researchers will come through from the UK to come and help us with research. I've been on the other side, and kind of hoping that by my role at the Institute for Global Health, I'm able to shed a bit of light being on the other side. 

Tunde Banjoko  04:20 

Now that is really interesting and important lens. How would you say that being a Black, South African is affected how you think about race, 

Lele Rangaka  04:29 

That's all we think about as Black South Africans, it's really difficult to distance the race conversation from anything that I do as a Black South African, I actually think coming to the UK did give me a bit of reprieve somewhat, because literally when I go back to South Africa for work or to go visit my family, it feels like I pick up a backpack of all sorts of racial issues and I carry that with me. And when I come back to the UK, I get lighter a little bit. But of course, the longer that I've lived in the in the UK, I think, I get more settled and I guess the everyday issues that affect everyone starts affecting me or at least I've become more aware of them. So there is a slight difference, I guess, you know, because you are dealing with years of Apartheid and post-Apartheid dealing with years of trying to redress some issues, but not necessarily getting there. And in the UK gives a slightly different perspective on the race issue. 

Tunde Banjoko  05:37 

Oh, that's really interesting. And I look forward to hearing how that affects your perspective on some of the other things we're going to talk about later. Thank you very much. Okay, now we're going to go over to you Lola, your research and clinical work focuses on eyes. Can you tell us about the work you do? And what first drew you to it? 

Lola Solebo  05:57 

So the work I do is looking at what determines outcomes for children and young people who are at risk of vision impairment, because they've got it disorders. So, what decides a good outcome? What decides a bad outcome? And how can we use those findings to influence clinical practice and health policy in the UK and also more broadly, elsewhere?  I was first at UCL halfway through medical school when I did an intercalated degree in Neuroscience at UCL. And that's because I really wanted to be a neurologist. I just thought it was amazing how the brain worked in visual perception, and I really wanted to be part of that world. But when I was a Junior Doctor, I very early on realised that neurology was... it just seemed a little bit of an uptight clinical world... I'm sorry that sounds terrible, I'm sure it's much better now... an uptight clinic world and also, there weren't so many solutions. There weren't that many successful treatments. So I was looking around what else I could do. And I remembered eyes during my medical school, but I felt really unconfident because I hadn't really, they've not been very welcoming at my medical school when it came to ophthalmology teaching. And at one day, three o'clock in the morning in A&E, I was examining a patient's eyes and his wife turned around to me and said, "I'm an optician, shall I show you how to use that machine". And it was the shame of that 3AM-being-told-offness that made me go into eye clinics and realise that I really wanted to make a difference. You know, one of the ways you get legitimacy in this world is by the difference that you make, and the world of eyes drew me in because there were concrete practical ways that you can really make someone's life better. So that's what drew me into eyes and the paediatric thing - my father is a paediatrician. He came to the UK in 1980 and he was a mini cab driver for a couple years, trying to fund his way through his conversion exams and he was a paediatrician. I saw how hard he worked and it took him years and years to get a consultant post for a variety of reasons, none of which will be a surprise to anyone here. And I saw how hard he worked and I just thought I'll never do paediatrics, I'll never work that hard again. But I'm the firstborn of four children and they're all much younger than me. My mum is an educationalist, she teaches primary school children. So I used to help her out in summertime with a nursery that she ran. So I mean, the moment I got into paediatric practice, it was just really natural for me. Boo. So um, so that's why I fell into eyes. And that's how I fell despite my best intentions into children's eyes in particular, 

Tunde Banjoko  08:31 

That's a great start. Now, as a clinician and an academic, and the policymaker, you're juggling a lot of different work and responsibilities, how do you fit everything into your schedule and find that balance? And particularly given that you talked about not wanting to work as hard as you did? 

Lola Solebo  08:49 

I don't think I do it that... well? You know what it is, it's constantly looking out for what someone else might criticise in you, which is a way that I know lots of us live, it's not the most positive way. And maybe it inhibits people taking proper risks and really achieving things. But I'm always on the lookout for how people could criticise me. And so that's why the first thing I said was, I'm not sure I do it very well. But actually, I do it really well. I should say that I think I do reasonably quite exceptionally well. But the juggling is I think that I've learned how to fail. That's the secret to it. And again, learning how to fail for someone who's always been told "you've got to be twice as good to get half as far" learning how to fail was a... it was a hard lesson. It was a properly hard lesson, but I think it's been the best one for my mental health. So, like, sometimes some things aren't going to get done and you can't let perfect be the enemy of good. I'm not saying, you know, you accept low standards, but you just have to be a pragmatist above all else and just look to see what you can do without burning yourself out. Not that I don't burn - I'm sure like other people burn - myself out occasionally, but that's what I aim for. So I don't think I do manage as well as I'd like to in my head but I think I manage okay by letting myself not manage, there we go. 

Tunde Banjoko  10:00 

Okay. Now sort of link to that, in your interview that you did with the Academy of Medical Sciences, you said that you keep the words "striving for excellent motivates you, striving for perfection is demoralising" you keep those words close to you. Now, I want to talk a bit about why that is. What do you think the added pressure is on you being a Black woman of Nigerian parentage working in the British medical system, what pressure is there on you to be perfect? 

Lola Solebo  10:31 

It's a hard question isn't it? Because I don't know how much of it is me having internalised things and how much of it is coming from external sources. But I've, I've always felt like I had to overachieve. I don't know how true that is. But I've always felt like I've had to overachieve. And I've always taken anything less than a fantastic achievement as being a reason to catastrophise. Well I had to, actually, up until I had kids, actually, so. And I think that some of that is coming from my parents, because like I said, My father had an incredibly hard time getting his first medical position and it happened so much later than all of his peers, despite the fact that he was a really strong commissioner, I've had other doctors who trained them telling me so. And my mother set up her own business, and she did a degree at the Institute of Education, and she funded her degree, being a maid at trust us for 10 years, and she would sometimes sneak me in and I'd be sitting on the bed and opening up packets of butter whilst watching her work really hard. So I've always felt like I have to achieve. My parents have made such sacrifices to get us to a great position, send us to really good schools... we have to achieve. And also there's the fact that sometimes you're the only brown face in the room, and you are the story that they're judging everyone else by and like I say, I don't know how much of that is internalised? And how much of that is actually the case. But that is how I feel I know that other people, other Black females feel that way as well. And other Black males, of course. So yeah, I mean, I do feel a lot of pressure to be amazing. It's only through having daughters of my own, I plan for... would I put up with them treating themselves as I did? I really wouldn't. That's not the advice I'd give a friend, you know that you always have to strive for excellence and beat yourself up when you don't get it. Having said that. Striving has been a really good way to have a fantastic CV. So yeah, it's complex. Sorry, rambling answers. But it's all complex issues which we're continuously trying to resolve as we walk our path in this world. 

Tunde Banjoko  12:34 

I would totally agree with you. It's common for us, as Black people trying to reconcile the pressure of everything we do possibly representing the whole race, as opposed to just us as individuals. So I think that puts a lot of pressure on us. But thank you for that and I look forward to speaking again later. So last, but not least, let's hear from Dr Mike Zulu, Mike what kind of work do you do in the Department of Biochemical Engineering, 

Mike Sulu  13:05 

Hi Tunde, so I'm a teaching focused lecturer. And that means that I don't do very much in the way of research. So it's all actually just teaching basic engineering principles. Alongside that though, I'm also doing a part time MSc in Engineering and Education, and have the good fortune that I'm trying to diversify what our students learn about. Typically, within Biochemical Engineering, the work is all focused around the production of healthcare related products, so vaccines or other therapeutic proteins, and a lot of our students would like to learn about other products and other processes that they could go into when I leave the discipline or leave the degree. So I'm working on creating a part of a degree in Food Process Engineering, starting off with some of the more fun aspects of brewing and distilling and then moving on into the more kind of niche but like timely work around the production of alternative proteins through engineering. 

Tunde Banjoko  14:07 

That's fantastic. And also alongside your teaching and developing a different curriculum, you also do a lot of advocacy. Can you tell us a bit about the organisation's you work with and what they've achieved? 

Mike Sulu  14:20 

Yeah, so I often don't actually... because it when you say it sounds, it sounds like a lot. But I guess the advocacy work, especially when it relates to equality or racial equality or racial equity is, I find, super important. So it takes up quite a lot of my time. So within UCL, I'm obviously the Co-chair of the Race Equality Steering Group. And then alongside that, I do other work with some of the other equality groups. And also I am a Dignity Advisor, which means that I try to support students and staff in some ways who have experienced some form of bullying or harassment. I do some of the fair recruitment work as well, which means looking at the ways in which we recruit new staff into positions, and trying to make sure that they are also fair. Then external to UCL, I do work as the STEM lead for Leading Routes, which is a charity that focuses on increasing the pipeline of Black students into academia, and in through the, or along, the academic pipeline through to professorship. And then also, there's the Tigers group, which stands for Inclusion Group for Equity and Research in STEMM. And we kind of focus on just that research aspects of trying to make sure that when either you were a doctoral student, or you're a member of academic staff, is equitable access to research grants, and grants and funding. And then alongside that, also, I do work with a large variety of charity that really focused on widening participation, access, and outreach.  

Tunde Banjoko  15:56 

Wow, and if that was not enough, you're also a performer who's been known to do a bit of stand-up comedy. So how is talking about UCL and your experiences different when you're on stage, when compared to, for example, working with Tigers or the steering group? 

Mike Sulu  16:13 

So the performance aspects in like, trying to use comedy to tell stories or explain science is actually quite interesting, because, I think, when you look at the community that it creates, it is almost entirely made up of people who are in some way under represented whether within academia - not just science, it is across all disciplines. So it really is a beautiful community of people who I guess have come together to try and use humour to often tell stories that would otherwise not be funny. And I think one of the important parts of it is exactly what you've just said, and it is trying to represent sometimes negative things in a positive way. Humour does that really well. It also, I think, really makes some of the signs when I'm not talking about accessibility of equity, way more accessible to people who are not scientists. 

Tunde Banjoko  17:11 

That's so interesting, isn't it? I really don't know how you find the time to do all that. But thank you, Mike. Okay, so now we all know each other a little bit better. Let's get down to why we're all here. I brought you here together to talk about Black lives at UCL. So let's start with this, and this is a question that I'd like all of you to answer, based on your experience, how would you describe UCL's relationship with race and, specifically, blackness? And let's go back to starting off with you, Lele. 

Lele Rangaka  17:47 

Right. So it's actually quite interesting, because I'm listening to Mike and Lola speak and I'm just thinking, I've only been here since 2014 and also feeling a little guilty that I'm not so sure that I can honestly, you know, do the topic justice. Because I wonder whether, for a very long time, I was probably trying not to engage too much in anything to do with blackness, race or race inequalities because of where I come from in South Africa. And I probably distanced myself somewhat. But it gets to a point where I guess you cannot really ignore how certain things make you feel. And certainly, as a Black woman, trying to carve a really successful career in infectious disease research in Global Health, the way I look, the way I sound starts, you know, impacting and starts being perhaps a slight issue, and a hindrance for me progressing up the ladder. So I had to kind of wake up, because I think that it is very convenient for me to probably not engage that well. Well, that said, Tunde, can you ask that question again? Because I was in my head about trying to apologise or perhaps not. 

Tunde Banjoko  19:08 

Based on your experience, how would you describe UCL's relationship with race, and specifically, blackness? 

Lele Rangaka  19:14 

So I think with that sort of approach, where I was trying to protect myself by not throwing myself too deeply into Black issues or issues around race at UCL, I probably ignored a whole lot of things that shouldn't have been ignored. For instance, why am I the only Black female that I know in specifically in my field in the last seven years? Maybe I've met more, but each time I'm always amazed that I hadn't met them before. And I hadn't been aware that there's so many other powerful voices, even mentors, so I'll just say that it's in the lack of other people who look like me, who sound like me who I can, perhaps emulate and perhaps approach and ask to become my mentors that perhaps I feel UCL has neglected that sort of Black voice. And I think it's in that absence of what should have been something very positive that I think maybe UCL has failed us. 

Tunde Banjoko  20:17 

Okay. Thank you know, the same question to you, Lola. 

Lola Solebo  20:21 

I think, well, no, I know that UCL has a bit of a blind spot, when it comes to these issues the same way that other well-meaning different sections of UK society have blind spots when it comes to this. Because I remember last summer, when all the Black Lives Matter events were happening. And I was describing to some people about what it felt like to be Black in the UK, and their faces are shocked. I remember thinking, this is what life is, how can you be so surprised? I don't think it was an unwillingness to engage. But it was certainly a blind spot. And you know what, I hadn't brought those stories to work before really, I hadn't spoken about them. You know, some of the blame for that is on me, because you're trying to make work a positive place and we're talking about the things you've been through. So yeah, there is a blind spot around blackness in this academic space.  

Tunde Banjoko  21:19 

Mike, what would you say? 

Mike Sulu  21:20 

I think is a really good question. And I think I probably have a slightly different perspective. But I think also, it's really important to say that I agree with Lola, that there is a blind spot, I also would like to respond to Lela and say that, I don't think there's an apology needed for not trying to do, I guess, active anti-racism work with an institution, because I think we all do what we can do when we can do it. And at times, especially the beginning of your career and in a new country, that isn't going to be the time in which you're going to be able to dedicate loads and loads of like emotional labour or any other form of resource to equality work. So I think it's super common. And that, I guess, I've been at UCL for seven years, and I started my equality work quite early, because I didn't really care about my career at the time. And now that I do care a little bit more, I'm just like insanely busy. I would think, in answering the question, though, about how UCL deals with blackness? Is that there's probably a distinction that needs to be drawn between the institution and people within the institution? So I know, as Lola said, there are a lot of people who are entirely completely blind. The institution itself, of course, is made up of people who are in that same position. But as an institution, I think it's got to get to the point where most people have become aware of the blind spot. And that is, at least I guess... acknowledging the issue is the first step to to making change. The Race Equality Steering Group that was previously led by Ijeoma Ugchebu and Marcia Jacks did a lot of work over the last few years before I became one of the co-chairs, that essentially has made a lot of difference, but hasn't been vocalised. So I think that's one of the things that we need to do better, which is just tell people what we're doing and how we've made positive change. And hopefully, that will happen in the future. I do think it's amazing when you talk to other institutions, or people within other institutions, because I thought we were the norm. But I think we are doing a lot better than other places just by virtue of the fact that we've, a few years ago, acknowledged the issue, and then started to make changes. And the changes... because we were in such a bad position before, it still leaves us behind where we need to be, but we are moving positively forward. 

Tunde Banjoko  23:52 

And just a little follow on from that, from any of you that might want to respond, what awareness is there of... I suppose statements from the University at the highest level, on the issue of addressing anti blackness. 

Lola Solebo  24:10 

So speaking at institutional level, for me, I'm based at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, and certainly at the higher management level, there's a clear commitment to anti-racism and that was a fantastic signal to hear at the end of last year. 

Tunde Banjoko  24:29 

And was that anti-racism generally or was blackness mentioned specifically as well? 

Lola Solebo  24:35 

So blackness wasn't mentioned specifically but around... obviously with October and Black History Month, the Institute, led by a fantastic person called Terry Fiawoo, started up a daily newsletter about blackness that was circulated throughout the whole Institute, and it really pushed the message about you know, the heterogeneity of the Black community. There wasn't just one mass uniform "Black person". The things that unite us, the things that divide us, the things that make each of us shine that we should be proud of... so that message is coming through every day during the month of October through ICH. So that was wonderful. 

Tunde Banjoko  25:11 

With less than 1% of academics in the UK being Black, what's it like finding yourself as being very much in the minority in your field and in your department at UCL? 

Lola Solebo  25:29 

I like surprising people. I remember early on in my academic career, I had an office with a window in my corridor at ICH and people would somehow always choose me and think that I was admin for the floor, that I was a research support for the floor. And I always remember just delighting in making them feel uncomfortable as to why they'd come to me and knock on my door and come and sometimes touch me when I'm on the computer to ask me a question when they've gone past other people working. That was interesting. And that still happens now where I know that some people are made uncomfortable when I reveal to them what my role is. And I've chosen to see it that way. Because if I didn't see that way, I think it'd be just really depressing and I'd start crying. So, so um, it's, I think that many of us in academia, as I said before, I've gotten really used to being the only Black face in our space. And it shouldn't be that way. And I guess one thing that I've been thinking about is the fact that, just as Lele said earlier, and as Mike is speaking about as well, you don't always bring that anti-racism, advocacy work into your workspace, you don't always bring it sometimes just focus on getting your work done. But looking back the successes that I've had are, yep, due to my hard work, but also due to some fantastic support I've had from other people. And I mean, I know that I now kind of over deliver, I have to say it, but I would sleep better at night, if I provided support to other people who were coming in to this space, and as the only or one of the very few brown faces and felt in need of a bit of extra support.  

Tunde Banjoko  27:18 

Okay, that's brilliant. Mike, what's it like for you being the only Black face in the space? (And thank you, Lola, I'm going to use that from now on "Black face in the space".)  

Mike Sulu  27:26 

Yeah, I think I'm going to echo what Lola said, but maybe take it a step further and say that I like to make people feel actively uncomfortable. I feel that, um, I guess one of those things that, you know, we all pick up stuff from our parents, and my mother is... quietly confrontational. And I think it's a skill that I picked up from her. I think it's always described as not really having any, like, direct fear of people with power. And obviously, most people within the institution will have more power than myself. I would also say that I often talk to my Black friends about this, in that I was, I was brought up in a very kind of white working class town in East Sussex, which meant that the majority, well not now the majority, but at least until I was 18, I was socialised in a very white space. So I was kind of used to it. So I think the experience of coming into a space like UCL, for me would be very different to someone who looked like me, but was socialised in their early years, within a more diverse space. Because I think, like, talking to people it is way more shocking to if you grew up in an entirely Black and Brown space to then go to somewhere like UCL which is almost entirely white. I would say that we did talk earlier about the stats across the nation. I think that the stats within UCL are worse than our nationwide stats, I know that there are 1000s of academic staff, over 2000, I know that there only 15 of them are Black, or at least define it as Black. 

Tunde Banjoko  29:04 

Wow, that's incredible. Lele, I'm interested, particularly how you find it given that you grew up in a place where you were in the majority. So what's it like for you being very much in a minority in your field here at UCL?  

Lele Rangaka  29:22 

Tunde, actually, that's interesting that you phrased it that way, you know, coming from a place where we were in the majority, that is an assumption that at work, Black people, even in South Africa as in the majority in the boardrooms, in the lecture rooms as teachers, as lecturers as the people leading the research, but we're not. So in a way, I am, over time, very used to being the only brown woman in the room talking about global TB policy or reviewing evidence So, in a way, I guess, coming to the UK, I was kind of used to that. And I think that my experience is probably very linked to being a woman in science rather than perhaps being Black, or that's how it's been in the UK. So for instance, when Lola gives an example of people assuming that she's probably admin, they assume that I'm probably admin, but I think that's because, you know, they finding a woman there, and not necessarily that I'm Black, I tried to maybe go there as a sort of like, last resort, you know, so I have a very thick skin because I come from South Africa. So it takes me a while before I just kind of go "alright, so I think you're treating me this way because I look different to you". I think pretty much for me, it's just been about "you sound different, you sound like you could be a cleaner", "you look different, I'm expecting a male doctor", so  that's been what... yeah, that's been my reality. 

Tunde Banjoko  31:00 

Why do we think that there is this terrible paucity of Black academics here in the UK? And I'll put it first to Mike. 

Mike Sulu  31:14 

It's a really good question Tunde and I guess it's got many answers. So I guess from my perspective, if you start at, I guess, pre-university, for reasons that are multifaceted, you tend to get Black students in specific disciplines, then at university, those disciplines are still dominated by whiteness. And your... I guess, where knowledge is held, where the power is held, who you're taught by will exacerbate that whiteness. And then that usually means that you're less likely to do as well within your education. So there's a BAME awarding gap, which is always biggest for Black students. I think that leads to a... I guess, it's a way of removing Black students from the system because that means that far less do doctoral postgraduate research programs, alongside the fact that most Ethnic Minority students or Black students are not in Russell Group universities, and there's an elitism effect there as well. And then, through the doctoral program, I guess it continues, there's more of a lack of support that means that even those that do doctorates, there's less of them that will want to stay on and become academics. And the pipeline has so many, and I guess lots of people don't like to use that pipeline analogy, but it has so many breaks in it, or points in it, where we lose good students that there just there isn't enough that would want to stay within the UK it seems. Then just recruiting for those who do want to stay, just by virtue of being Black it makes it a lot harder to get an academic post, and it's harder to get research funding that will allow you or fellowship funding that will allow you to progress along the academic ladder. So for the small number that do make it, progression's often slower. And I think if you then think about students, I think they see it and I see that maybe a Black member of stuff seems to be struggling more with in the workplace than others. And that would then further put you off from wanting to follow that career. 

Tunde Banjoko  33:32 

Well, thank you. Lele, same question to you - why do you think it is? 

Lele Rangaka  33:36 

So I feel like I'm quite uncertain why it affects Black professionals, you know, from the UK, specifically, I can't... I can't quite say why we're not getting more Black people in, you know, to study, why we're not getting more Black people in, you know, as senior lecturers and progressing to professors. But I have observed that even in the small number of masters students that we do have not a lot of progress to doing PhDs, not a lot progress to having postdoc positions in our various departments. So perhaps I can, yeah, perhaps reflect a bit on why Black students don't stay. And I think that that, for me, is an issue of lack of support, perhaps a lack of mentorship, but I'm not just saying that we should be forcing some you know, scheme for mentoring that focuses only on Black students. But being able to see somebody else who sounds and look looks like you and see them do well is a powerful tool to actually make people stay and want to stay and be able to have those kind of casual chats in the corridor by the watercooler with a successful Black professional, I think would make people think that they could have a different sort of route and experience. I mean, I have been lucky enough to have a mentor who's a Black African, and that that has meant a lot seeing this person excel in what they do. And I can only think that if there were more of him and more of me, people would stay. 

Tunde Banjoko  35:23 

Thanks, Lele, Lola what do you think? 

Lola Solebo  35:26 

I would never have made it an academia if I didn't have people willing to share their experiences and allow me to learn from their lessons and support me along my way. And I've been incredibly lucky to have those people around me. And sometimes my siblings, and I have a bit of survivor guilt. And other people have this, but you just think about all the things that enabled you to succeed, and how the things that let us succeed are disproportionately unavailable to other people of colour, and in particular, to Black people. So I have... both my parents are really well educated and have fought to be so - my dad's a medic, they fought send me to a private school where they paid a lot of money so that I can have a good accent, which I've lost along the way. Sorry, I'm sorry mum, sorry dad. When I was a junior doctor, someone introduced me to the person who was my research supervisor throughout most of my early research career, who was coincidentally woman of colour, but also was incredibly generous just about her story about what had worked, about what hadn't worked; introducing me to other people who she knew would be supportive so they could share what had worked, what hadn't worked; making sure that I was in a community of peers so I could compare my progress up to their progress. And all those things.... being in the room when the opportunities are given out. That's all you need. That's all you need. But if you're never in the room, and you don't even know where the room is, then you got no chance.  

Tunde Banjoko  36:44 

Okay, so what do we think this institution that we hold dear that is UCL, what can it do to start to help improve race equity in the academic and clinical staffing? 

Lola Solebo  36:56 

I think some of us some of the groups are taking steps to do it, but it's making decision making processes and recruiting processes and promotion processes transparent. So what I said about people not knowing whether the room is or being in the room, if we open up access to decision making, and the reasons why decisions are taken to everybody, then everybody benefits, you know - you're not locking people out. I think a large part of it is stuff that we've been doing last summer. So listening to the stories of others and erasing those blind spots, you know, populating those blind spots with informed discussions about how other people have lived their lives. But, I mean, it's a really big question, isn't it? Because there's so much to do, and it's going to have to be an active process. I honestly did not think, I mean when Mike said the numbers and there were 15, I think we might have gone backwards (laughing) over the past 15 years. When I reflect on my history with UCL, you know, through being a BSc student here, in 1999, being a PhD student here, 2008, 2012. And then being an academic here from 2013 onwards, just, I feel like we've gone backwards. And I feel like part of that is because we've lost that ability to be transparent about decision making, or maybe we just never had it before. There's still a lot of work left to do.  

Tunde Banjoko  38:12 


Mike Sulu  38:13 

Yeah, I don't think I can add that much to what Lola said. It is about transparency, I think, I'm glad that there's soon to be a governance review, because one of the problems we have, of course, is that decision making at the top of the university has now become more gender equal, but hasn't... But that's just it. So we really need to focus on having people at all tables, not just at some of the, I guess, the lower tables, or the kiddie’s tables within the decision making system. But a lot of it is around transparency and governance, and making sure that before decisions are made, that the full outcome of that decision is fully understood. And it's known that that is going to be equitable, and positive for all. 

Tunde Banjoko  39:00 


Lele Rangaka  39:01 

Totally agree with Lola and Mike and the points that they have covered. And pretty much being invited to the table is really important, and I must say listening and kind of reflecting on my year 2020, where I got the opportunity to be invited to the table a little bit, you know, so even goes from small things like being the room when fairly senior directors are being interviewed to contributing as a panel member reviewing funding applications, and I'm just thinking just that alone, for me, was more powerful in terms of my growth than let's say somebody saying sign up to a mentoring scheme that is only for BAME. I would like to be invited to the table but it has to be the right table and it has to be meaningful. But sometimes you don't even know that these opportunities arise. So I happen to be lucky enough for somebody to nominate me, but what about the next person and the next person? How do they know about these opportunities? So there is kind of like the opportunities out there, but who gets invited in? Can we get a little bit of understanding of how that works? So there is a game to be played, but only if you know about it. I don't fully know whether this is something that is just specific to Black people and Black professionals. I feel like probably, we need to be broadening this because it affects all Junior Fellows or people aspiring to climb up the ladder at UCL. 

Tunde Banjoko  40:34 

Thank you everybody, for that, I agree with all of you and I just like to add something that may be implicit in what was said, but some research I've seen certainly seems to show, and my experiences of working as a consultant to some organisations has shown us, that probably the single most effective thing, if you want to drive race equity in an institution, is getting that higher level sponsorship, that executive sponsorship, the most senior person in that organisation to say "this matters to me and we are going to do something about it to advance this particular issue of race equality". So yeah, just to add that to what you guys have said. So it's been really good and it's been really interesting and I've learned a lot but we're going to end the episode now and I'm going to ask each of you a final question, if you don't mind and it's something I'm going to ask every guest on this podcast, and we have another few episodes coming up, and that is, and I will start with you Lele, what is your favourite place here at UCL? And why is it your favourite place? 

Lele Rangaka  41:46 

Favourite place? As in a spot to hang out? 

Tunde Banjoko  41:49 

As in a spot, yes. 

Lele Rangaka  41:51 

I would say it's outside my office. (Laughing.) So, I'm at Mortimer Market Centre and this is where the Sexual Health Clinic in Tropical Diseases Hospital is based. And on the third floor, I was given a small room without a single window but it has a door that leads out to... we're on the third floor so, you know, but on the third floor you're already on the roof. So the door leads outside and amongst the you know, air conditioner, boxes, etc... And that has become over time my favourite space to just go hide. I remember saying that I really hated that they gave me that small office without a window because I, you know, obviously I made it mean that they didn't value me etc, etc. But just being able to sit out there and be the only person who can just pretty much step outside into my veranda, I call it and I've called the office, the hub and I've got an open door policy - all the junior doctors and the training fellow students come and discuss ideas. 

Tunde Banjoko  43:06 

That's brilliant. Sounds like you have your own private terrace. I want one of those! Lola, what's your favourite place here at UCL? 

Lola Solebo  43:14 

I was just thinking about that. I'm just realising what it was and it's made me a little tiny bit... actually no quite a lot bit sad. So my favourite place at ICH (the Institute for Child Health) is our staff refectory, it's in the basement. It's mostly staffed by people of colour,  by Black people. I just realised that's why it was my first place. So we had a lovely woman who was in the coffee section would always ask always, always asked me about my kids and my mom and dad, that was just such a warm space to be in. And I didn't realise that was my favourite place until you just asked me now. 

Tunde Banjoko  43:54 

Wow, Mike? 

Mike Sulu  43:55 

Yeah. (Laughing) I'm glad I had the longest time to think about this - the answer to this question. And mine is the Haldane room. And I guess it's two times - it's lunchtimes I go and at lunchtimes it's for the exact same reason as Lola with the addition that I often get extra food by virtue of being Black. But then, on a Friday after work, a lot of us from my department get together and kind of just have a sit down drink and a chat about the week and how it's gone. And that kind of decompression from the week is one of the things I'm probably missing the most at the moment. So yeah, mine is the Haldane Room for drinking with colleagues and extra free food at lunch time. 

Tunde Banjoko  44:38 

That's so good. Mike, Lola, Lele, thank you, all of you. I've really enjoyed it. Thank you very much indeed. 

Kyla Jardine  44:47 

Black Lives at UCL was presented by Tunde Banjoko, produced and written by Kyla Jardine and Cerys Bradley. The music for the podcast was produced by Amine Mabrouk. If you'd like to hear more podcasts from UCL, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts or visit ucl.ac.uk/UCL-minds. And don't forget, you can also follow us on Twitter @UCL. Thanks for listening