Episode 3: transcript
Welcome back to Black Lives at UCL. In our final episode of the series, host Tunde Banjoko OBE talks to three UCL’s students.
- Noella Kalasa, an undergraduate Natural Sciences student specialising in Geophysics and Physical Chemistry, and Co-founder of the UCL Justice Collective, which brings together people at UCL fighting for change.
- Sephora Madjiheurem, a computer science PhD candidate in the Learning and Signal Processing group, and Co-host of Not My Problem, a podcast that tackles the social justice issues that are often ignored.
- Tissot Regis, a PhD candidate from the Department of Geography, and recipient of the Windsor Fellowship Scholarship. Tissot is also the Co-host of Surviving Society, which explores the local and global politics of race and class from a sociological perspective.
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 you to my amazing guests. Today, I'm going to be speaking with three UCL students. Noella Kalasa, a second year Natural Sciences student specialising in Geophysics and Physical Chemistry and cofounder of the UCL Justice Collective which brings together people at UCL fighting for change; Sephora Madjiheurem is a computer science PhD student in the Learning and Signal Processing group and co-host of Not My Problem, a podcast that tackles the social justice issues that are often ignored; And, Tissot Regis a PhD student in the department of Geography and recipient of the Windsor Fellowship Scholarship. Tissot also has a podcast – he is the co-host of Surviving Society which explores the local and global politics of race and class from a sociological perspective. To begin with, I want to hear from each of them about what they do here at UCL, and then we're going to get their perspectives on UCL life. Now, Noella, we'll start with you. Tell us a little bit about your course and your experience at UCL so far.
Noella Kalasa 02:27
Hi, nice to see everyone. I came into London for the first time when I joined UCL, so everything was very new to me. And in Natural Sciences, we have quite an interesting course, because we don't just interact with natural scientists, because we study under two departments and actually, in my first term, I was under three departments. So, I studied in the department of Science and Technology Studies, as well as Chemistry and Earth Sciences. So, it's a really interesting course; you do get to sample a wider portion of UCL than maybe you would if you studied in a single department. I'm enjoying it so far. I guess something that I did notice quite early on is that my course is not super diverse. I think in STEM in general, we might have a bit of a problem with diversity, but I think it was the second or third induction event, we did have a talk on eugenics and the history of UCL with eugenics which was really, really interesting and I think could have started a conversation but actually was not talked about until much later in the summer when we had you know, Black Lives Matter protests and a lot of discussion about race and racism and systemic racism in university. And we were quite proud to find out that our department was one of the only ones who had addressed the eugenics issue head on with its freshers and we pushed for that tradition to continue in later years. Also, in the department of STS, I did have some lectures on eugenics as well and on like scientific responsibility and the way that as people who claim to produce truth, like as scientists, we can shape people's perceptions of other people. And so, the way that we approach race and the way that we approach knowledge from other cultures and other institutions is really important. So I did have a really interesting introduction to some of the issues that maybe we're going to be talking about later and some of the issues that we need to work on as a university in my first year, but outside of that, part of the reason why I started the UCL justice collected with a course mate, Hannah, is because we felt like that wasn't enough, and we felt like a lot of the students of colour on my course, well the few students of colour on my course could do with a bit more support, especially in terms of mental health, which is one of our biggest fights and it's been really hard since last May and June, when we started to even begin to get commitments from the department in terms of actions and in terms of even just dialogues, you know, and hosting meetings and hearing from students and trying to see what we would like done in future years. But we have a meeting today, actually, so maybe things are going in the right direction. So, I'll be meeting with my department after this podcast actually,
Tunde Banjoko 05:29
I don't know if you read a book by Angela Saini called Superior. Yeah, I think it's a fantastic book and anyone, I think, that's Black, and is a UCL alum will feel, I don't know, will certainly get some feelings about the role that UCL played in eugenics. And the second thing I wanted to follow up on from what you said was, I mean, you mentioned this UCL Justice Collective - how did you get it started?
Noella Kalasa 05:59
The Justice Collective was the signatory of this petition that we started over the summer called Five Steps Forward. So, in this petition, basically, we wanted to address the fact that UCL could do more than just condemn systemic racism and like a 500-word statement on the website after the George Floyd protests in the States, because that's what we got from the school. So, we sent first, to our department, an email saying UCL's statement was unsatisfying. It didn't feel personal. I think the statement mentioned, like BAME students, even though the issue was clearly like about Black lives in the United States. And so, we wrote to our heads of department separately, just saying like, first of all, the department could also say something because, you know, like we would like as students, as part of this department to hear from our own leaders that we're supported, and that we've been heard and that they understand that something really significant is going on. But then we also kind of wanted the department to address issues of support. We wanted to look at the Inclusive Curriculum Health Check that we knew was something that was put in place by UCL but that we hadn't even heard of throughout our time at UCL. And then basically, once we spoke and realised that we had both written to the department, we spoke to some other students and realised they were also writing to their departments. So, we put together this very long, very kind of detailed petition with the BAME officer Sandy, that was asking for basically five different actions from the UCL administration regarding decolonisation, the history of eugenics, and to outsourcing of workers, mental health support, and also just general... basically a financial commitment to increasing diversity and decolonising the curriculum and making UCL more accessible. We didn't want to sign the petition as "two natural scientists plus the BAME officer" so we were like, maybe we could start this collective and have it be a platform for anyone who wants to raise issues beyond just their department, or their maybe faculty. And they could do it like as a part of this collective and we could start to provide resources for students who want to take action. So that's kind of how it started.
Tunde Banjoko 08:17
Absolutely brilliant. The audience can't see that I'm clapping here. Brilliant. Okay, now I'm going to move on to my next amazing guests. Sephora, can you tell us a little bit about your PhD research?
Sephora Madjiheurem 08:30
First of all, thank you so much for having me here, it's really a pleasure to be here and chatting with other fellow Black students at UCL. It's really nice. So yeah, as you briefly mentioned before, I'm doing a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering. And I've started in 2017 (wow, already? yeah) so more than three years ago, and it's in Artificial Intelligence because I've always had this fascination about intelligence, in fact, both like biological, like human intelligence, and then how can we translate that into Artificial Intelligence? It's really always been a big passion of mine. So, I just decided to go on and do more research about that. So that's exactly what I'm doing here at UCL. Apart from that, I'm also quite engaged in social justice questions and, and that's the very reason also for the podcast that I co-host, Not My Problem. It kind of started after some, I mean, it has always been something that was in the back of my mind, I always felt that that I was surrounded by too many people who didn't seem to realise the extent of some social injustice and that also within UCL with my some of my PhD students, like some PhD students that are working with me, sometimes I felt that there was a huge disconnect between issues and like my experiences or other people's experiences, and then there was no talk around that. So I really wanted to create like a platform to just really like talk about these things in simple words, not necessarily targeted to academics or anything, but just to like, if you have a friend that seems completely disconnected about, what does it mean, when you say Black Lives Matter, for example, how do you go about explaining that in simple words, and that can be relatable to some of their experiences, maybe even if they are not Black? So, I just wanted to appeal to students, mostly young people who don't realise that some of the problems are actually their problems as well,
Tunde Banjoko 10:10
What similarities if any, are there between the two things? They're very different, the science and the podcast - are there any commonalities between the two?
Sephora Madjiheurem 10:42
I would say the most common thing is that I've realised it's can be quite hard to get your voice heard, especially I think, as a Black woman - you kind of have to repeat yourself a lot. And I've felt that all throughout my studies, you know, studying engineering, which is predominantly male and white, I felt kind of I was always at the background of whatever was happening. And I struggled finding my voice there. It's a challenge I have also in the podcast, it's still a bit hard for me to find my voice to express myself to just to accept that my voice is valued and to be heard. That's also something that I struggle in that space, too, sometimes. So, it's nice, for me - it's a challenge. It's a huge growth process that I've been enjoying a lot. But yeah, definitely, I would say that's the thing that I find in both settings.
Tunde Banjoko 11:31
Okay, good. Now, you're a scientist, why do you think it's important for scientists to talk about race and social justice issues?
Sephora Madjiheurem 11:39
So it's very important, I think, that within science, first of all, we have diversity, so that every one's perspective is heard within science, and also within research, because research will shape you know, not just the industries, but also education and all of that. So, it's, I think, it's really important that we are very aware of the biases that are in science, because they have a huge impact in industry, in academia, for students... I think we are still far from having everyone's voice being heard in science, unfortunately. Even if I speak of Artificial Intelligence, which is the domain I know the most, most of the automated systems, they have been designed, majorly, by white men, for white men as well. So, I guess everyone has heard of some facial recognition systems that simply do not work for Black women, you know, so that's a direct impact of the lack of representation within the Computer Sciences or Artificial Intelligence field, that has had an impact on people's lives directly. So that's just one reason. But there's there really many reasons. Medicine - the way some of the medical data that is being used to treat people were gathered, not for the right audience so then that, again, affects people's life directly.
Tunde Banjoko 13:04
Yeah, when you were talking, both Noella and Tissot were nodding furiously. And I was thinking about, the example, I'm very aware of an idea to people with AI is if you type in "beautiful woman" in a search engine, that brings up a white woman, and not what I think of as a beautiful woman, which would be a Black woman. So yeah, it's very interesting there.
Sephora Madjiheurem 13:33
Yeah, there is also if you type in "unprofessional hairstyle", then you only get basically Black women with natural hair.
Tunde Banjoko 13:42
Yeah, it's fascinating actually. Tissot, let's hear from you, now, that was really interesting. When did you start your PhD, and can you tell us a little bit about your research?
Tissot Regis 13:52
Basically, I started in 2019, I sit in Geography, it's in Urban Geography, I guess I'm talking about my particular research is in Drill Music, and trying to rehabilitate Drill Music in relation to, I guess, in relation to kind of a postmodern kind of approach trying to say that it can unite people, it's just trying to rehabilitate that narrative saying there's a possibility of moving beyond modernity. So, it all sounds quite wordy, but just trying to really rehabilitate Drill Music, basically, and within that, looking at looking at representations of Black masculinity, gender roles and power and politics, representation, all that lovely stuff that's tied into it.
Tunde Banjoko 14:33
That's amazing. Alongside your research, Tissot, you're involved in a lot of work talking about the understanding of race and racism. As was mentioned in the introduction, you've done this Surviving Society podcast, tell us about that and the other things do you do.
Tissot Regis 14:51
I guess, I guess if we take a step back, I've got a scholarship called the Windsor Fellowship. And this fellowship was set up for BAME members really, so it was the kind of the first Time UCL did this, right. So back in 2018/19, when I signed up, this is again before the kind of BLM hype went kind of crazy. UCL was, I don't want to use "at the forefront", but it was pushing that kind of thing. So, once I got into the scholarship, it was I think there's me and I think another were the first lot, I think there's nine of us. So I had a very different experience. I'm a Londoner, so my experience of being based at UCL, if I'll be honest, I think it's dead. It was dead. That was my experience, you get me, so I'll go places like this, my previous experience was in Goldsmith's and other universities like this so I'm moving as a Black, working class boy in a middle class, white middle class, area, and my experiences growing up... listen, these people won't even talk to me sometimes. Like my lecturer from my undergrad, my man wouldn't speak to me, he spoke to me through a crack through his door like that. So, when I had got into the scholarship, it was refreshing to be with other people who were similar to me, similar in terms of class, similar terms of race, it was different, you know, I've had a different experience coming to UCL. And on top of that, UCL's slightly loaded in it, so boom, it was different how they... how teachers kind of catered to me, you get me, so they're more likely to work with you and do all these kind of things. So, it's a mad experience, kind of see the intersection, the intersection of class, race, and gender all in one was just different. Yeah, in terms of my podcast, it was initially, just because a PhD is a lonely process, that's how it came about. And it just so happened when we started this, it was going mad. So, I was looking at the far right, but also Brexit was happening, the referendum happened and, for me, this process has been seeing the kind of work in how the manifestation of the of the right wing that I've just been studying for the last five or six years become mainstream. And it's amazing to kind of see these things work out. So, some stuff that I would say to people... I remember I went to a dinner party in 2016, and said, "there's this thing called the alt right" and people laughed at me. People say to me, normally now, the rise of conspiracy, and all this kind of stuff has become normalised. And it was part of the whole process of the fall right to kind of mainstream that message, which has been an ongoing process since yeah 2015-16. So, the podcast kind of, fermented out of all this craziness that was going on around us Brexit, Trump, all that kind of stuff.
Tunde Banjoko 17:22
That's really good stuff. It's funny you talk about the Windsor Fellowship, I remember, back, back in the day, because of course, I'm ancient but I remember when they first started. And when they first started, they were a scheme that were about Black young people just trying to take them on trips to Eton. Yeah, so that's, that's how far back I know Windsor Fellowship to go. And then thinking about what you were talking about, sort of the rise of the alt right, and, and so on, and so forth, yeah, I find that really interesting, it's something that I find myself really fascinated by and your podcast, the Surviving Society podcast, I mean, it's one that's thinking and acting globally, you know, why do you think it's important to have those conversations? You being a London boy like me, why do you think it's important have those conversations about race in that global context?
Tissot Regis 18:17
I think right now, I think you can see, especially at the start of this pandemic, the pandemic has realised... it's opened up the kind of fissures that we expect we all know, have been there. So whatever field you're in, you understand the inequalities that have been there for years now. And on top of that, the kind of politics of nationalism has made people see these things quite starkly, right? So, I think now, if we are ever to move past, move forward, move forward or move past these things. It's about discussing these things openly, right? And it's about hearing, and giving the technology we have now, we can leverage the voices from below. This is the most important thing, I think, the idea that these voices have been discounted for a long time. And one of the things that people don't like, especially the mainstream is the fact that we're pushing back and giving the critiques of these things, for example, critiquing the Enlightenment. We were never included in the enlightenment and so we're critiquing the very basis of this knowledge. It's an epistemological challenge. We're questioning the very basis of the society. That's why the Far-Right push back so much, because we're questioning their notions of civilisation, we're questioning the centring or the universalisation of Western knowledge. And listen, I'm not going to dismiss it, I've learned a lot this is this has been my tradition, I've grown up in it, while also have been living that kind of double consciousness on the other side of it as well. So, it gives me the ability to see a bit clearer. And I think that clarity that we offer, our voices here, so between being a Black woman, being a Black man, and the intersectionality of it all gives us the ability to critique this system in a way that up to this point, that white societies be missing out,
Tunde Banjoko 19:49
Thanks, Tissot. So, I've got three amazing guests on the show today. It's a privilege for me to speak with you all. I've got a question for you all, why did you choose UCL?
Sephora Madjiheurem 20:01
I grew up in Switzerland, and I did my Master's in Switzerland and I was just honestly very tired of the lack of diversity in my entire campus while I was doing my bachelor's. If I'm not mistaken, I was the only Black woman or maybe we were too at most. So, it was just exhausting to know that, like, if anyone talks about a Black person, they know like, we're talking about me, right? Like, I couldn't hide it, like disappear in the background, I really was always standing out. So, I just wanted something different. And I knew of the... of how diverse London is. I've always wanted to discover the city. So that was one of the main reasons. Also because of the program at UCL. I had a very good connection with my current PhD mentor. Yeah, so it all just fell in place. It seemed like obvious, obvious decision for me to make.
Tunde Banjoko 20:55
Noella Kalasa 20:57
So, my choice for university was very pragmatic. I went to high school in New York. And I think when I moved to the States... so I grew up moving - I lived in like Ethiopia, and Senegal and Madagascar. And we moved to the States when, just when I was starting high school. And I think in the beginning, I thought that I was going to go to university in America, but I think it was maybe in my junior year (so like grade 11 or year 12) I realised I didn't want to stay in America, and I found out that you could do a Bachelor's in three years and not four, and for a lot less money. And so, I started looking at the UK and I think I chose UCL because of the flexibility that my course, like, Natural Sciences had in comparison to other courses that were just like straight Chemistry or straight Earth Sciences. And I thought that as someone who had studied a bit of Philosophy in high school, and who was quite interested in kind of Politics, I thought maybe I would have a chance to not give up on that side of my interests when I was studying because I was initially thinking of doing Science and Technology Studies and like History and Philosophy of Science, which I ended up not doing in the end. But that's basically why I made the choice. Yeah, so it's very sort of like I don't want to study for four years, I want to study for three years and here I have this flexibility to pursue all of my interests rather than just like do the traditional kind of single topic course. So yeah, it was very simple.
Tunde Banjoko 22:30
Okay, and Tissot, was there anything unique about UCL that made you decide to study here?
Tissot Regis 22:38
Basically, part of PhD process is looking for supervisors, so it was looking for the people who are most suitable for the field I was looking to study, and it just so happened, they were at UCL. That's how I ended up finding my way to UCL. But I'm a London so I didn't really find that university vibe, you get me, so after going a few times, I thought "nah this is kind of dead", I used to walk past it all the time. When I first went to UCL I didn't realise it's so big, it's massive, got museums and everything to itself, to itself. It was mad. So it was just one of those things, but I went to see a few universities. So, I went to see Kings, I didn't really like LSE, the vibe, and out of all of them, UCL was the one.
Tunde Banjoko 23:15
Okay, cool. All right, so following on from that, what's it like being a Black student at UCL?
Tissot Regis 23:21
Do you know, what, right? I guess I didn't really see any, I didn't see anyone, like locally - I saw international students. But I didn't see any people from the end you get me? So that was, that's always a, it's always a thing in it. So, I will sit in a room, listen, boom - I tell you a true story. My man was in a lecture because part of the PhD you have to do, sometimes, you have to do master’s courses, just like as part of the thing. So, I was sitting there, I can't remember what lesson it was, it was full of the master’s students and I was just sitting there and the guy next to me asked me, "What am I doing here?" That's what he said to me. Like, boom, like, that's your shot. And I was thinking to myself, normally, that's like a bit of a madness, we get into a bit of a madness, but man's a bit older so it's a bit more chilled, right? So, I asked him to explain himself, like, what does he mean? "What am I doing here?" And this is the kind of chat, this happened late 2019 is that people are speaking to me and he's a fellow student. He's a master’s student, I don't know if he's a mature student or whatever. But my experience has been on the whole what I, what I always imagined to be - I'm having to navigate the space. And I don't see people like me, it's about navigating the spaces most Black people do and you navigate as someone who's a minority, and you buck up on people, but you understand that these people don't really understand you. And that's always the case. And it's just been, it's been similar, but that's not to say it's not been bad sorry, it's been, it's been good. They've been my supervisors really, for example, they're really good with me. And, obviously, as a PhD student, I don't really see many other people to tough.
Tunde Banjoko 24:50
Sephora Madjiheurem 24:52
I just want to bounce back on what Tissot said because, yeah, it's not it... is what you imagined it to be. So, you are already kind of prepared, you are minority, you'll have to navigate that. So that's like not much surprise there. But I have to say, I've been very pleasantly surprised by how much easier it was for me to be a student at UCL than it was back in Switzerland. And the biggest difference I noticed was mostly from staff - from lectures, and any faculty members, basically, I never felt that they were questioning my presence there, which has happened to me before at different universities. So that has always been a big relief, I felt like I was talked to in the same way that they would talk to any other students. So, for that, it's been excellent. I have a great advisor, a really diverse group, as well. So that helps a lot. But I've also had some experiences with students. So, like some misunderstandings... let's call them misunderstandings with other students, Master's students or PhD students. But again, as I said, it was never like, or at least I didn't feel them like as attacks, it's just, they just don't know better. That's why I think it's super important that we start talking about all of these things more openly and more frequently, because it's kind of a taboo, you know, like, if I sometimes I dare to call out racist behaviour, I kind of have to prepare myself internally, like, I need to pick myself up before I can go out and it shouldn't be like that. It should just come straight out, like easily, naturally. And people should stop being stuck, like, oh, did you call me a racist? Well, maybe I did. I called your behaviour racist, because it was and, like, that should not no longer be on me that, like, I have to go through this anxiety, just to say those things. So yeah, like, to sum up, it's, it's not bad. It's not bad. I'm learning a lot, not just with the department, not just like academic stuff, but I'm learning a lot of navigating in a very diverse space with people from very different backgrounds, very different understanding and experiences of the world. I think, to me, that's fascinating.
Tunde Banjoko 26:54
Noella Kalasa 26:56
I think what I have faced the most is sort of not, I haven't really had any experience, like negative experiences, due to my race or anything like that. But I have sort of faced like, the, I kind of have realised that people don't see diversity in blackness, for example, I have an American accent, and I get it like I like lived in New York, but I'm not American - I'm African. And so many times people have been like, oh, like these things, these African American issues? Like, what is your opinion? What do you think? And it's like, I don't share that history, you know? I don't feel like I can speak on a lot of these things, to a larger extent than anyone who's not American can. And so, the biggest kind of issue that I've had is that a lot of people kind of just see a Black person. And it's like, oh, you're a Black British, or you're African American, but like, I'm not like, I'm from Cameroon, I'm from Congo. I don't share the experience. And I can't speak on behalf of African Americans. And I face that a lot. And then another thing is within the Black community at UCL, so I joined ACS in first year, and I was one of the few like Francophone Africans in ACS, and there was kind of a big majority of like London, British Nigerian, and like Ghanaian, mostly Nigerian, students. And so, I didn't really meet anyone who like had a similar cultural background as me. But you know, we're all Black. And like, I've made some really good friends there. So, I think in terms of my experience as a Black student, I would just say that it's different being like an international Black Francophone student, and people tend to not necessarily understand it, just because that type of student I think is, like really rare at UCL. So that's been interesting for me.
Tunde Banjoko 28:46
It's funny hearing you speak, Noella, I mean, in my day, back in my day, someone like myself, and Tissot would have been very much in the minority, at a university, speaking like we did, but never mind, anyway. You've all gone on and taken on extracurricular community building work that focuses on race and social justice. So, my question is, what is it that means that you've chosen to do this, given all the other things that you have to do as a student? And I'll start with you, Noella, because you're warmed up.
Noella Kalasa 29:24
The school that I went to in New York, I think, kind of shaped me to not see this type of extracurricular activity, so like anything related to advocacy, or social justice, like I've never, I've never in the significant like, portion of my education like that's always been tied to my studies. So, it's like in whatever you learn, you are taught to question it and look at where it comes from and question your knowledge and also try and see who doesn't have access to the knowledge that you have the privilege of learning. And so, coming into UCL, I kind of just felt I needed to stay involved in that type of work and like advocacy, and I was happy to see that the STS department does kind of insist on that in their course. And I think now Natural Sciences is going to make this type of STS focus on, you know, what does it mean to be a scientist part of all of the foundation term for like all freshers, not just those who choose to do STS and it's really good. So, the Justice Collective for me is just kind of like a continuation of what I've been taught to do with my education. And I think it's so important because UCL, we all understand and recognise is a top institution, and is at the pinnacle of like knowledge and pioneering research and is an example for a lot of people, and even if it's not an example, for a lot of people, I think that it's something... like it's the type of institution that has a visibility, that gives it a lot of responsibility as well, you know, like. If you're in a position where you have the chance to show that like, there are people even in these spaces, which are so old, and so untouchable trying to make a difference, then maybe in the smaller spaces that aren't so older, and in the newer spaces which are trying to maybe compete, they can see that they also need to maybe be looking at these issues and, um, not advertising them, but publicising these challenges that like academia faces. Which I think, like, a big part of what we're pushing for with the Justice Collective is like make public commitments, you know, like, there are a lot of really great initiatives at UCL with regard to race and diversity, but they're not publicised. And that's a huge issue. Because it's like, why will you put time and even money into this work if you're going to keep it quiet? I think a big part is just speaking and amplifying the work that's being done as an example. And also, just because like it is work that deserves to be spoken of, and that deserves to be known.
Tunde Banjoko 32:05
I guess we spoke earlier about the wider kind of macro side of it, but the kind of micro side, I thought to myself growing up in the Ends and being a young Black boy sitting in barber shops, like I hear a lot of conspiracies man, like man's on the edge fighting the man, always fighting the man. But what are people actually doing? What are we actually doing? As I go through my adult life, like, I become... I end up working in the City like boom, you're in the environment thinking you've made it because that's the aspiration, right, sort of this materialistic lifestyle, but I'm looking around, and I don't see people who look like me. And when I speak to people who do look like me, they think they're making all the excuses why they don't want to be involved, they want to go there. And I... as I read more, I understand the institutional and external pressures that are on young Black people to conform to certain stereotypes... But I just saw this as a way for, for me to actually be involved and do something to make a change, to change the kind of narrative around stuff. So, at the podcast, we try to centre care and love as kind of advocated by bell hooks, at the centre of our approach to things, trying to change the dynamic of what it means to be of this idea of capitalism, the idea of growth exponentially, like for just no reason - growth for growth's sake. But that means something. We've seen where all this is leading us, right? We've seen it, we can all see it. So, it just said, for me to be involved, to try and change the story. For me, the way to be involved was through academia, which led me into the podcast, and I'm trying to say to people being involved now could look like a conversation to some people to other people's political activism. But it's... that it's actually to be involved in that struggle in some way, some form, because everyone's got skin in the game - we don't live in a vacuum. And I'm trying to say to people, and that's why I kind of jumped on this thing and boom, run it from there, you get me?
Tunde Banjoko 33:51
Nice one, Sephora?
Sephora Madjiheurem 33:53
Yeah, so it's quite of the same for me - it's the need or the desire to see things change, and then also coming to the understanding that things are not going to change for themselves. And then just coming to the realisation that I actually have some power myself, which I denied to myself for a very long time. I just thought that I had to live in this world, you know, and someday, I don't know, I just realised that, okay, maybe I don't have to, you know, obey by all the rules, maybe the rules were just not meant for, for everyone equally. And once, once you start realising that I think then it becomes a duty to actually share that idea and to do something towards it, because well, then it becomes too late. You can just live in the world that you know, maybe was not designed for you and do nothing about it. So, talking more and more to friends and family about it felt really good. I realised that we were all... we all shared something. Not necessarily everything but we all had something in common and that's what I want to find in like not everyone but at least in the people that are close to me, right. I want to find where are we similar? And what can we do about it? Like how can we use those similarities to actually advocate for better circumstances for all of us. So that's kind of how it started. But then being at UCL, I realised that there were so many... so much diversity, both in terms of, you know, races, class and all of that. So, I was in a very lucky place that I was surrounded by so much diversity, I had to do something, it means that my reach was larger, right? Because now it's not just me and my family and my friends, it's maybe this person who came from, I don't know, they studied in New York, and this person they became from South Africa. And so, it, I realised that I was now able to reach more people. So that's why I started that.
Tunde Banjoko 35:39
Brilliant. Okay, so what does our university need to do to help support you, and students like you, who are having these kinds of conversation who are starting these kinds of organisations and initiatives, who are building communities.
Sephora Madjiheurem 35:54
So, it would be very nice if there was some, some programs to get people that are not necessarily minorities involved as well. Because to me, I feel it like it's, I always feel like there is a weight that's been lifted off my chest, when I talk to someone who has been very, who has a lot more privileged than me, for example, but are already aware and like are receptive to my issues. So that means it's already I don't need to explain this myself. So, I don't need to do extra stuff of like, just explaining my existence, explaining my struggles and all of that. So, to me, I found that that was one of the things that's actually consumes me the most, for example, what happened during the summer about the events where everyone was talking about Black lives, and it was really heavy for me, and it was difficult to process. And I think, or rather, I know, it was difficult for most Black people on the planet at the time, but then the fact that I maybe had to explain to non-Black people that okay, I really cannot focus on work today, tomorrow, or the day after, that was an added weight for me. So, I think releasing some of that pressure, I don't actually know how but that would be... that would be a very good, like focused starting point, like releasing some of the pressure that minorities already face every day, let us create more spaces for us to share all of that without the anxiety that goes with it. Because it's like, harder, hard as it is, without feeling like okay, maybe you can talk about it. If that makes sense
Tunde Banjoko 37:21
It does indeed, Tissot what do you think?
Tissot Regis 37:23
I haven't really had much time embedded in university like to kind of think of what we could do. But on a wider scale, I think the university is like a massive institution, right. And it embodies those things that we're all talking about. As part of the scholarship, we had a dinner with the top guy, and he kind of admits that he said to me on a personal level there's systemic racism but the universities trying to change but it's a massive beast and look at the kind of debates that they had about changing the name of eugenics and stuff like that. This is a big issue for universities - coming to terms with its, with its recent past, and its current situation. And so, I guess that for us, it's about creating those spaces, for Black people - we're always looking for the spaces to reinvent ourselves and to be ourselves and any institution that can provide those spaces and shelter those spaces is advantageous but a big, a big machine like UCL, it's going to find it difficult, right? And we're going to have these conversations and these encounters that we have normalised in our navigation of racism. So, for example, from people stopping you and saying, "do you go to university?", or like Noella - people having those kinds of unnuanced conversations about blackness, that's, that's going to be normal in that environment. And again, as Black people, we're used to that, which is the sad story, but as long as a university, UCL, can create those spaces, that allows us to flourish and for our ideas to pollinate, because obviously, when you have an idea, they kind of spread, so allow those spaces, to kind of to encourage them, and as long as we can support that, if that makes sense. I think my point kind of relates to both what Sephora and Tissot said, essentially, like what I think, is a really big issue when trying to do any work regarding race and racism and systemic racism is that sometimes it feels like people don't, like can't relate to the issue in the sense that it's only about Black students and Black staff, you know, like this only affects Black students and staff. And so like, we can't contribute to the conversation, like as if it's on us to explain the problem and then define a solution. But like two things. Firstly, we're not the only ones affected by this issue in the sense that as an academic institution, you lose by excluding and creating barriers to a huge amount of potential. So, you're losing out on all of these potential future doctors and scientists and writers and researchers because you make your institution seem inaccessible to them and your institution. And accessible to them, because the students there like continuously tell you that they face all of these difficulties. So, it's like, it's not just about us, it's about the integrity of the university, like they have interest in resolving these issues. And I think a place like UCL who is now, you know, recognise its contribution to eugenics who's recognised its responsibility in creating some of these institutional racist frames of thinking, especially in medicine. I think now that UCL is admitting its contribution to this, it would be dishonest for the university to not begin to correct that mistake and begin to write its wrongs - not continue down this path. So, I think it's like a question of integrity on one hand, and then on the other hand, it's also important for them to see that even if it was only about us, which it's not, it can't be like we live in an interconnected society, we can't reduce issues to just those that are primarily seen to be affected. But it's also not our responsibility as students, it's not our job as students to do this work. It's not the job of staff that's being discriminated, to fight discrimination. Like, you know what I mean, it's the job of the institution to get rid of these issues. And we're doing like, basically unpaid labour. And we're spending a lot of mental energy trying to solve issues that he should not exist and be, I think, should not I mean, we're not even qualified to talk about curriculum changes, you know what I mean? Like, I'm 19 years old, like, these aren't things that we should be responsible for, especially in addition to our studies, especially uncompensated. So, I think it's to think about the fact that this is work - this is intellectual work, this is physical labour, and it should be rewarded. But it should also be recognised as such. And if the school also feels like it doesn't have the capacity to solve these issues on its own, there are people who research this who can be hired, who probably would like to be hired, to finally start fixing this the right way. I think there are enough people in London even who have thought about this, and who would be very happy to provide their services to UCL. And I think it's time to start hiring those people and letting students just, like, study for their degrees.
Tunde Banjoko 38:51
Brilliant, Noella, what do you reckon? What is your favourite place at UCL? So, what's your favourite physical space at UCL and why is it your favourite place?
Tissot Regis 42:18
Because I'm a bit of a nerd, I like seeing Jeremy Bentham. That's, that's my favourite place. I like going see going to see Jeremy Bentham, I nerded out over there, so yeah, that's my favourite place.
Tunde Banjoko 42:29
Why? What is it about Bentham?
Tissot Regis 42:32
It's just because, it's just because I like history and political philosophy and so he's someone who I always had read about for a long time, and to see him in that thing and what he looked like, what he thought he got, like I was like, "yeah!", well, that was... it was a highlight for me when I first got there I was like "yeah, there he is Jeremy Bentham from utilitarianism".
Tunde Banjoko 42:49
Isn't he the one who did the opticon...
Tissot Regis 42:52
Yeah, yeah, the pan-opti... well I can't even pronounce it. The prison, basically the prison, yes, him! (Laughing.)
Tunde Banjoko 43:00
Okay, go on Sephora.
Sephora Madjiheurem 43:02
I think for me, it will be the library. I like the main library a lot, because... I don't know, it gets a lot of sunlight in and there are many, many rooms that are hidden, so it's easy to get lost in there. I like it. It's calm and peaceful.
Tunde Banjoko 43:21
Lovely. And Noella?
Noella Kalasa 43:22
So, in the Kathleen Lonsdale Building, which is the Earth Sciences Building, in between the two kind of staircases like on opposite sides of the hall, there's a sitting area with just two couches and a table and that's my favourite place. So, on the other side of the stairs, there's this long window and then in front of the seating area is just the hallway and so you have people coming in and out going up and down the stairs. And it's just a super quiet place and it's sunlit all the time. And then when it's night-time, it faces the I think it's the Bentham Room, so it's always lit as well. It's just like really lovely to sit there and you just... it only fits like two three people so it's a really intimate nook and I think only Earth Scientists and I think Mathematicians have access to it. So, it's also never really too busy. So yeah, that's my favourite.
Tunde Banjoko 44:13
Wonderful. You guys have been absolutely brilliant Noella, Sephora, Tissot so thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate it.
Sephora Madjiheurem 44:24
Thank you so much for having me.
Tissot Regis 44:25
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Noella Kalasa 44:27
Kyla Jardine 44:28
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.