Interview with Max Kafula

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Tom Burgess from SCAN interviewed Max Kafula, the new BAME Officer.

How have you been over lockdown? Have you learnt any new skills?

Finding new ways to make tea. Another new skill would be trying out learning a new language- I’m relearning German. But also learning to clean my room which seems to be a never-ending training. 

Why did you apply for the role in the first place?

I thought I might run for the BAME position as I have an interest in the issues and I know what is wrong with the university. I thought why not take a crack at it. A couple of my friends had a look at my manifesto and put it through Grammarly as the grammar was awful. By this point, I had already lost a couple of JCR elections so I was a bit nervous to run for another position again. You never know what will happen, so I went for it and here we are!

What are your main aims going into the next year?

I had an epiphany with the BLM movement and I figured out my whole aim was fighting for change. So under the broad aim of fighting for change I have three initiatives. One is ‘enough is enough’ which is tackling all forms of institutional racism and racial discrimination in both the union and the university. The ‘no one left behind’ initiative which involves fighting to make sure that no BAME student is left behind from the discussions in terms of policies and welfare. My last one is fighting for ‘representation for all’ BAME students to make sure that we have a seat at the table. What I am hopefully trying to do is work with the new VP for Development to get more BAME students to run for JCR’s, societies and more LUSU positions. I am going to introduce an Asian student secretary to make sure all policies we design are also appealing for Asian students on campus. I’m also going to have a faith secretary to tackle all faith-based discrimination. I have campaigned to change my name to BAME to include Asian students. 

In your manifesto, you mentioned that the university did not do enough to tackle discrimination. How are you planning on changing that?

I’ve messaged pretty much all the FTO’s. I’ve talked to Amy the new VP for Welfare to discuss new welfare measures for all societies in place. This will reevaluate the Moodle training, which is very inadequate. I’ve also talked to Paul the new VP for Sports to see how we can make sports more inclusive for BAME students. We’re looking at possibly having some kind of bystander training and all members of the exec have to be welfare trained. I’ve suggested to Oliver that we should get an external charity to look at LUSU’s handling of racial issues and incidents. This will all come up in the new ‘democracy and governance’ review. Myself and LUREN have proposed an open letter demanding institutional change. We received a response, I have been invited to a new committee that has been formed to drive racial equality. 

In your manifesto, you mentioned having a coalition of BAME societies to tackle issues together. With issues such as Hong Kong independence or Palestine and Israel, how do you think you could make that work with groups that have a conflict of interest?

I think looking back I didn’t really get the grasp of how serious and hard that would be. Since being elected I have held various meetings with everyone hearing what all the issues can be. With the issue of Palestine and Israel that came up during the election focusing on which candidates was going to be more pro-Israel. So what I wanted to do was focus on the broad racial issues that affect all of these BAME societies as we all struggle with similar issues- involving lack of resources, lack of visibility from the SU. What I wanted to do was to create a forum that although there are divides within, focus on the issues of discrimination that we have in common. At the moment I am working with the international officer Yu Hong to come up with a system by which we can bring all societies to plan events together and also organise a culture appreciation month in which we celebrate all the different cultures. Although all the different societies have different experiences in life we also have lots of common ground.

How do you think Covid-19 has affected the students you represent? How do you think it will impact on your plans going forward?

In line with the increase of Covid-19, there has also been an increase in xenophobia against Asian students. At the moment myself and the international student’s officer, Yu Hong, are trying to reassure the international students that we are here for you and if you need anything just let us know. Right now the welfare of BAME students is my top priority and always will be. I was thinking of creating a new guide for BAME students coming to Lancaster and I partnered up with Yu Hong to do so. We want to get more colleges involved and possibly get some differentiation such as college-specific guides. We also want to get more training as well- I’m hoping to get more training for JCR’s. Anxieties about coming to a majority-white university will only have been increased by the pandemic. I want to train JCR’s to be able to give reassurance and help these students and make them feel included. 

Has the BLM movement changed any of your plans going into this year or added to them?  

When I look at the BLM movement and how people were just fighting for change and this is relevant on campus for BAME students. It made me realise I needed to be bold, be more radical and not play the conservative approach. As a black person, who has experienced racism, seeing incidents get swept under the carpet made me angry. The zero-tolerance approach is what is needed. I’ve had a meeting where I was bold by stating that I did their training for equality and in my opinion, it was utterly inadequate. I decided to give my all when writing the open letter with other fabulous people to the university. It was a big risk which risked burning bridges I might need later down the line. What the letter showed was that you can’t bring change if you don’t take risks- you have to be radical. 

The RON campaign in the recent presidential election was disqualified. What do you think about this issue?

All the scandals of last year have definitely contributed to the drop in voting- from 17% in the last presidential election to 9% this time. To have validity in referendums and petitions you need at least ten per cent. This shows that the union is broken and how students don’t care about the union. The reasons the union came up with to disqualify RON were a bit vague. I don’t know all of the details. These were protest votes so if possible I wouldn’t have disqualified them. Hopefully, myself and the other FTO’s and PTO’s can do more to boost participation and rebuild trust.

What is the first thing you want to do when university is back?

What I wanted to do was get involved with Black History Month but with Covid-19 it’s all up in the air at the moment. This might mean Black History Month is a more virtual event which will be a challenge. I’m just praying that the ‘R’ rate goes down and the university feels like it’s safe to open up big spaces. Seeing all my friends again and delivering my overdue library books!

What do you miss most about the city of Lancaster?

Sultans. Without a shadow of a doubt. No hesitation. Greggs is up there too. 

I think you’ve answered the last question but which is better: Sultans or Ketcap?

Sultans easily. It’s the atmosphere of Sultans.

Thank you for coming on and talking to us!

Thank you for having me!

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