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Sophie spoke with the candidate for BAME Student Officer, Max Kafula, who already holds the position. The theme of discussion primarily focused upon the challenges faced upon sustaining this role through the pandemic and also what he hopes to further achieve if he was to maintain this position.
How have you been over lockdown?
Oh, it’s been a venture to say the least, I love it, I hate it, I somehow tolerate it, it’s been a rollercoaster.
What made you want to be BAME Student Officer for the second time?
I realised that I still haven’t finished what I wanted to do. I know that sounds cliché but I want to show that by the time I leave office that Lancaster Students’ Union and the University have a dedicated Racial Equality plan, a long-term plan for all ethnic minority students, because when I came here a year ago there was nothing. Therefore, this whole year was essentially just building up the foundations, and now I intend to decorate the house.
It is shown in your manifesto that you have achieved so much in your role since the start of this year- what do you feel has been the most important change you have made?
I feel like the most important change I have made was implementing my policy. I think that was one of my biggest breakthroughs in such a long-term plan and is part of my commitment to making the University anti-racist. So this training currently applies to just JCRs and full-time student elects like full-time officers- but what we want to do is expand the training, not just to students, but all through the societies and hopefully academic stuff as well, as this sets a precedent, and I am proud of doing that.
What are your hoping to achieve this time around?
I want to implement the Ethnic Minority Deal, which is essentially my version of a long-term commitment plan. Hopefully, future officers will expand further on it, but the main core principles of it is decolonising the curriculum, reducing the rewarding gap, improving mental health for all people, of all ethnic minority students, improving engagement and representation throughout all ethnic communities, ensuring that we have proper accountability and transparency and structures in place to hold the University and the SU accountable and to ensure their commitment to racial inequality. And also expanding my training because we ought to be all receiving training on anti-racism as that is the best way to ensure that we build a much more inclusive place for all students on campus.
How hard is it in sustaining efficient and effective communication, understanding and acceptance of the BAME culture from the perspective of students, when, as highlighted in your manifesto, the University only committed to the Race Equality Charter after the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020?
I’ve actually trained over 100 students and JCR staff voluntarily, so I know how to handle training all by myself, but what I want to do now is to commit to the use of a new deal, ensuring binaries with the University and the SU, who can combine resources to expand training, because obviously you can’t just rely on an officer like me to train thousands of students. Although I’d like to, it’s logistically impossible. So therefore, this training policy that I have done sets a precedent and shows both the Uni and the SU that you can’t just turn around and say we can’t do this if it’s possible.
I have made the impossible, possible and this shows that the Uni has to build on my work because they just can’t let it die. If they let it die, that’ll be worse for them, and this builds up the pressure- but, we need to expand on this. You’re right, we wouldn’t have got the Racial Equality Charter for students if it wasn’t for student activists, so we need to keep the momentum going, and the more we bring in, the better and the more likely they are going to come out. They’ll have trust and confidence that change is happening, and when trust and confidence are back, the pressure is back on the SU and the University to commit to these changes.
You must find this role really rewarding- what are the most rewarding aspects of it for you?
I think there is a popular belief that LCO’s don’t have much influence or much say, but what I have been able to do is kind of break down that feeling as LCO’s have so much power, it’s unbelievable. We’ve built forums in difficult times, we’ve re-built engagement in difficult times, we’ve led campaigns in difficult times including long-lasting campaigns that educate students and staff, and students with disabilities have done some fantastic work in exposing the lack of the Uni’s ILSPs, particularly in the pandemic, and therefore holds the University accountable to that. Being an LCO is actually the best, most rewarding experience. Although our successes may not be published, knowing that we have the same opportunities as FTOs to ensure long-term change is created, is much more rewarding for me. In particular when I did all the training- that was the moment when I thought, wow, no one thought that was possible, not even FTOs, so an LCO bringing anti-racist training policy and training almost 100 students, in a single month- that is exceptional and I hope that it inspires so many students to realise that it doesn’t matter what position you are in, no matter if you’re a JCR, LCO or on an Exec- anything is possible and what you can do is limitless- the sky’s the limit.
What are you looking forward to most after lockdown?
Standing in the queue for Sugar! I’ll never take a queue for granted again- I’ll even help handing the stuff out at the tills! But yeah, also just not wearing a face mask on campus anymore and seeing everyone and being bombarded by the slow walkers on the spine- I took it for granted and just those long lines at Greggs and having the choice of ‘Do I get Greggs or shall I be on time for my seminar?’
Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk with you today- thank you very much!