Leila Neshat Mokadem

"Action, not words": Coming together during Black History Month to foster positive change

By Clara Maurillon - 05 October 2022

Black History Month (BHM) is an annual worldwide celebration of black achievements. It's an opportunity for us as a university community to celebrate diversity and educate ourselves about race, ethnicity, and learn more about the rich historical contributions of Afro-Caribbean people to the UK.

The theme for this year's Black History Month is "Time for Change: Action, not words" with a strong focus on black mental health and wellness. The university has worked in partnership with RGU:Union to deliver an exciting line-up of events during October, which will see our community come together to celebrate. Leila Neshat Mokadem, Staff Equality Champion for Race, shares more about the importance of Black History Month and the university's involvement in promoting inclusivity and diversity. 

What is Black History Month, and can you tell us more about this year’s theme?

Black History Month is a wonderful annual observance which occurs every October across the UK and Ireland as well as in other countries such as the US and Canada during February. It’s a lovely celebration in remembrance and recognition of important contributions and achievements of black people throughout history and in the here and now. It is also a fantastic way to raise awareness and shine a light on issues affecting black people.

This year’s theme is “Time for Change: Action Not Words”. Across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and our wider region, schools, colleges, universities, workplaces, charity organisations, the police and many others are taking a long hard look at their policies, procedures, diversity data, and representation of role models and identifying what they can do better. BHM creates a special space to take the time to reflect, be inspired to come together as allies, and importantly, to take positive steps to enable success and wellbeing in our communities.

How is RGU taking part this year? 

There are lots of fabulous things happening this BHM across our campus, social media platforms and Student Union, from film showings to debates and live networking events - there’s something for everyone to get involved in!

At RGU we’re all about building ‘inclusive communities’ and so BHM is one way in which we can all honour our shared values of dignity and respect whilst actively learning and having some fun. But as we know, it’s not just about one month or about one protected characteristic. When it comes to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) the key is to consider lived experiences and intersectionality. That's why I’m delighted to see RGU staff and student Equality Champions from across all the protected characteristics coming together and working hard with plenty of passion to involve everyone within our schools and departments to make things better for all of us.

The University as a whole has been taking some really positive steps over recent years and it’s been great to see this unfold and to be reflected in the University strategy. This to me signals the importance RGU places on inclusivity for all. But it’s not just our policies and strategies, we have lots going on in the EDI space in terms of networks, events, and training. For example, staff can join and get involved in the Race Equality Network (REN) and students can actively participate in the Black Liberation Movement Network. There’s always room for improvement when it comes to inclusivity and the more members that join in, the more we learn from each other, and the more we can shape the culture at RGU. 

A great way to bring people together of course is through celebration! It’s wonderful to see that one of the Vibrant Campus events will be around a celebration of Race, with the ‘Who am I’ event which will be taking place on campus in October during Black History Month. 

What is your role during – and beyond – BHM as Equality Champion for Race?

I see one of my main roles as a champion to listen – to really listen - to people’s feedback, their concerns, suggestions, and creative ideas and to take this forward in committees to ensure all voices are heard and acted upon.

I’ve been humbled by colleagues and students that have kindly and bravely shared their lived experiences, so together we can highlight these and help transform actions into outcomes. In line with this year’s theme of ‘action’ the university has recently set up Equality Action Groups to support the different equality strands. All RGU staff are welcome to join and they’re a lovely way of getting people together in a safe space to articulate what they feel are the main issues affecting our RGU community and how we can be empowered to make improvements, however big or small.

I would encourage everyone to take a little time to engage with equality events such as BHM in any way possible and reflect on what we can each do in our own sphere of influence whether through educating ourselves on things like ‘microaggressions’ or finding new ways we can support our peers. We all want to feel we can bring our WHOLE self to RGU, to enjoy what we do and to flourish as we do it. 

Wishing everyone a fantastic Black History Month! 

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