Chester Students’ Union is a membership organisation that exists for students at the University of Chester. At the University of Chester, about 12% of students are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and so we spent time in the summer reflecting on how we could engage more with our ethnic minority students to ensure we were making lasting impactful change.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion featured heavily across the Elected Officers’ manifestos and priorities. As white leaders at the Students’ Union, we wanted to be allies and held discussions with our ethnic minority student leaders from elected representatives to avoid making promises without speaking to these students and reflecting on what they said and how we could make meaningful change and impact.

We are now committed to becoming an explicitly anti-racist organisation.

Supporting ethnic minority students through resources, services and internal support

To help our mission to become an explicitly anti-racist organisation, we recognised a few areas where we could have instant impact with our students: through using all of our services and internal support.

We set up a Student Race Challenge Group – a safe space for ethnic minority students to talk about anything they have faced – to discuss issues surrounding the University and Union which is then passed to the University’s Race Equality Group through the BAME Rep. The first meeting was very popular; with members wanting to share their stories to the wider student body to educate other students on these issues and help everyone become better allies to one another. Our BAME Rep has since been invited to sit on the University’s Student Experience Committee which is a really positive step towards ensuring accurate student representation.

We have also consulted with our ethnic minority students to plan a comprehensive Black History Month timetable that celebrates education, arts, culture, business, and sport, both nationally and locally.

We have digitally engaged with our black student community through articles such as ‘Microaggressions – what are they and why are they harmful’, Teleparty events with screenings of Selma and Self Made, and social media campaigns showcasing influential Black British people using #BlackHistoryMonth. All of this content was incredibly important to our students in raising awareness of Black British history.

Identifying anti-racist opportunities as an organisation

As ACEVO CEO Vicky Browning said:

“As a sector we often think we can do stuff cheap and free, which we often try and do. But sometimes we need to say: ‘To make genuine change we need to invest in this’.”

As an organisation, we have invested our time and resource and will continue to do so. Our commitment is both in resource of time and money, but also a real passion from colleagues to be allies and be part of the solution.

Our staff have undertaken training on systemic racism, and we are starting a longer-term programme through the National Union of Students (NUS) on Race Equity. We have also developed a series of online resources around tackling racism as well as using the reading lists given to us in our first training session on systemic racism to create anti-racism libraries on our campuses.

We already anonymise all internal applications as standard practice, but we are also working on ensuring the University’s UniJob scheme is fair and inclusive – starting with anonymising applications through a new system which we hope to see implemented soon.

We are also developing our new strategic plan that gives us an opportunity to shape and resource future priorities. As part of that work, our focus groups will be identifying what minority ethnic students want and need from us as well as learning from their past interactions with the organisation. We are also undertaking a diversity census of existing participation so we can understand who we engage with and, crucially, who we disproportionally do not engage with. This may pose challenges but also provide a renewed set of priorities for engagement in a number of key areas.

Encouraging more board diversity

In a recent ACEVO survey only 23% of CEOs were satisfied with the ethnic diversity of their boards. Several of our board positions are elected officers.

This year, we intend to run bespoke events to encourage more minority ethnic students to run for the full-time elected officer roles, who are also Trustees, as well as ensuring our other trustee roles show strong ethnic diversity. We will monitor the diversity of our current Board annually which will inform the future recruitment of appointed roles.

Our commitment to countering systemic racism

We are very much at the beginning of our journey to be an explicitly anti-racist organisation. There is still much to do, and we are embracing the discomfort that some discussions and honest feedback and dialogue brings. We want to continue learning from our ethnic minority members and other organisations whilst focused on serving our ethnic minority members effectively and being an explicit part of the solution to countering systemic racism.

This article was written in collaboration with Chester Students’ Union with contributions from Eleanor Lewis, President, and Matt Webber, CEO.

At Peridot, we do not believe in throw away statements about diversity. Instead, diversity is at the heart of everything we do and is crucial to our success, reputation, and the organisations and people we work with.

We are proud to have an exceptional track record of leading inclusive recruitment campaigns that enhance diversity so, if you are looking to recruit more diverse teams or boards, then you can read more here or get in touch with Bilgin Yuksel about Students’ Union Recruitment>.