X Close

IOE Student Blog


A blog on life at IOE and education affairs written for students by students.


Creating space for Black voices at UCL: A student (and now alumni) perspective

By IOE Blog Editor, on 18 April 2024

Two students in the library studying.

Credit: Drazen via Adobe Stock.

By Olivia Amponsa-Gyasi and Kelly Cummins, Child Development MSc

Since our original conversation in 2022, we recognise that departments at IOE have invited non-white guest speakers to talk or promote their work and have done more to champion inclusion within the university.

It started with an assignment…

Being from a minority background within academic spaces is something you quickly become hyper-aware of, knowing that the way you navigate the space will be different and often more challenging. Exploring these experiences has always been something I was interested in so when I had the opportunity to choose my topic for a Master’s assignment, I knew exactly what to do.

I interviewed Olivia about her experiences as a Black Master’s student at UCL. The importance of this topic became even more apparent after researching systemic racism within higher education institutions and particularly data surrounding Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students’ progression, or lack thereof, within higher education. The statistics were both sad to read and unsurprising given that BAME students often feel excluded during their studies, contributing to the attainment gap. For those who are unaware, the attainment gap in this context is the gap between white and ethnic minority students’ academic achievements in higher education. Research has suggested that this may be due to the lack of BAME staff, resulting in cultural misunderstandings and the feeling of a lack of support. It was important for me to explore the lived experiences of black students, something I felt lacked within the literature.

Unfortunately, there was a problem when it came to writing up my interview as I could not effectively protect the identity of our lecturer as they were the only member in the department of Black heritage at the time.

I chose to take part in Kelly’s research because diversity was (and still is) an important conversation not only within UCL but higher education as a whole. It was important for me to share my experience as a postgraduate taught student with others who may be experiencing the same thing, but may not necessarily have the opportunity or platform to discuss such an important topic. It is essential when conducting discussions such as this, for people to remain sensitive, and aware of discourse as well as cultivate a safe space for minoritised individuals to feel comfortable to speak on their experiences; I feel Kelly did just that for me. One of the things I spoke about during my interview with Kelly was the importance for me as a student from an ethnic minority background, to see staff members who looked like me. This for me provides a sense of belonging, safety, and understanding within the space.

Being able to identify with the lecturer, who at the time was a module leader and Inclusion Lead for the department, also provided a sense of inspiration, including possible positions to aspire to later on in my career. After reading my transcript from Kelly’s research, the lecturer reached out to Kelly.

The conversation, 2022

When our lecturer reached out, it was clear she wasn’t just interested in the assignment but the wider conversation around what was explored, and our personal experiences – not something I ever expected from an institution like UCL. The next step was to get together and discuss just that.

This sparked conversations about what it meant to be of Black heritage in spaces where we don’t necessarily feel we belong. It was disheartening to know the experiences we had were no different from hers a few years before. Knowing that our experiences were no different discouraged me from even thinking about a future in academia. However, it made me realise that the conversation was bigger than the three of us…

For me, I had no idea taking part in Kelly’s research would spark conversations with faculty staff, especially the lecturer I spoke about. Once we all realised how similar our experiences in higher education were, we started to reflect on higher education institutions, the lack of access to higher education for young Black people, and their experiences once they were there. We reflected on an array of difficulties from a sense of belonging, feeling confident or comfortable to share ideas in lectures, career progression within academic spaces, and even completion of their courses due to extenuating circumstances. Following these conversations, we decided we wanted to be the change we wanted to see in our institution, starting with the event – “Creating space for all Black voices.” Minoritised communities need to be able to foster a sense of belonging and safety, especially in places where there are so few of us. It is important to showcase what it means to have an inclusive and diverse space for morale and empowerment amongst students and staff.

The event: Creating space for all Black voices, 2023

Kelly and Olivia:
We wanted to not only share our experiences at UCL but also lead in creating the safe spaces we spoke of. Therefore, we hosted an event to celebrate Black History Month, where the voices of Black academics, professionals, and students were amplified and celebrated through panel discussions, a Q&A, and networking. It’s not enough to only invite Black or Minority speakers in when it’s time to talk on race and EDI, so a key element to our event was allowing our speakers to share the exciting projects they were working on.

It is important to highlight that the event itself felt like preaching to the choir as the people who needed to hear the message most were not there. However, the people who came helped create a safe space for panellists and audience members alike to share experiences and ask questions freely. My view of academia and professional spaces completely changed after the discussions that took place at the event, to hear that yes, there will be barriers, but it doesn’t mean I have to look for them and let them stop me. It has encouraged me to walk more boldly into those spaces.


A key takeaway for me was that sometimes you have to be the change you want to see, with one panellist sharing: “If I decided to remove myself from the space for seeing a lack of people who look like me, there would be even less of us in the space – that’s why it’s important to keep going.”

The end, 2024

While the journey to this blog has not been straightforward, it has been an enlightening and necessary one. We want to thank our lecturer for her support from the beginning, and all those who helped with the event and amplified our voices. To other minoritised students in higher education, we hope this blog entry serves as a piece of comfort and inspiration for you to speak out about your experiences and the lack of diversity within academic and professional spaces.

To all, we want to encourage the conversation around equality, diversity, and inclusion to continue, however that may look.

IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, is committed to action that will advance social justice. Find out more about how we’re working towards equity, diversity and inclusion, and read our pledges for racial equality in our community.

Leave a Reply