Respect, Empowerment and Action: my campaign for QUBSU.

As I have written previously, I am standing to become the next Student Officer for Equality and Diversity at QUBSU. I believe in, and desire to see Respect, Empowerment and Action at my university. I am so excited to run with the dedicated team of fellow activists and campaigners with whom I share the same passion and interests as part of REUNION.

I know it is going to be a long couple of weeks of canvassing and campaigning. But I am nothing if not determined. I have issues to raise, and topics to raise awareness of. No matter the ultimate outcome of the campaign, I know that I will try my hardest and do my best, and ensure the issues I care deeply about are raised and acknowledged.

I thought to write this evening to share my manifesto with you all to keep you updated on the campaign. This comes after a week of juggling meetings and my internship with classes and campaigning, and in light of the canvassing and hustings this coming week. But seeing both my ticket and individual manifestos launch this week was a proud moment. I suppose it was a moment of realisation, knowing that my team are so passionate and determined to bring about positive change for all QUB students.

Leah Rea – VP Equality and Diversity

~  Respect  ~  Empowerment ~  Action ~

Leah Manifesto 1

I believe equality is recognising we are all human, and entitled to the same access to education, opportunities and experience. It is realising we each should hold the same status, and rely upon the same rights and freedoms. It is respecting your fellow students, accepting everyone as your peer irrespective of background, nationality, culture or religion.

Diversity is understanding that alongside our shared status and rights, we must recognise each student is unique. We must recognise and celebrate differences of both group and individual nature. I am passionate about supporting and protecting diversity because by valuing individuals and groups we create a vibrant and enriching community of equals. By eliminating prejudice and stigma, we foster a climate where equality is the reality and mutual respect is intrinsic.

At QUB, we are fortunate to participate in a diverse society. We need to be able to respond appropriately and sensitively to this diversity, ensuring all students feel valued, motivated and treated fairly.

Our current VP Equality and Diversity Officer has worked hard to ensure this, and I would welcome the opportunity to take over and build upon his work.

For there is so much more to be done.

Barriers still exist. Stigma is still present.

In the face of additional cuts, and threats of tuition fee increases, it is more important than ever before for all students to unite in opposition to plans that would prevent many from continuing their education in the subjects they love, or being denied an opportunity to experience the student life.

It’s time for this to end.

In sum: I aim to ensure all students realise their importance and dignity. I want to empower all students to utilise their voices and realise their rights. And I will pursue this through active campaigns the development of an inclusive and respecting community, where we can learn alongside and from each other.

I will uphold equality and diversity through:

Respecttimes may be difficult for higher education, but cuts should not mean accepting inequality.

Better recognition and understanding of mental health issues, greater inclusivity for international students, greater support for students re-entering higher education, better signposting for students of faith, increased positive awareness for sexual consent, greater recognition of self-identification for trans* and non-binary students.

Empowerment students are not blank chequebooks. The adopted financial stance of the university should not deter students from having their say.

Creation of Inter-Group Forums to enable various student representative groups to come together and unite on shared issues, greater recognition of female student autonomy in relation to contraception and choice, visible platform for LGBT*QIA students, establishment of visible roles for international students for greater inclusivity in the student community and politics.

Action Words alone will not create the inclusive community QUB students desire. Campaigns will bring about positive change for all.

Raising awareness of pronoun importance, greater promotion of Human Rights Week, greater awareness for LGBT* Month, better recognition of positive consent, increased awareness and promotion of International Women’s Day, raising awareness of derogatory language and slurs.

About Me

I am a passionate Human Rights advocate, student activist and volunteer. I believe it is vital and necessary to speak up, help others and desire change. I firmly believe we all have a voice which deserves to be heard and respected.

Throughout my time at QUB I have been involved in fantastic societies, campaigns and volunteer work. I have discovered that it is through collective involvement with students of similar thoughts and aims that positive change can be achieved. I know one student alone cannot truly be representative of our diverse student body – I seek to be the facilitator, the medium through which students can be heard.

Upon returning to QUB this year after studying in America, I saw that the university was becoming more business-focused and money-orientated, much to the detriment of students. I also saw that the SU was seeking to oppose such rhetoric and practice by becoming a passionate hub of student activism. I thus joined other committed activists in Campaign SU in order to defend fundamental rights and freedoms of all students. I desire to run for office to ensure this platform of activism and empowerment continues, existing to serve students both present and future.

Experience 

QUB

‘Are Ye Well?’ mental health awareness training (2013)
Mind Your Mood CBT training (2014)
After-School Study Support tutor and mentor (Sandy Row Community Centre, 2013-2014)
First Year Law Buddy/workshop facilitator
Typhoon Haiyan Aid campaign volunteer
Young City Leader Communications Officer 2013-2014
International Buddy Scheme
Children in Crossfire committee member
InnovateHer participant 2015-2016
Inspiring Leaders Class of 2015
Campaign SU

USA via Study USA scholarship, 2014-2015

Coe College Human Rights Advocates committee member
Coe College Mental Health Awareness committee member
Alpha Omicron Pi: empowering women through leadership and philanthropy
‘Yes Means Yes’ campaign activist
International Club/Multi-Cultural Fusion member
Coe (LGBT) Alliance

Vote for Respect, Empowerment and Action for Equality and Diversity.
Vote REUNION #1 from the 1st – 3rd March via Queen’s Online.


 

You can find the REUNION ticket on Facebook, and also follow us on Twitter for campaign updates.

 

 

Election season, or why I run with REUNION.

It is rather funny how experiences can change you as a person. You can be interested in issues, be passionate about causes, and desire to see genuine change. Maybe you undergo an experience, or suffer from an illness which gives you a fresh perspective. You want to raise awareness and tell your story.

But maybe you feel scared about speaking out. You feel that you will not be listened to, or understood. At worse, you will be laughed at, or too readily dismissed.

Or perhaps you think that the time to sit on the sidelines is up, and it is time to step forward and challenge the status quo on your own terms.

I have always been passionate about activism, and advocacy. I have volunteered, undertaken campaigns and training across various subjects over the years, because I always want to ensure people feel safe, respected and empowered. But I suppose I forgot to do the same for myself. It was not until I went to America for a year that I  increased my confidence and independence, and realised that instead of shying away from my personal experiences, they could be used to help others in similar situations. I realised I truly do believe in working together to overcome problems and tackle issues.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog post.

This time last year, I was the sole Northern Irish student on an American college campus, fighting through Midwestern snow banks from classes and meetings. I juggled sorority membership, a legal internship, student organisations and volunteering in a new culture and country. It was a fabulous experience, and thoroughly eye-opening. When in my dorm room, I was watching and following political campaigns from back home in the lead up to the Westminster elections.

Now I can announce I am to participate in my own campaign this year -hopefully without snow. I am excited to announce my candidacy to become the next VP Equality and Diversity for QUBSU, as part of the REUNION ticket of fellow committed activists seeking positive change for all students.

When I arrived at QUB as a first year Law student back in 2012, I did not know what would be in store for me. I soon found myself undertaking mental health awareness training, working with younger students, tutoring primary school children and running voluntary campaigns. It was rewarding, it was enriching, and it felt amazing to say that I was able to help others.

In time, I was studying abroad in the US. As an international student, I became a mental health activist, consent awareness raiser and human rights advocate, whilst also being empowered through my AOII sisters. I finally felt proud to be a woman, and proud to be a committed activist in promoting respect, empowerment and acceptance for all my fellow students.

Yet upon my return to QUB this year, I saw how the university I love was becoming more business-focused and money-orientated, much to the detriment of students. But I also saw how the SU was seeking to oppose such rhetoric and practice by becoming a passionate hub of student activism. I thus joined other committed activists in order to defend fundamental rights and freedoms of all students through protesting against the cuts levied at QUB. I desire to ensure this platform of activism and empowerment continues, existing to serve students both present and future.

As a working-class female student, I want to ensure the opportunities and education afforded to me continues to exist for all. I desire an inclusive campus, and a shared, accepting learning environment free from prejudice.

So I believe that it is time to make QUB the university all students deserve, and it is time for a reunion of students to unite in the face of increased tuition fees.

I’m Leah, a final year Law student and past Study USA adventurer, and I am standing to become the next Student Officer for Equality and Diversity at QUBSU. I believe in, and desire to see, Respect, Empowerment and Action at my university. I am therefore excited to run with the dedicated team of fellow activists and campaigners with whom I share the same passion and interests.

It is going to be a long couple of weeks of canvassing and campaigning. But I am nothing if not determined. I have issues to raise, and topics to raise awareness of. No matter the ultimate outcome of the campaign, I know that I will try my hardest and do my best, and ensure the issues I care deeply about are raised and acknowledged.

Let’s do this.

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You can find the REUNION ticket on Facebook, and also follow us on Twitter for campaign updates.

 

Why I write.

Hello all,

This is just a little post about an email I received during the past week, which was a pleasant surprise and left a smile on my face. I suppose that this email emphasised to me why it is that I write on this blog, and it reminded me that you are able to help and assist others, without even knowing that you are.

After I came home from my day working in the office at my internship this week, I went to check my personal emails. Scrolling through my subscribed emails (full of Brexit, EU negotiations and Nevada/South Carolina primaries discussions) I came across an email personally addressed to me. And to my surprise, it was actually in relation to my blog!

The email was from Legal Yankee, a wonderful advice website for students studying law in both the US and UK. It provides sudent resources, curated and original articles, and legal research and writing. And it was this website which had found my blog, and had emailed me to say that said blog was to be featured in their February newsletter. I could not believe it; I felt so honoured that I was to be this fabulous website’s Featured Blog of the Month. In addition, my blog was included in a recent post on Legal Yankee’s blog in relation to student advice, as written by law students for law students.

Recently, when I was writing my New Year’s Eve post pertaining to my review of my blog over the past few months, I realised my blog has come to mean a lot to me, and I cherish the time I spend writing and publishing on it. I am simply thrilled that my blog has proved useful and informative for other law students, which was my original aspiration upon creating it. To know that there may be other law students out there, seeking help and advice, who come across my blog and find such help and advice – that is why I write. I write to ensure that students feel supported, and know that they are not alone.

On a personal note, writing on my blog has also provided an outlet for my discussion of law and politics. I actively look forward to sitting down and typing up my thoughts on a chosen subject, discovering as I type how to weigh up competing arguments or understand differing viewpoints. I also feel as though I have a voice, and to know that people listen is simply amazing.

As I have mentioned previously, when I started this blog back in July of 2015, I had imagined it to be of mostly small circulation, and more of a way for me to articulate and publish my thoughts on politics, legal developments etc. I did not imagine that many would actively click on the links to my posts, let alone read them. So you can imagine that I am really so very amazed and grateful that this blog has had over 1,093 visitors and over 2,929 views in only a couple of months. I cannot thank you enough, and I am very grateful that there are those who are willing to read my musings. I am most grateful to Legal Yankee for including my blog on their website, and I hope that together we may be able to help other law students with my blog posts.

So, the general point to take away from this post? You never know what impact you will have on someone out there in the world. You never know who you may be helping, without even knowing.

Of the Superbowl and Stigma.

I must confess that I lack any knowledge in relation to American football. I know that may sound surprising, given that I did live in the States for a year only recently, but try as I might, I could not bear to stand being converted from my one true sporting love of rugby. Suffice to say, I was however exposed to the hype and furore that can only be the Superbowl. I can recall how this event dominated the student scene, with my friends excitedly discussing the form of the competing teams and players, and wondering who would emerge victorious. I, on the other hand, mostly spending my time wondering who/what aforementioned friends were talking about. (Fret not, for I got my own back when the Six Nations Championship rolled around. My talk of ‘scrums’ and ‘lineouts’ and ‘tries’ left prompted the bewildered face I pulled only a week before.)

I did however become aware of the dominance of advertising. The media covered which brands were fortunate enough to have their adverts featuring. Students discussed adverts of old, which ones they liked and were amused by. I even had to write a paper for my Marketing class on the multitude of advertisements flashing across screens both amused and exasperated me. I was amused by obvious attempts to engage with the audience by the creators of said advertisements, who knew that this would be the business equivalent of the Holy Grail for their company. It struck me as odd that despite the Super Bowl being a sporting-fixture, it was mostly known or indeed remembered for the advertisements shown.

People remember images, after all. I recently wrote a post about the power of visuals, noting that:

Visuals, in whatever capacity, are a means of representation. This occurs most especially in advertisements, when companies hope to connect with consumers….

And more often than not, many of us cannot feel represented.

Which brings me to the next observation I made about the Super Bowl last year in the US, and which was reiterated this year. I am speaking about the infamous ‘Halftime show’, when big names in the music industry will come forth, and perform to thousands in the stadium and millions watching at home.

This year, Coldplay, Bruno Mars and a certain Beyoncé graced the stage during the Halfime show. But Beyoncé, who already had caused waves with a surprise single release that Saturday – her first in 14 months, with a politically charged video – stole the show.

Beyoncé and her dancers at the 2016 Super Bowl. (Image courtesy of Consequence of Sound.)

Let me start with ‘Formation‘, her new single. In the lyrics, she refers to the Black Lives Matter movement, details what it is to be black in the United States in 2016, and proudly sings: ‘I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros, I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.’

In what mic.com has described as being ‘one of the most political music videos in recent memory’, Beyoncé is seen lying on top of a New Orleans police car that sinks into water – a clear reference to Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged mainly black communities in 2005, with many of those affected feeling abandoned by both state and federal government since.

Moreover, the New South Negress journal wrote about the video that Beyoncé ‘becomes every black southern woman possible for her to reasonably inhabit, moving through time, class, and space’.

It was this song she launched into at the Super Bowl. And it was this song, complete with her backing dancers, that caused such a storm in the US. For Beyoncé proudly, and powerfully, referenced celebrated black figures of the past and recent black history. During the performance, At one point, Beyoncé and her backing dancers raised a fist into the air, mimicking a powerful visual image: the Black Panthers’ salute.

Now, even before the performance, when images of the backing artists were posted from backstage, there were many who picked up on the visual reference of the berets of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party was a militant organisation that rejected the non-violent ideals of Martin Luther King. It was established 50 years ago to defend black people against violence and demand civil rights.

But Beyoncé did not stop there. Apparently paying homage to Michael Jackson through her choice of outfit, at one point she and her dancers formed a large ‘X’ shape. They also formed an arrow, straight lines and a triangle, but it was this particular formation that people noticed. How come? Well, the ‘X’ seemingly referenced another famous black figure, known for demanding change and equality: Malcolm X. Like Martin Luther King, he too was assassinated whilst calling for civil rights. However, unlike Martin Luther king, known for his insistence of peaceful protest and non-violence, Malcolm X was criticised by his opponents for his preaching of violence and apparent racism. He promoted black supremacy, advocated the separation of black and white Americans, and rejected the civil rights movement for their emphasis on integration. So this reference by Beyoncé raised a few eyebrows, and was condemned by some, such as the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani:

I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers, who are the people who protect her…What we should be doing in the African-American community and all communities is build up respect for police officers.

I should note Giuliani sparked criticism himself in November 2014 for his comments in relation to the shooting of black men by armed police officers. During a NBC segment regarding the anticipated grand jury decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Giuliani commented:

Ninety-three percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here…we are not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks….

Before he muttered the now infamous line: ‘White police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.’

The former New York Mayor, everyone. With comments such as these being expressed, seemingly suggesting that only white people can be civilised, live peacefully and only black men are involved in gangs and violence, surely we can understand Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance? Surely we can understand the raw pain and bitter frustration the African-American community in the US must feel every time the breaking news is another story of one of their one, unarmed, being killed by white police officers? Surely we can understand their anger, demand for justice and protests against racism?

To round off the night: it may not have been strictly part of the performance, but images were posted social media of Beyonce’s dancers holding a sign while in the centre of the field. They were demanding justice for Mario Woods. Woods was shot dead by police in San Francisco in December 2015. Videos of his death under intensive fire went viral. Subsequent pressure by civil rights groups has led the US Justice Department to open an investigation into the shooting.

Beyoncé’s performance was powerful, in terms of visual impact. It was also a passionate performance about black power, strength and demanding equality and the end of racism. Beyoncé knew the eyes of the US, and even around the world would be on her during her performance, and she sought to use that to full effect. One description of the Super Bowl event I kept seeing though the days that followed was that Beyoncé’s performance was “unapologetically black”, which is probably why some felt uncomfortable viewing it: they could not bear to be reminded that African-Americans are still subject to racism, discrimination and prejudice in 2016, and did not like being reminded by a pop star who is black.

She struck a nerve, as evidenced by the condemnation of the performance by Conservative news channel Fox News, with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade saying:

…we find out Beyonce dressed up in a tribute to the Black Panthers, went to a Malcolm X formation. And the song, the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a syllable, were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks!

After recalling Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at a prior Super Bowl, Kilmeade went on to argue that the NFL had a responsibility to censor Beyonce’s performance, complaining why “didn’t they go and review this and say, wait a second?”

Her performance, focusing as it did on the recent protests against racial discrimination in the US by activist movements such as Black Lives Matter, actually triggered plans for a group to protest outside the NFL’s headquarters in New York as they consider her performance as racist. I cannot be the only one to spot the irony here. When a visual performance seeks empowerment and equality, especially considering the too-long list of those killed ‘for the crime of being black‘, it is not racist, but highlighting the true victims of racism which is sadly still present in society.

Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and its controversial reception in some quarters reminded me of the cases I recently came across in my Law studies. Last semester, I studied two modules which focused on legal theory. I was fortunate to study Critical Race Theory (CRT) which focused upon the application of critical theory to provide a critical examination of society and culture, and to examine the intersection of race, law, and power. This theory opened my eyes, and give me a new perspective into understanding racism and how it can be implicit in public institutions such as the police, and the courts.

I came to understand that CRT argues racism is ingrained in the fabric and system of society; the individual racist need not exist to note how pervasive institutional racism is in dominant culture. CRT identifies that power structures in society are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which serve to perpetuate the marginalisation of people of colour. Moreover, whilst traditional legal discourse states the neutrality of the law, and its colourblindness, CRT challenges this legal ‘truth’ by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a means for self-interest, power, and privilege.  CRT also recognises that liberalism and meritocracy are often stories heard from those with wealth, power, and privilege. These stories paint a false picture of meritocracy: everyone who works hard can attain wealth, power, and privilege all whilst ignoring the systemic inequalities that institutional racism provides. In addition, intersectionality within CRT points to the multidimensionality of oppression and recognises race alone cannot account for disempowerment.

In my Understanding Human Rights module, we discussed a case from Australia, that of Apple being forced to apologise after a staff member at one of its Victorian stores kicked out a group of black students over fears they ‘might steal something‘. We were asked to think about the writings of Patricia Williams, a proponent of CRT, and apply CRT to this case.

I submitted that this incident not only confirms Williams’ submission that African-Americans are a ‘pre-packaged class of victims’, but it also highlighted the prevailing stereotypical attitude that black people are perpetrators of criminal acts. These young people were informed that they would be watched and subjected to close monitoring by the store staff on the basis of their being black; it is therefore implied the store staff believed they would attempt to commit theft and this prejudicial belief stems from their skin colour. Can you imagine a group of young white boys being told the same thing by a staff member? I do not think this would happen in the first place. That such a prejudicial attitude is still in existence is shameful. Consider this thought with Beyoncé’s performance: would a white singer, singing about a white movement have been considered controversial? After all, it was considered acceptable to have an-all white nominee list for top four categories in the Oscars this year– for the second year in a row. Beyoncé’s visual performance merely served to highlight the prejudice witnessed in the above Australian case.

I was also reminded of an incident in America, where a ladies book club group, who had been laughing on a wine-tasting train in Napa Valley, were unduly thrown off the train. The argument was they were disrupting the experience for other passengers as they were ‘laughing too loudly’. But it is too obvious that they faced discrimination on the basis of their skin colour:  all but one of the book club members on the train were African American. The group was escorted through six train cars, with one of the women saying they felt ‘on display in front of the other guests to waiting police like we were criminals’. These women simply wanted to enjoy themselves, but the moment they became ‘noticeable’ then their skin colour did, too. And it was then that they were removed from the carriage; a symbolic representation of the stereotypical view that as whites are the majority, their rights and interests should be forefront. No wonder the hashtag #Laughingwhileblack went viral.

But let’s note the CRT’s argument of intersectionality: this is a case of bias against both race and gender. Would men have been removed from the train if they had been ‘laughing too loudly’? Was it just easier to remove women, on the basis that they are ranked lower in society anyway? Consider Beyoncé: was she a target for condemnation and criticism on channels such as Fox News, because it was a black woman making a political statement? You see, female pop star is expected to look sexy, to perform sultry dance moves, not proudly declare her race and be a civil rights activist.

Black people are stereotyped as being more likely to offend than their white counterparts; this is evident in the disproportionate detention of black people in prisons in both the UK and in the US. Black people and people of other ethnic minorities are more likely to be subject to questioning by security services, whether in towns and stores or in airports. Is it any wonder that we view ‘stop and search’ policing powers as controversial, when we know that such powers tend to be applied more readily to non-white members of society?

We may argue that given the statistics for arrests and convictions, as non-whites tend to be the majority in both, this should be carried into practice by the police through stop and search to prevent crimes occurring. Yet this is a myth. We believe this, and refuse to realise it is the existence of a prejudicial nature within police practice, based on convenient stereotypes: nonwhites are disproportionately affected in the criminal justice system, thus we cannot rely on statistics to validate our stereotypical attitude. These statistics may only exist because of prejudice. Moreover, we cannot deny that race plays a role in the criminal justice system, both in the UK and the US. We cannot deny that black people are too often victims of police brutality and victims of police prejudice. Stephen Lawrence in the UK is an example of blacks being victimised and denied access to justice. Mike Brown and Tamir Rice were young and unarmed black boys, shot dead by armed white police officers. These cases denote the truth in Williams’ statement about ‘prepackaged victims’: their very skin colour denoted their victim status and wrapped them in the stereotypical branding of ‘young and black, so must be armed and about to commit a crime’. It reinforces that view challenged by CRT, that of the supposed neutrality and colourblindness of the law and public institutions, and reiterates a stereotypical view that whites are superior, and whites should enforce law and order.

Perhaps you feel none of the above cases, whether involving young black men being shot, thrown out of a shop or black women thrown off a train are at all connected to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance. But they do have a connection: they clearly illustrate prejudice and stigma in both society and the law. I just am both sad and frustrated that we are still discussing current incidents of racial stereotyping and stigma in 2016.


 

For a visual timeline of events, starting from Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance to the subsequent complaints, why not take a look at Buzzfeed’s article?

The power of visuals, or why representation matters.

I start this post by stating this: visuals matter.

Photographs, portraits, banners… Whether framed on walls, strewn on gates or gracing the pages of a booklet, your eyes are drawn to them. You stare at the faces looking back at you, and wonder who they are, how they think, what they do.

You also wonder whether you can relate to them.

Visuals, in whatever capacity, are a means of representation. This occurs most especially in advertisements, when companies hope to connect with consumers. We have all seen this in action, no doubt.

And more often than not, many of us cannot feel represented.

I recently began thinking about representation, whether in the media or elsewhere, in the light of this year’s Oscars nominees. How could I not? For when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar nominees for 2016, only white actors and actresses were among the chosen few in the top four categories – for the second year in a row. The consequence of the announcement was the understandable resurgence of the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and a veritable host of concerns about diversity in Hollywood. Even more understand was the announcement that several high-profile actors would boycott the Oscars, notably Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband Will Smith.

Pinkett Smith’s comment, that African -American actors should not have to ‘beg for acknowledgement’, strongly resonated with me. This was no doubt in part due to her making her announcement on Martin Luther King Junior Day, a public holiday in the US in remembrance of the civil rights activist, who was assassinated simply because he believed in equality in rights, in opportunities – in living.

Personally, I was surprised at the snub of Straight Outta Compton for Best Picture and Beasts of No Nation’s Idris Elba for best supporting actor. Both were powerful films, and Elba was fantastic. I thought that the Academy would recognise the poignancy and power of both films. I thought wrong.

Elba spoke before Parliament recently on the very subject of diversity and representation in the media. He stressed the importance of diversity, the importance of representation:

“I’m here to talk about diversity…
Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour—It’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and – most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV & film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned.”

Elba makes a brilliant point about diversity, in that it is not limited to skin colour, but includes all groupings and classifications of differences. In my opinion, diversity is the vital understanding that we must recognise we are all unique. We must recognise and celebrate differences of both group and individual nature, not fear these differences, or shun those who are different to us.

Sadly, such diversity in representation and thought as described by Elba was not acknowledged or celebrated by the Academy.

There have been comments that the Academy is not racist, or biased. It has been noted that Lupita Nyong’o was recognised for her performance 12 Years a Slave by winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2014, and 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture that year.

But I refer you back to Pinkett Smith’s comment: no one should have to beg for acknowledgement, and no one should be brushed off with comments that they have received said acknowledgement so many years previously.

Incidentally enough, Nyong’o spoke out about the lack of diversity present in this year’s Oscars nominees. Speaking of her ‘disappointment’ of the presence of ‘unconscious prejudice’ via an Instagram post, she stated:

“The Awards should not dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today.”

I thought the Academy would recognise talent and art. I thought wrong.

But perhaps this is not surprising, given that the Academy itself is hardly representative of US society. A study conducted by the LA Times in 2013 found that the overall academy is 93% white and 76% male. As the Academy does not release demographic information on its members, the LA Times had to conduct its analysis using public records and private databases, and was thus able to confirm the race, gender and age of all but 45 of the 432 new voting members in 2013.

Both classes from 2012 and 2013 were about 69% male. The 2012 class was about 87% white and now has a median age of 50, while the 2013 class was about 82% white and had a median age of 49. Yet according to a 2014 census,  African Americans are the largest racial minority, amounting to 13.2% of the US population.

Upon the growing backlash following the 2016 Oscar nominee announcement, the Academy sought to utilise that weapon of PR: damage control. In a unanimous vote on the 21st January, the Board of Governors of the Academy approved a ‘sweeping series of substantive changes’ designed to make the Academy’s membership, governing bodies, and voting members ‘significantly more diverse’. The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020; obviously the Academy has realised it must make its membership more diverse and reflective of society.

This is a move which should be welcomed, but a pity that it did not occur sooner. A more diverse membership will result in tackling the ‘unconscious prejudice’ identified by Nyong’o.

Why have I devoted so much of this post to discussing the Oscars, I hear you ask. Simply put: visuals matter. When an all-white list is presented and covered in the media, what must aspiring non-white actors think?

Put a different way: does this reveal that despite campaigns for equality and change, society will always be dictated to by a handful of predominately white, middle aged and middle class men?

Allow me to share a brief recollection of my high school memories. I used to walk through the main administrative building of my high school, and the walls of the entrance hall are decorated with framed portraits. Framed portraits, that is, of past Headmasters. I say ‘Headmasters’ only, because not once in my past high school’s 231 year history has there been the appointment of a woman to the top post.

I would walk through that entrance, surrounded by portraits of Headmasters past, and wondered at this strong, visual representation of male-dominance. I would walk through that entrance, and wonder how I could possibly relate to these middle-class men as a girl of working class background, and I would wonder when the day would come that a portrait of a Headmistress would decorate those walls.

More recently, I was taken on as an intern at a public affairs agency. I was handed a document pertaining to our clients, which I was to study. I read page after page of information about our clients, and discovered a sadly far too common statistic. Out of all our clients, only one is fronted by a female CEO. I stared at many photographs of male CEOs, and wondered why women are so poorly represented in boardrooms across so many practices.

It will be election time in Northern Ireland soon, and posters of candidates will decorate lampposts and signs across the state. I know that for every poster of a woman, or person of colour, there will be easily double the number of white men. These candidates aspire to be elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, but can the Northern Ireland Assembly be truly representative of the state when it is so populated by men? The Northern Ireland Assembly currently has 21 female Members out of a total of 108 (19.4%) after the 2011 elections. We may now have a female First Minister, but to state that the strive for equality and diversity in representation is over is laughably wrong.

Visuals matter. Images have a powerful effect  which we must be aware of. It is this which is important to consider when nurturing the next generation of leaders.

Research has revealed that simply seeing a photograph of an influential woman can have  tangible effects on girls’ behaviour, increasing confidence and inspiring ambition. Iris Bohnet, a public policy professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, commented:

“Think of the portraits on our walls…Are these of male leaders only, or is this a diverse set of leaders?”

Think of the images and their impact, their message. The portraits in my high school seemed to say to me that only men could be in charge, and white, middle-aged and middle-class men at that.

Representation matters, because it seemingly tells us the status quo, a hierarchy which can either assist us or hinder us in our dreams.

If we cannot see it, we cannot be it.

 

Looking Forward, Looking Back: QUB City Scholarship Experience.

This post was originally published as ‘City Scholars, Leaders and Memories’ on the 7th February 2016 via the wordpress account of the QUB Young City Leaders Society. 

As I enter my final semester of my Law degree at Queen’s University Belfast, I find myself thinking back on wonderful moments and memories from my time at university. Most especially, as a Final year student I reflect often on my time in my first year. The year that I made the transition into university education, student life and realised that I desired to pursue a career in the legal profession. This desire was merely enhanced after I received a City Scholarship from my university to undertake work experience in a London law firm.

I cannot stress just how important this experience was for me. It marked the first time I visited London, and the first time I undertook work experience in a law firm. And what a law firm I was placed in: Linklaters! The week of work experience at the firm enabled me to see the actual practice of law, what a working day for a lawyer truly looks like, and how fascinating the legal profession is.  Moreover, I feel I grew in knowledge and confidence that week: I realised that asking questions, requesting advice and paying close attention whilst shadowing was essential. I initially felt daunted at working in such a reputable firm, fearful to ask questions lest I was considered ignorant. I realised however that no one expects you to be all-knowing, rather they simply expect you to be eager to learn. Hence asking questions was actually welcomed, contrary to my original fears.

I simply cannot believe this experience transpired in the summer of 2013, nearly three years ago. For those interested in the process, and in gaining an insight into my placement, here follows my ‘testimonial’ if you will of my time as a City Scholar.

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Whenever I received the email regarding the application process for the City Scholarships in the first semester of first year law, I was very impressed by the scale of the programme and the prestigious firms that participate in it. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity, providing the experience of a week’s placement with renowned financial and legal firms in the thriving metropolis of London. Such work experience would promise to be challenging and interesting, I thought, and would prove to be invaluable. I knew that the application process would undoubtedly be competitive but I decided that I had to apply. I would rather be informed that I was unsuccessful in obtaining a scholarship rather than ponder over ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’ in the summer when I knew fellow students were in London! So, I promptly completed and emailed the application form and tried to focus on finishing several tutorials due for that week – not an easy task when your thoughts are stuck in a loop around London, law firms and interviews, let me assure you.

The process was extremely efficient and organised. Within two days of the deadline, I received an email – which I opened with a very tense click – informing me that I was successful in being called to interview. I was at once both thrilled and nervous, but eventually the excitement won and I threw myself into legal and financial research in preparation for the forthcoming interview. The interview was two days later, and I kid you not: I almost missed going due to the extremely heavy and constantly falling snow. After waking up to the Northern Irish equivalent of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ that morning and fretting I may not be even be able to open the front door, let alone drive into Belfast, thankfully I managed to arrive at the Riddel Hall in one piece. The atmosphere in my interview was relaxed and friendly, and I was encouraged to enter into discussion and debate with my answers; not just go through a routine of answering one question after another. I thought this interview style was interesting, thus I might have been a bit too enthusiastic with answering and indeed asking questions myself at the end of the interview. To this day I am fairly certain that my interview went over the allocated time!

Every day for the following week I carefully scrutinised my emails, anxiously awaiting the outcome of my interview. So when the day came where I logged into to discover the email that informed me of my success in securing a Scholarship place, I was ecstatic.  This was an unparalleled opportunity to experience the competitive environment of Commercial Law. I would witness Commercial Law as a living entity; no longer would this field of Law be confined to the theory read in textbooks or to the articles contained in the media. My excitement increased whenever I was informed in early April 2013 that I had been chosen to undertake work experience at Linklaters. To be placed in such a prestigious and renowned Magic Circle firm was amazing and I could not believe that that was where I was going. It certainly acted as a prime motivational tool during the dark days of revision leading up to my exams in May!

Linklaters promptly provided me with a contact to liaise with regarding arrangements for my week’s placement; he very kindly emailed me in advance and informed me of my starting time for Monday morning, which was reassuring. I was also provided with a detailed map of the location where the office was based and the surrounding tube stations which proved to be both practical and invaluable.

My work experience was to be of a week’s duration, from the 10th June to the 14th and I would be sitting in the Corporate department. I would soon establish the routine of being in the office for nine in the morning and most evenings left at half past five, although there were several days when I did not leave until half past seven. The work was fascinating though, so it was actually a case of me volunteering to remain behind.

That Monday morning I arrived at the office for the arranged time of ten o’clock, and met a secretary came to collect me and bring me up to the fifth floor where the Corporate department is situated. She was very friendly which helped to put me at ease, for obviously I felt nervous on my first day. I was soon introduced to the associate I would be shadowing and whose office would be my second home for the week. Yu Xian was very welcoming, approachable and right away offered to take me to the cafeteria and buy us coffee so we could chat. She talked to me about her career pathway and what her job entailed which was fascinating, and she discussed the firm and especially the corporate department which provided me with an insight into a career in commercial law as well as what it was like to work for such a large, global and international firm, especially in London. Once we returned to the fifth floor, I was introduced to the trainee who would be my ‘buddy’ for the week. Rupert kindly gave me a tour of the floor and insisted on making sure I was introduced to the occupants of every single office. Everyone was friendly and only too happy to answer my questions; there were also many jokes about how they would send all their work for the week in my direction!

Shortly before lunch, I was able to sit in on a meeting Yu Xian had organised that focused on problems and surprise delays that had occurred in several of her group’s current on-going deals. It proved to be very interesting, especially as many multi-jurisdictional issues were involved. I soon realised however that in Corporate Law, acronyms are the real currency of the day. It is almost like a new language that one must be fluent in to be able to comprehend what is going on.

My trainee buddy appeared to take me to lunch and I joined the table of his friends who are also trainees but are sitting in a variety of different seats. This became the norm throughout the week: it was great as I hope to be a trainee in the future, so to be able to sit and talk to the trainees at lunch was a relaxed and informal way of finding out just what it is like to be a trainee at Linklaters.

After lunch and for the remainder of my first day, it was straight into work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Rupert presented me with a veritable forest of pages, and said that I would be undertaking verification in order to make a prospectus for a company and its shareholders. Basically, I had to carefully proofread all the statements in the aforementioned forest of pages and then ensure there was sufficient evidence such as statistics etc that confirmed these statements. Then, I would have to print all the evidence out, carefully number and label them and create a file from which the prospectus would be created. To undertake such important work and to start it on my first day was exciting, especially after Rupert explained why verification was so important and that were was a deadline that would need to be met. Rupert later invited me for a coffee break and happily answered my questions about what it was like to be a trainee at Linklaters, and explained his motivation for applying for a training contact with the firm.

On Tuesday morning I was invited to attend ‘prayers’; essentially this is the weekly meeting for all on the fifth floor and enables them to be kept up to date regarding recent news or deals that have been completed. I confess I was initially confused about the term; being from Northern Ireland I instinctively thought it would be a morning of religious instruction, which clearly made no sense given I was in a law firm in London. When I told my trainee buddy about this, he found it hilarious: “you wouldn’t half know you’re Irish, Leah.”

Afterwards, it was back to the office for me and working on my own Herculean labour of verification. Whenever I spotted a mistake or missing evidence, it was great to know that I was actually doing work of import and that I was helping to create a prospectus for a company. I was also delegated some proofreading and Excel spread sheet work by Yu Xian, who very kindly offered me her notes from when she was a trainee so I could read them. I made my own notes from hers there and then, and they were really informative – I was now at least at intermediate level for the language of acronyms! After lunch, Rupert sent more work around to me whereby I had to work on narrative summaries, essentially the billing of companies that require Linklaters’ services.

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On Wednesday, between verification, proofreading and research, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar that was held at lunchtime regarding a very important merger of companies Linklaters had advised on. It was fascinating to see how the merger was initiated and developed from the point of view of a participating firm, and not just reading about it online or in a newspaper. Lawyers who had led in discussions for their client firm spoke at the seminar, and again I greatly enjoyed hearing their insightful point of view.

Afterwards, I was informed a Partner wanted to see me in her office, cue Rupert joking I must be in very serious trouble. When I arrived at her office, the Partner was very approachable, friendly and wished to know how I was finding my work experience and the firm as a whole. We discussed career pathways, vacation schemes and training contacts and she kindly offered to get me the contact details of a lady who works in Graduate Recruitment so I could arrange to meet with her. To be able to talk to a Partner of the firm was a wonderful experience and the information she provided me with was very useful indeed.

By Thursday, it was now the running joke with Yu Xian and Rupert that they had to gently cajole me into leaving the office every evening as I was so engrossed with what I was doing and enjoying myself that I did not want to leave!

I was provided the opportunity to attend a seminar on Thursday lunchtime that focused on the Bank of England, the incoming new Governor and changes/news relating in the area of insurance, especially after the mis-selling of PPI scandal. It was informative, and it was interesting to see something that I read about in the newspapers as a matter of interest to the general public be discussed in legal and financial terms.

Thursday was also the day that my verification was finally completed; it had reached the stage where if I closed my eyes I could rattle off statement numbers and statistics. Rupert excitedly emailed me on Friday morning, saying he had something to show me, and to see him arrive at Yu Xian’s office with the neatly bound prospectus and newly printed table of contents for the prospectus was amazing. To know that I had actually participated in ‘real’ work alongside a trainee was a thrilling feeling and certainly something to remember.

Friday was, sadly, my last day and Yu Xian organised a lovely leaving lunch for me which was amazing. I knew I would miss sitting in the office and seeing everyone; I had been made to feel so welcome and at ease. I joked that I would happily sit in a cupboard if it meant that I could stay a little longer – at least, I think I was joking.

To attempt to summarise how amazing my week at Linklaters was, the work I participated in and the warm, welcoming atmosphere that was provided – it is hard to do. All I can say is that I had a wonderful time, and I did not wish to leave. It was truly an unparalleled opportunity and I believe my work experience to be invaluable and that it will stand me in good stead for the future. The City Scholarship programme created this fantastic opportunity for which I am most grateful, and I cannot thank the QUB DARO office or the Careers department enough for creating this opportunity and their support. I am so glad that I decided to go ahead and enter the application process; I would definitely recommend the programme to any first years interested in Law and, most importantly, who are willing to be challenged and inspired.


To find out more about the QUB City Scholarship programme, and the motivation behind same, why not visit the QUB DARO website?

 

Fighting the good fight, Campaign SU style.

This week marks the first week back of the new semester at university. It also marks the first week of my final semester of my Law degree, quite the surreal prospect.

Whilst there is a part of me which is excited to see what the post-graduate future may hold, the other part feels apprehensive, perhaps because I consider QUB almost a second home. Every time I walk across the campus, I feel at peace. I have wonderful memories of this place, have made great friends and been involved in fantastic societies, campaigns and volunteer work. To think that soon I shall have to leave this lively hub is rather upsetting to be sure. But rest assured I shall endeavour to make these final few months rewarding and worthwhile – starting with this week, and the return of Campaign SU.

You may recall me writing about Campaign SU last semester. I was excited to participate, because it promised to serve as a platform for student activism and empowerment. Activism to me simply means taking action to promote change via a collective effort. It is about the involvement of those with similar thoughts and aims, working together to achieve those aims in the hopes of a positive change. It is so vital and indeed necessary to become involved and inspire change; I firmly believe that we all, each and every one of us, have a voice which deserves to be heard.

This is undoubtedly true with students. I feel that student activism receives a bad press. You know the sort of coverage I mean: ‘do they not have anything better to do other than protest?’ / ‘good to see where the taxpayers’ money goes to: protesting students’. I witnessed this most especially during the Occupy QUB protest movement, carried out by the wonderful Fossil Free QUB team last year in their campaign to secure fossil fuel divestment. (You can read my piece on the Fossil Free QUB movement here.)

But here is the thing. Student activism, such as the Fossil Free QUB movement, is not something to be feared, or mocked. It it is something to celebrate. Young people working together to bring about social change that benefits all members of society – surely this should be encouraged, and not ridiculed. So I am delighted to see my university’s SU directly provide a platform to encourage student activism, and to provide training in same for all interested students via the Campaign SU programme.

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Now, when I attended my first Campaign SU meeting last semester I wasn’t entirely too sure what to expect. I was excited, yes, but curious as to what would unfold, and whether I would find students who felt the same way I did. But I left the SU feeling utterly energised, with an urge to simply get out, and do something. This feeling was stirred after listening to Eamonn McCann speak so passionately and share his own experiences of activism. I found it most inspiring when he noted that issues such as welfare reform and tuition fees ‘are not just issues to complain about. They are issues to campaign about, and to campaign for change.’ It was an inspiring moment from a memorable night. I found myself surrounded with like-minded fellow students who like myself, desired positive change. I felt energised, and at home.

I realised then that my SU was providing me with a platform to work alongside my fellow students who care deeply about issues and have a desire to implement real change. It is a platform of student activism and empowerment, the result being that your voice is actually heard. Moreover, it is welcomed – the comradery is simply incredible. Student activism is essentially student empowerment in my eyes, as we campaign to change society for the better, and to benefit subsequent generations. We may be students, but we still have a voice, and the desire to use it.

I cannot wait to get involved in the planning, meetings and campaigning in this new semester. It is my final semester at QUB, and I want to graduate knowing I worked on something worthwhile under the direction of such a fabulous team. I want to say that my final semester was truly worthwhile, that I witnessed change occurring, and I played a role in it, irrespective of how tiny that role may be.

First up: student cuts. It is time that we students take a firm, united stand against the increase in tuition fees and education cuts. Tertiary education should not be deemed to belong only to the privileged. Educational entitlement is for all, and we students are not merely blank chequebooks. So let my final semester be a campaign to ensure the university education and experience I, a working class girl, have gained is available for all in the future. Bring it on.

Campaign SU Wednesday 3-02 meeting poster