Labels are for cans


Welcome to this week’s blog. I’d like to pick up the theme from our last post.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to post last week. We were at Advance HE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference in Liverpool. In addition to attending, we presented a paper on our reciprocal mentoring pilot.

In our last blog I highlighted some of the tangible impacts of our Challenge for Change project; this is the theme that I would like to develop, particularly focusing on reciprocal mentoring. With her permission, I’d like to share with you the impact for one of our student partners, Nnem Nwosu. She told her story at the Conference. Hearing her voice was powerful for all of us:

As a student, I walked into this programme thinking, I am the educator. I knew that whoever I was going to be paired up with would have probably never interacted with someone like myself. A student in her early 20’s from London with a Nigerian background. My idea was I teach and I go. But this experience has opened my eyes to the world of understanding.

In my opinion, the term don’t judge a book by its cover is exactly what I learnt whilst participating in this programme. I walked in and was told I was paired with the University Secretary and Registrar. My initial idea of him was that he was an upper class man who was born with a golden spoon. But like I said when I met with him and we began to talk, all disproved within 20 minutes of our conversation.

What I’m trying to say is, this programme normalised him, and I would say myself. Two individuals who have labels attached on us from society, and in essence are treated differently due to those labels. But this programme showed me that he is just like me. We had similarities in terms of what we believed in, but when we disagreed on certain topics we found a peaceful resolution through the art of explanation and listening.

As I reflect back on what impact this had on me. The first impact is that there are people who are in respected roles who are willing to listen to my concerns without holding the label of my colour over my head. I went through the university for years with the imposter syndrome. I had one face at home, one face at university and different faces for different races. This is a survival tactic that many non-white people are taught.  Don’t speak like that, refrain from making that expression and in essence, I along with many others, have been doing this for a long time (without even knowing). The issue with this is, as a black person I found myself questioning the real me, by asking will the main stream world of success accept me for who I am.  The real me, my unapologetic self without the restrictions. With this programme I learnt that yes that can happen. He was so understanding, willing to listen to conversations that people like me would never have with a white person on the basis of not wanting to make them feel uncomfortable.

I understand that my experience with him will not be a universal one. But in this current climate to know that there are people who are willing to listen is to me a comforting feeling, especially knowing that I will be stepping into a predominantly white field of work.

The final impact was the ability to bypass job labels. When I found out what a Registrar was, I was like OMG okay das nice. But my attitude changed, again I began to act different from myself as If I may not be accepted. Now, I have learnt whether it’s the Registrar, my mum or the Kimberly Crenshaw I shall remain myself. In terms of my future work life this experience has made me ready to jump in.

I loved this programme. I’m not sure how much he learnt from me but through this mentoring programme I learnt a lot more about myself, through speaking to him about life. As people of colour (a term which I despise as we all have pigment in our skin) we rarely have the mic to speak unless it’s about our oppression, overcoming the struggle or being the lucky one who made it out. But this programme gave me the mic to be me, myself and for that I shall take this lesson and travel with it for the rest of my days.


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