Students call on University to raise Black Lives Matter flag on campus

Pressure increases on university to take further steps to support its Black students instead of falling into “performative allyship”

Jeevan Bains | Tue, 30 Jun 2020

Students are calling on The University of Aberdeen to become one of the first UK Universities to fly the Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag above its campus, setting a precedent for minority visibility across campuses globally.

The flag, which often displays a closed fist against a black background, is a homage to 1966 founded Black Panther Party which is renowned for its historical role in challenging police brutality against African American communities and is now used as a symbol of Black liberation and the fight for social equality.

For second-year student Leah Flint the raising of the flag would ‘show that the university is listening and actively wants to get actively involved’ in moves for greater minority visibility and awareness of issues affecting Black communities.

These calls are alongside reporting that a petition for the BLM flag may currently be in the works. Eagerly, students are waiting to see if the University will use its institutional influence to raise the flag to help Black students feel ‘actively seen, recognized and celebrated’ in addition to the informative work it has recently begun on its social media channels.

In recent weeks the University of Aberdeen has come under increasing pressure from rights groups, such as the Black Medical Society, which sent an open letter to UoA calling out the culture of racism in the Medical School. AUSA has also faced criticism for not affiliating a would-be society called the BAME Law Society, on the basis that it was “not comfortable with dividing a subject along ethnic lines”.

For fourth-year student Annie Wilson, the recent social media efforts of the University are a start, but not enough and she says that a bold gesture like the raising of the flag would allow her ‘to finally be able to take a breath’ from being ‘forced into the role of my community’s representative whenever I am filled in a classroom with white peers’. Wilson continued to explain that, for her, the university's statement would wholeheartedly and unapologetically ‘declare solidarity and unity with Black students in Aberdeen’.

Wilson also spoke of her disappointment but lack of surprise if the ‘university were to fail to act on our request’ while explaining that the university ‘would not be the first and will not be the last university to fail to uplift its Black students’ through large political statements like the raising of the flag. Wilson called for the university to stop its ‘performative show of allyship and dedicate time and resources’ to listen and work alongside Black students on campus consistently.

Flint similarly advocated for further work to be done within the University in addition to the importance of the flag that the university should be providing concrete changes in lecture and tutorial rooms to encourage more in-depth conversations and case studies with diverse races within tutorials - especially in Politics and Psychology courses.

Ola Akisanya, from the Aberdeen University African Caribbean Society, described a similar view of this sentiment and explained that ‘these signs of solidarity are useful but only when partnered with action that tackles the issues of racism that are still present within and around our campus’.

Wilson echoed the sentiments of some students on-campus that ‘the University did not just enroll Black students this year, we have existed for a very long time’ and that steps of solidarity, such as the raising of the flag could perhaps ignite discussions of methods to recognize students on campus and to encourage the enrollment of prospective Black and students onto courses at a University that consistently supports and unapologetically encourages the visibility of Black communities and their academic excellence.

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