TT24 SU VP for liberation and equality, Kennedy Aliu. Credit: Kennedy Aliu
TT24 SU VP for liberation and equality, Kennedy Aliu. Credit: Kennedy Aliu

In conversation with SU sabb Kennedy Aliu

It was my great pleasure last week to meet with the Vice President of Liberation and Equality at the Student Union, Kennedy Aliu. As well as this role in the SU, Aliu is a master’s student in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at Green Templeton College. I sat down with him to ask about his role, equality at Oxford, and the recent SU budget cuts.

Lucy Pollock: First off, can you outline what exactly your role as VP of Liberation and Equality means? 

Kennedy Aliu: I am in charge of everything that has to do with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). That means I look at policies which the university has implemented and look at who is included or excluded by these policies: looking out for the needs of students of colour and disabled students, and looking at what gaps need to be filled, and how we can get as many people involved in the conversation as possible. I also work with the Liberation campaigns such as DisCam, WomCam, the Refugee Campaign, and the Environmental Campaign and oversee them.

LP: What got you into the role? 

KA: When I came to Oxford, I wanted to absorb as much as possible. I started speaking to students of colour about their experiences here. I felt quite isolated, and I felt that when students were talking to me about their experiences with racism and sexism they were having to bear it in silence. Because of my degree, most of the people I shared classes with are refugees and people from displaced backgrounds. Oxford is a place with lots of research and a department on refugee studies, but what were we actually doing to help these people? Beyond looking at their lives as academic material, what were we doing to help? 

LP: Tell me a little bit about what you’ve done during your time in this role.

KA: Coming into the role, one of the first things we did was look at sub fusc. It’s expensive, so I took the lead on getting sub fusc distributed to as many colleges as possible and at the SU to help students on scholarships and from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to sub fusc. I also started an initiative to make JCRs and MCRs places of sanctuary. I worked with JCR and MCR Presidents and Equalities Reps to look at how to change the constitution to include refugee students to make them feel more comfortable, and work with the Student Awards office to create the Refugee Academics Futures, a new scholarship being created.

We asked JCRs and MCRs to each donate £4 each term, which the university would match to create a scholarship for a refugee student or student affected by displacement. I also created the Refugee Campaign to ensure that there were more refugee voices being represented in the SU, who could be part of the larger sanctuary conversations. Oxford University is a university of sanctuary, and we are also in a city of sanctuary, but only Somerville and Mansfield are colleges of sanctuary. I wanted to look at how we could spread that to other colleges. I’m almost at the end of my role, so I’ve been working with the campaigns and trying to integrate them within the EDI panels and committees that I sit in on.

LP: What advice can you give to students who might be facing discrimination? 

KA: I’ve been doing a lot of work in terms of student representation: we have a strong advice team which I work with day-to-day in order to tackle discrimination. We see a lot of cases of discrimination, and what we do is ask the victim: what does justice look like to you? A written apology, an admission of discrimination, etc. So we work with the advice team and the university to find out what EDI looks like within each college, and if your college isn’t doing enough you can come to the SU and be put in contact with the Chief Diversity Officer who can help solve these issues. I’ve had significant amounts of students come to me about discrimination, and we are always able to find solutions. Change can be slow, but I have hope that things will get better.

LP: How do you respond to the situation with the transformation that the SU is currently in, and the position cuts that have recently occurred? 

KA: I’m very disappointed that EDI has been cut, and that my role is being cut next year. As it stands, black students and disabled students are less likely to get firsts than their white and able-bodied counterparts. There is still so much work to do with the APP and EDI as a whole. My role was created for a reason, and that is because we have identified that equality and diversity are so necessary to this institution. Marginalised groups within this university all too often feel isolated and silenced, so the fact that my role is being cut next year really disappoints me, and I really hope that this is rectified next year.

My role was created for a reason, and that is because we have identified that equality and diversity are so necessary to this institution.

Kennedy Aliu

LP: What results do you foresee with the Liberations and Equalities Officer being cut next year?

KA: Until this year, I don’t think I realised how much this role means to students. I’ve attended so many PresComs, I’ve spoken to so many undergrads, and the fact that I’m here and able to listen to students really means something. Not having that, not having someone in the SU for minorities to speak to, makes us collaborators in the silencing of minority groups. The greatest threat of my role being cut next year is the isolation of minority students, because it is isolation that the worst things can occur. It’s so intimidating being part of a minority group in Oxford: I don’t think people understand how intimidating it can be. Students will have to bear the weight of so many microaggressions which occur on a daily basis here, and have no student representative to speak to. Not having someone there to listen will become so isolating: JCRs and MCRs aren’t doing enough, and we need someone within the wider university who is here to support people. 

Marginalised groups within this university all too often feel isolated and silenced, so the fact that my role is being cut next year really disappoints me, and I really hope that this is rectified next year.

Kennedy Aliu

LP: Is there something that the SU could have done to ensure the role wasn’t cut?

KA: I sincerely hope that they saw how important it was. I wish they could see how important EDI is. I can’t say too much, but I think it is really telling of the state of the SU that my role was cut. There is so much work to be done in EDI and I wish we had fought harder for that role to be kept. One of the most pervasive issues in this university is inclusion and access, and we need someone who is trained to see that. I think the three roles left for the next year will really struggle to properly represent students. 

LP:  Do you think that Oxford as an institution has a major issue with EDI?

KA: Oxford is not unique in that it has a long history, and part of this history is tied up in colonialism. Every time I walk past Oriel, I see the man that slaughtered the majority of South Africans in the pursuit of gold (Cecil Rhodes). To be in Oxford is to live in that colonial residue, and what comes with that is creating equality and access to rectify the mistakes of our past. For an institution as old as Oxford, it is good to see that there is some sort of progress. Not a lot of universities have a Chief Diversity Officer, and so I have hope for Oxford. 

To be in Oxford is to live in that colonial residue…

Kennedy Aliu

The SU commented: “One of the key aims of Transformation is to ensure that Oxford Students’ Union is a truly representative body for the students at Oxford. 

We are working with our Campaigns, who will receive enhanced levels of support throughout the transformation period, and our ongoing student consultation in relation to transformation focuses specifically on how we can better support and represent minoritised groups of students. 

Ensuring that the diverse Oxford community is an inclusive and equitable space is and will always be at our core.”