My year so far has been quite challenging (as it has been for everyone!) due to the pandemic but I’ve really enjoyed representing BME students and bringing my vision for this role to life. Here’s a brief snapshot of what I might get up to on an average day.
Hello! I’m Howard, the BME Officer. This time last year, I was deciding whether I should run for a sabbatical officer position. I was drawn to the position of BME Officer because I was really excited by the possibilities of this new role to support BME students and facilitate anti-racist activism in Cambridge (which, alongside UCL, is the only university in the country where BME students have full-time, dedicated representation in their students’ union). My year so far has been quite challenging (as it has been for everyone!) due to the pandemic but I’ve really enjoyed representing BME students and bringing my vision for this role to life. Here’s a brief snapshot of what I might get up to on an average day:
A perk of working from home is that it’s cut down on the commute - I live near Girton, so rolling out of my bed and onto my laptop is definitely a lot more convenient than cycling into town every morning! I usually get up at 8:30 so that I have time to grab a cup of (strong) coffee before I log onto work at 9:00 - I’m 100% *not* a morning person, so I need caffeine to get my brain up and running. I typically start my day off by replying to emails and Facebook messages. As the BME Officer, I receive a lot of queries and questions from students who need support but don’t know where or who to turn to, so a lot of my job involves signposting students to appropriate sources of support and meeting with them to chat about what sort of options are available to them. I also typically start my day off by jotting down a rough list of the tasks I plan to complete by the end of the day.
By 10, I’m usually fully caffeinated and finished with replying to emails and messages, which means I’ll have a meeting to run off to (virtually). Who I’m meeting and what we’re meeting to discuss varies quite a lot depending on the day or our current priorities as a Sabbatical Officer Team, but morning meetings are typically quite laid-back chats where I’ll have the chance to catch up with the other sabbatical officers about how they’re doing and discuss any projects we’re working on together. A downside of working from home is that you miss out on opportunities to chat and catch up with your co-workers, so I really enjoy these meetings and find that they’re a great way for us to structure our plans. On days where I have committee meetings, I normally spend this hour reading over committee papers and preparing notes.
I don’t sit on as many committees as some of the other Sabbatical Officers do, but what my committee portfolio lacks in size, it makes up for in variety and diversity! In addition to the University’s EDI committees, I sit on the Black Access Working Group and the Strategic Working Group on Access & Participation. I also sit on working groups run by the Cambridge University Libraries (CUL) and University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) to ‘decolonise’ their collections. As you can tell, there’s a lot of EDI-related work going on across the Collegiate University, and as BME Officer it’s my responsibility to make sure that student voices are being represented and heard in these discussions.
When it’s time for lunch I’ll close my laptop screen and head to my kitchen downstairs to make myself an iced coffee (I don’t care what time of the year it is, I *have* to have an iced coffee) and make lunch - usually I’ll just reheat leftovers from last night’s dinner, or if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I’ll rustle up a quick meal. Sometimes if I have some spare time and the weather is looking good, I’ll venture outside for a quick walk around the house to get some fresh air.
There’s more to the Students’ Union than just the Sabbatical Officers - there’s also a team of full-time staff who run Cambridge SU’s day-to-day operations and support the Sabbatical Officers. My main staff support contact is Sam, the Campaigns and Societies Coordinator, who I meet with every week to discuss my plans and chat through any problems I’m facing. Every Sabbatical Officer has their own designated staff support contact, and I typically spend my 1:1 meetings with Sam going through my to-do list and measuring my progress against the long-term goals and objectives I set for myself at the beginning of the year - our conversations are a great way for me to sort out my priorities for the week and just vent about whatever’s on my mind.
I keep my afternoons free to give myself time to work on projects or follow up on any tasks that need doing. My main priorities at the moment are Bangladeshi, Paksitani, and Arab (BPA) access and tackling Islamophobia. Today, I spent some time working on a proposed plan to relaunch CamSpire, an access scheme for BPA students which was piloted by Shadab Ahmed during his term as Access Officer (back when Cambridge SU was known as CUSU). Esme and I are really keen to get this scheme up and running again, and we’re hoping that our proposal will lay the groundwork for its relaunch in the near future. I also did some work on a survey I want to run to find out more about Muslim students’ experiences - this came out of conversations that I had with students during Islamophobia Awareness Month, and I’m hoping to use the data gathered through the survey to provide recommendations for the SU on what steps and measures it should take to better support Muslim students and stand up for their rights.
I meet with Roshni and Mia, who are the Chair and Vice-Chair of the BME Campaign, respectively, every week so that we can catch each other up on what we’ve been up to and discuss how I can support them. My first encounter with the SU was through the BME Campaign (back when there was no dedicated full-time representation for BME students), where I saw how the demands, pressures, and stresses of movement-building led to rapid burnout and were hindered by the rapid turnover of students. I helped to campaign for the creation of the full-time BME Officer position and later ran for it because I wanted to address this vicious cycle. Regular contact with Roshni and Mia means that I can provide the BME Campaign with whatever support the committee needs and make sure that its concerns and views are being represented in the priorities of the SU.
I normally manage to ‘finish’ work at 5, by which I mean I log off my Slack and turn off my work laptop -- but this doesn’t necessarily mean that I stop working! More often than not, I’ll have something to do in the evening. On Monday, I’m either at SU Council or a meeting of the SU Exec. The Liberation Officers and the leadership of the Liberation Campaigns also meet throughout the term to discuss common concerns and joint projects - at our most recent Campaigns Forum, the Ethical Affairs Campaign and BME Campaign shared their plans for this year’s Green Week. There’s also BME Forum, where BME students can raise concerns and vote on policies or stances that shape the direction of the BME Campaign and my agenda as BME Officer. I also sit on the Trustee Board of Cambridge SU, which meets throughout the year to make sure that the SU is fulfilling its mission statement and following its legal duties as a charitable organisation. Whenever I’m working during the evening, I’ll make sure to take time off to make up for it. Staff at the SU are very keen to promote a healthy work/life balance to stop us from overworking ourselves and burning out, so we get lots of regular reminders to take time off and take rests, which is a really refreshing (and liberating) change from life as a student!