Hi, I’m Malia Bouattia and I’m re-running to be your national president at this year’s NUS conference.
I have had the honour to be your national President for the past year. Before that, I served as the NUS Black Students’ Officer for two years. At this year’s National Conference I will ask you to re-elect me as your president so that together we can continue the work of strengthening our union, developing our grassroots, and building broad national alliances to win for students across the UK.
I have been involved in our movement since being a school student, organising with friends and taking part in demonstrations and walkouts against the war in Iraq. However, my first year as an undergraduate student at the University of Birmingham was very different. I felt isolated on campus and disconnected both in my lectures and in my Students’ Union. The feeling of being out of place put real pressure on my mental health and slowed down my academic development. So, I took action.
During my undergraduate degree, I focused my efforts on the Black and Ethnic and Minority Association (BEMA) to address racism and the Black attainment gap on my campus. Through BEMA I worked closely with the Equality and Diversity department of the University to launch an ambassador scheme, a project through which the University employed Black students within each school to address the Eurocentric curriculum, provide safe spaces for self-defining students and address racism and micro-aggressions within the classroom.
Since the introduction of the ambassador scheme and the increased presence of BEMA, the Gap fell by 7%. During that time, I also worked with a local Midlands Women’s Network to address sexism, gender based violence, and female representation in academia.
Later on, as a postgraduate student I once again faced a total lack of representation. Postgraduate and mature students were not on the SU’s agenda and had no place to come together, discuss and strategize around the issues affecting them. Our concerns were ignored and our voices unheard. I led a campaign through the Postgraduate and Mature Students’ Association, which then led me to run for the postgraduate guild councillor position in the same year.
In my role, I revitalised the campaign and broadened its reach on campus. I was also one of the founding members of Muslimah Pride, formerly ‘Muslim Women Against Femen’, a collective of Muslim women who wanted to challenge sexism and patriarchy without being weaponised by the existing power structures for the purpose of imperialist Islamophobic campaigns against the so-called inherent sexism of our community.
The campaign struck a nerve and soon we found ourselves at the centre of an international network of Muslim women, proud of our faith and fighting the stigmatization of Muslim women in society.
It was during this time that I became actively involved with the NUS Black Students’ Campaign. I found in the campaign a national network of likeminded Black students who face similar experiences of exclusion and racism, and who developed inspiring and active ways to fight against the oppressive structures they encountered. I represented BSC on the NUS’ National Executive Council for two years. One issue that was very noticeable to me was the lack of space and representation available for Black women in our movement, both locally and nationally.
I launched the Black Women’s Forum UK, a national organisation, which focuses on the experiences and struggles of Black women both in and out of education. Since its launch the forum has held three national conferences, which have drawn Black women from all walks of life and a wide variety of campaigns to discuss – and organise against – the double oppression we face in society. We have also held workshops and plenaries on the underrepresentation of Black Women in Academia, and provided Intersectionality 101 training across the UK.
Then, three years ago, I was elected to be the NUS Black Students’ Officer. It has been a great privilege to represent over 1.5 million students of African, Asian, Arab and South American descent. In this period, I have been at the heart of national campaigns to narrow attainment gaps, working with Black students up and down the UK to facilitate the launching of local campaigns that draw attention and challenge the lack of equal opportunities on campus.
Furthermore, I took part in solidarity work with families who suffered the murder of one of their loved ones at the hands of the state alongside the United Families and Friends Campaign. I organised a national Ferguson Solidarity speaking tour with one of the founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Cullors. This work brought me to the USA, where I had the honour of taking part in a speaking tour across the West Coast organised by the Black Lives Matter movement bridging the gap between experiences of state racism and violence on both sides of the Atlantic.
Last year, I co-launched alongside the VP Higher Education the #Liberate my Degree campaign which searches to address simultaneously the ways in which students from liberation groups suffer discrimination in education, as well as the underrepresentation of these groups in both academic life and the curriculum.
Finally, I co-launched alongside the VPs for Welfare and Society and Citizenship, a national campaign against the government’s Prevent agenda. The Students not Suspects Campaign has brought together Students’ Unions, Islamic Societies, Trade Unions, academics, lawyers, and Civil Society groups and activists from all horizons, who have raised a collective voice against this attack by the government on Muslim communities and civil liberties. The campaign brought me to the United Nations in Geneva, where I was part of a group of UK based representatives who testified to the UN about the damaging consequences of the Prevent agenda.
It is in this track record and experience that I stood in front of conference last April and asked for your votes. I was overwhelmed by the support you showed me and honoured to become your president. Since then I have worked to put my vision in practice to build a strong and transformative union, to build national networks, and to reinvigorate out movement’s grassroots.
Together, we have made great progress in the last year. We have taken on the government’s reforms, marched, boycotted, and lobbied and brought the government’s HE bill to a standstill. Our union has been at the forefront of supporting migrants and international students in the courts, on our campuses and in society at large. For the first time in our history we have put fighting hate crime at the heart of what we do and recognised that it is our movement’s task to take it on and make both our institutions and our society free of oppression and hate.
By choosing liberate education as my priority campaign I have endeavoured to move away from solely defending our gains but also putting forward a positive and proactive vision of what post-16 education should be. The eight strands of the campaign represent the bringing together if some of the incredible work students have been involved in, up and down the UK, within a unified framework for a free, liberated and accessible education for all. I have put this vision in practice internally as well through the launch of our regional networks, my interventions in the democracy review, and my direction for the implementation of the Institutional Racism Review.
Finally, I talked last year about the potential our union had to turn outwards and make greater efforts to build connections with other unions, campaigns, and civil society organisations to amplify our work. This year I have had the opportunity to work with students’ unions in Canada, France, and South Africa while developing much closer working relations with trade unions from the UCU, NUT and NASUWT in education to GMB and UNITE across society. I have our events, trainings, conferences and initiatives collaborative ones that involve academics, public figures, campaign groups and unions throughout the year.
Throughout my time in our movement, from a school student to your national president, I have experienced the transformative potential of our movement when we come together, when we consider the voice and experiences of the oppressed and marginalised, and when we unite behind the common goal of a better, inclusive, and liberated education for all. I have repeatedly witnessed how different groups, different perspectives, different lives are ignored and forgotten and how including these in our movement only ever strengthens our efforts and makes them intersectional. I have seen and experienced our solidarity, our creativity, and our power. And I hope to receive your support once again to continue to lead our collective fight for that vision in education and across society through the presidency of our union.