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Living Black at University blog series: The Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University – A safe home environment as crucial to Black student success

  • 20 April 2022
  • By Iyiola Solanke

HEPI’s hybrid Policy Briefing Day is on 27 April 2022 and institutions that support HEPI are entitled to a free place.

This blog was written by Professor Iyiola Solanke, Chair in EU Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds and Chair of the Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University.

In February, Unite Students published ‘Living Black at University’, the first report exploring the experience of Black students in UK student accommodation, based on research conducted by Halpin Partnership. The findings generated a great deal of interest across the Higher Education sector and the launch event was the most well-attended HEPI webinar to date.

The report shows that many Black students cannot consider purpose-built student accommodation – whether run privately or by their university – to be a home. The researchers found that a majority (54 per cent) of Black students had experienced some form of racism in their accommodation, with three-quarters reporting some level of impact on their mental health as a result of this. The report also shed light on the lack of culturally appropriate amenities available to many Black students, from catering to haircare. It highlighted the belief amongst Black students that existing policies and procedures to deal with racism in accommodation are not transparent, accessible, or effective. 

It is both sad and surprising that the current generation of Black students in university accommodation are experiencing the same issues faced by Black students in the past. As I shared at the launch event panel, my own experience in Halls was so alienating that I considered dropping out in the first term.

Universities can and must do more to ensure that Black students feel seen, heard and safe. The push to decolonise the curriculum must be replicated across other areas of the university experience, especially accommodation, which is so crucial to student success.

Student accommodation does not exist in a vacuum; research has shown that the experience of accommodation impacts students’ holistic university experience, spanning wellbeing, retention and outcomes. We know that there is an awarding gap for Black students, one that according to recent data by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has in some places widened in recent years. We know that there are lower continuation rates for Black students with mental health issues. These issues contribute to the fact that less than one per cent of professors in UK higher education are Black.

The positive response to the Living Black at University report shows the sector wants to tackle these challenges, to ensure that higher education works for Black students the way that it does for their White peers. That is why the Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University has been created. 

Over the next year, the Commission – made up of decision-makers representing a variety of sector bodies, charities and student groups – will support the drive to implement the findings and recommendations of the Living Black at University report at national level. The Commission will work to ensure that national standards and training are in line with the recommendations, share research and examples of good practice across the sector, and collate data where possible to monitor the effectiveness of our efforts.

At every level of education – including at university – a safe home environment is crucial to student success. By making a concerted effort to embed the report’s recommendations into the foundations of purpose-built student accommodation, we will move closer to ensuring that all Black students benefit from a context in which they can achieve their potential at university and in society.

The Living Black at University National Commission launched in April 2022 and will run until April 2023. To learn more, visit the Commission’s website.

Register here for HEPI’s Policy Briefing Day.

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