Exeter BAME Law is a student led initiative created in 2018 committed to improving diversity in the legal profession. Its mission is centred around inclusivity, improving the accessibility of the legal profession, and inspiring those within the BAME community to realise their potential. Her Campus sat down with their current Communications Officer, Seren Williams, to ask her more about the initiative, Black History Month, and diversity at the University of Exeter.
Tell us how BAME Law started out.
After what happened with Bracton Law Society last year, the Dean went to a few law students and said “What can we do to make a safe space for people who do law and are people of colour?”. My friends Ikenna Onyebuchi and Lombe Chibesakunda were the ones who kind of started up the whole intitiative with the Dean’s help. So it’s not a society as such, it’s more like an intiative as part of the law societies. Our current president and vice-president are Bianca Owoghiri and Munanga Mubpie.
What sort of work are you guys doing?
It started up only last year, at which point I was on my year abroad in Madrid so I didn’t get to see the beginning of it, but they started with a launch event to explain what the initiative was, the reason for it and to create that safe space. After that they also collaborated with Aspiring Solicitors – a group who work with law firms nationally with the aim of increasing diversity in the profession – to do a commercial awareness workshop which went really well and had lots of people attending.
Then the biggest event was Rethinking Race. The Rethinking Society is a group at Exeter where people will suggest topics and then lots of people give their opinion and discuss. So BAME Law did a collaboration with Rethinking which about 200 people came to. During the event they split off into different groups and spoke about what race means to them. That was our biggest event so far, which was last year.
This year we’ve just had our launch event which had speakers from some large national and international firms including Habib Motani (Clifford Chance), Eby Oligboh (Baker McKenzie) and Umar Kankiya (Sternberg Reed). They all spoke about their experiences of diversity and inclusion with the legal profession and told us about what their law firms are doing at the moment to make their workplace more inclusive and encourage people of colour to apply. Obviously, at the moment it’s not the most diverse industry!
Could you explain what your role is in the initiative?
I’m Communications Officer along with another girl called Shania – our role is to maintain all the social medias, so that’s Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.
With LinkedIn we’ve been posting these Black History Month factoids, which is a fact everyday to do with race, diversity or Black History. We’re in charge of promoting the initiative, because it’s relatively new, so we want to make it more well known.
At the moment, we also have an opportunity with Slaughter and May for people to go and visit their offices and get an insight into a ‘day in the life’ at that firm. That will be held on the 6th December and people who are interested in that can apply now. Later on, we are going to have an event with Baroness Lawrence, which is going to be amazing. She is going to talk about her experiences and what it is like being a woman of colour.
We’ve got a lot more in the pipeline so keep an eye out if you would like to get involved!
What do you think of the current diversity status of Exeter University? Do you think it has improved?
There’s been a recent study covered in Expose about how Exeter University is ranked something like fourth from the bottom in terms of its level of diversity. I think it’s quite obvious even just walking around campus that there is a definite divide and that groups of people from different backgrounds sometimes just don’t mix. I noticed it most in first year, especially coming from London. My experience has fortunately not been like that – my friendship group was very diverse in terms of background and having a mixed group was really nice. But there is certainly an issue.
Even speaking to people that potentially want to come to Exeter University, a major concern that has been expressed to me the most is about the lack of diversity, and that Exeter has a reputation, unfortunately, for being posh, white and privately educated. If that is something that people that don’t even go to the university yet have picked up on, then there is clearly a problem.
I know someone that was interested in the university who is from an Indian background who had come to an open day. She was talking to me about Exeter and she said that the one thing that would really bother her is the lack of diversity.
I don’t know exactly what the university can do and no BAME student is going to have all the answers. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the reputation that Exeter has built up means that people of colour aren’t applying. It’s the same with the legal profession – people of colour aren’t applying because they feel like they’ll have to assimilate and get rid of their blackness and heritage to feel integrated.
Do you have anything else to add about BAME Law or Black History Month in general?
To be fair to Exeter, I have seen a lot of events being hosted for Black History Month and they have put quite a big emphasis on it, which I think is really positive. Whether people other than BAME people are actually attending those events is the issue!
But the Guild has worked very hard to put on a range of talks and film screenings and so on. They are focusing on Black History Month, but also intersectionality within that, which is really important. They have thought a lot about it and it doesn’t seem like these celebrations are just being done for the sake of it, or in order to save face. They’ve done a really good job.
And a final question – do you have any historical or current person of colour that really inspires you or that you think deserves notice?
That’s a hard question – there’s so many!
I really like Janelle Monáe. I think she is such an empowering figure. A big thing we talked about in the launch event was being unapologetically authentic and having the bravery to be yourself, and she definitely encapsulates that.
Baroness Lawrence, again, is unbelievable. She is an incredible woman and what she has had the strength to do in terms of bringing attention to the racism that is present within institutions like the police force is so important. She’s managed to take an awful event and make something positive out of it in becoming a spokesperson for Black rights. That is just so powerful because I don’t think many people in her position would have been able to come back from what she did, and be able to revisit it in a way that is enforcing change.
There is also just an abundance of writers that I love. I wouldn’t know where to start! Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, the list goes on!
Find out more about BAME Law at Exeter here: