It was just over a week into the police-enforced national lockdown in March, when I received a message that Diaspora Speaks Magazine had been approved by Queen Mary University’s Student Union. Up until that moment, Diaspora Speaks was just a concept, albeit one that took up a lot of space in my mind. This day was almost the complete opposite to the cold November night when Sawdah told me about the ideas she had for a magazine at Queen Mary for students of colour. From that day, Sawdah and I spent many hours poring over a plan on how we would run it, with little knowledge of how Covid-19 would drastically change all the plans we made. What felt like a crazy idea for months was now a tangible thing. How did I go from sitting at home going stir-crazy to now having a magazine to run?
A question you might ask is, what would be the purpose of starting a magazine for students of colour if you can just join an existing student media outlet? Personally, when I joined the student media bubble at the end of my first year at Queen Mary, I loved it. However, upon noticing the extremely obvious lack of diversity in student media, I felt a sense of isolation. I hadn’t anticipated the stark difference between the student body demographic and that of student media. I began to wonder why this was. Surely, most student groups are reflective of the students at the university?
Although there isn’t data on diversity in student media and this is just a reflection of my experiences, there are figures for the journalism and media sectors. A study by City, University of London revealed that “The British journalism industry is 94% white”. It also showed that 0.4% of British journalists are Muslim and 0.2% are Black compared to 5% and 3% of the population respectively. It isn’t a secret that media has historically been an exclusive club for those who have contacts, but it might be surprising to some that this hasn’t changed much. It has never been about ability or skill; in journalism it’s often about who you know. While this undoubtedly must change for students who want to get into journalism and media, networking is still key.
However, what do you do if you can’t see yourself in networking spaces, to begin with? How do you network in a space that you don’t feel comfortable in?
The premise behind Diaspora Speaks was to provide a platform and space for students of colour to express themselves. Students of colour at Queen Mary have a voice, and our platform aims to amplify them. Often, we are grouped into the ‘students of colour’ or ‘BAME’ category as a way of advertising institutions as ‘diverse’ and by extension, welcoming. As a result of the diversity narrative, many people of colour are pushed to talk about race and diversity. There are many problems with that, with the first reason being that it is extremely exhausting to talk about and explain how race affects your life and interactions. Secondly, racial identity is not something that is exclusive to people of colour, therefore pushing them to be the ones to talk about race when other people can talk about a plethora of experiences is unfair. Students of colour are not a monolith. Diaspora Speaks aims to showcase their talents by nurturing talent and providing community.
One of the main reasons I decided to get on board and start Diaspora Speaks was the chance to provide a community for students of colour who want to write at Queen Mary. Whether you’re writing to become a journalist or just because you enjoy it, you deserve to feel like you belong in these spaces. I want students of colour to write not only about their experiences about ‘being a person of colour’ but anything and everything they wish to talk about. I think that it’s important that we allow people to share their full stories. Overall, I’m excited for this academic year and everything we have planned. I am, however, most excited about steadily building the foundations for a space that is accessible to students of colour.