Personal Histories: Sara Elkhawad

This October is Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. To honour our staff and students here at Newcastle, we’re continuing our Personal Histories blog series to learn more about them and their stories.

In this blog, we spoke to Sara Elkhawad, the current NUSU Equality and Welfare Officer, to learn more about her interests, aspects of her culture, and what she thinks of Black History Month. Sara has been working extremely hard this month running her campaign, Black Is Gold; so far it has included a culture-filled fashion show, a panel discussion in collaboration with the Great Debate Tour, campaign series to educate on the impact of racism, and the finale this evening with a closing party run by student DJs. For more details about these amazing events, click here.

How did you end up in Newcastle?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a while – I didn’t have that kind of vocational dream of doing medicine or whatever, so I chose to do English literature at Newcastle quite last minute. But then I went to the visit day and actually really liked it, so I put it first. My mum was really happy because she was an alumni so she was like, ‘Wow my life is now being recreated through my daughter!’ But I really love it here so it was probably the best decision I ever made, even though it was a last minute decision.

How did you become involved in your role?

I studied English literature at university and it’s something that I thought about a lot during my third year, so I applied last year really hoping that I’d get in. I guess Welfare and Equality Officer’s always been something that I’ve been interested in because of the charitable aspect, the mental health aspect of it and I love doing events and stuff so the campaigns aspect too. Also, being the first black woman that had ever gone for this role and the second person of colour that had been on the team was a big motivation of mine because I felt like I could represent the voices that I related to. So I applied, and since then I’ve realised that it has been the perfect job for me because I get to do lots of stuff to do with wellbeing and mental health which is something that is close to my heart, but also campaigning for people that are underrepresented. Not just black people, but people of marginalised genders, LGBT+, disabled people, etc. It’s been really, really eye opening for me and even showed me where a lot of my strengths and weaknesses are, so I’ve learnt a lot as well.

What are your main hobbies and interests outside of your role?

I like writing poetry – I actually haven’t recently because I’ve been so busy, but yeah, I write a lot of poetry. For my dissertation, instead of doing a dissertation I did a creative portfolio so I did poetry for that. I do spoken word as well as written poetry, I guess it’s to do with finding an emotional release sometimes. I’m not a good singer or anything so I like to kind of rap through written words instead.

What would you regard as your proudest achievement?

I guess Black History Month. Obviously I haven’t been in this job for that long, since June, but it’s been really successful – on our opening night, 200 people turned up which was amazing! Any event at the Students’ Union that gets that kind of turnout is incredible, and since then we had a really good turnout at the debate that we had. We’ve had really good feedback from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and high up in the university which has been amazing. Lots of students have got really involved as well as the local community so that for me has been really amazing because it’s something that I’ve put a lot of time and effort into. It’s also kind of controversial; with it being called Black is Gold and focusing on black achievements and black excellence, I think some people who aren’t within that ethnic group feel a little bit triggered by it, or have their own opinions about it, so I’ve obviously had some controversial comments too but in general it’s been a very positive campaign so I’m really happy.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

Being the only person of my background and sitting in a room where everyone else is white and predominantly male; you don’t have that set of privileges, and sometimes you feel not as confident to use your voice and you come across natural barriers to stuff. Not everyone agrees with your way of thinking or agrees with the same issues because they haven’t been through the same things that I’ve been through, so when I try and articulate what black people need or what black people want, it hasn’t necessarily always had the immediate response that I would expect from someone that was black. So it’s the kind of feeling that I’m the only one that will ever fit my shoes in this university realm and in the union as well.

I guess just adjusting to the role in general, too – there’s so much to do. Being a trustee of the union which is essentially like chairing a charity, making sure that the union is well governed… there’s so many aspects that I didn’t realise I’d have to do so I’m maturing a lot!

What inspires you?

The people around me inspire me a lot. I think the liberation officers (the people who voluntarily represent marginalised groups) like the Racial Equality officer, LGBT officer, are amazing because they’re the kind of people who are standing up directly for those voices. They make me learn a lot about my own knowledge and privileges which is great. In terms of other people, probably people like Akala who’s an inspirational speaker and rapper and understands the ins and outs of blackness, and the myths about it as well.

I think also my environment; the fact that I’ve grown up in quite a diverse area in London meeting people who generally have the same political outlooks on life, but also the same kind of music and cultural interests as me. Coming to a city that is a little bit less diverse has been quite eye opening in a negative and positive way, because obviously I have felt discriminated against and had prejudice against me but also I’ve been able to use my race as a platform to make sure we improve as a university in terms of that kind of stuff. That’s been interesting because I think when I came to university I didn’t really have the same racial consciousness that I have gained now from being at Newcastle, so that’s been quite inspiring.

Can you give me a selection of your favourite things from your culture?

I am half East African, so half from Sudan. It’s quite a different environment from what other people understand as Africa; a lot of people understand ‘black’ as West Africa and the Caribbean. One of my favourite bits is the sense of family and community, it’s like no one ever leaves you alone! Which is hard because Britain is such an isolated culture in comparison, people like their downtime and like just spending time by themselves but you don’t get that in Sudan. There’s a lot of eating together; you have this big round plate that everyone spins and eats from, and there’s about a million weddings so you’re always seeing people which is really lovely.

Falafel is quite a big part of my diet – obviously I don’t eat falafel on a daily basis, but my family have created this sort of secret family recipe from it, so that’s a big part of my East African culture. We’ve got beautiful pyramids in Sudan – everyone thinks that Egypt have all the pyramids but Sudan actually has like three times the amount and no one ever goes there. When I went to go see them, there was literally no one there apart from the people who were leading us and the camels, so that’s pretty cool.

What do you think about when you hear Black History Month?

I think what other people think they hear Black History Month is that they automatically think of slavery and civil rights, so when black people were slaves and how black people got over slavery. Especially within that, African American history so we’ve got people like Martin Luther King who fought for civil rights and did an amazing job, but again it’s not British black history.

So now when I think of Black History and what this campaign Black Is Gold is meant to do, I sort of want to draw away from slavery and unearth narratives that like have been silenced by slavery. Before slavery and since slavery, black people were kings and queens and are kings and queens; we have Meghan Markle for example, who is literally in the royal family in the UK. Or within the Roman era, you had Nubian empires with black East African kings and queens. So I guess for me it’s about black excellence and beauty, rather than black colonialism and slavery, and yes black British history in the past but also now. The people that are paving the way, like Stormzy, or singers like Jorja Smith and Akala are really important black figures that are informing British culture and making history, even though we don’t really see it like that.

Thank you so much to Sara for taking the time to speak to us during this busy time! The work she has been doing this month is admirable, and we hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about her story and perspective. #BlackIsGold

If you would be interested in talking to us about yourself as part of this series, or know someone else who would, we would love to hear from you! To take part, please contact Claire Bailie.

Personal Histories: Anne Oyewole

This October is Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. Although we should honour the successes throughout the year, it provides a special focus on their lives and experiences. 

We want to honour our own staff around the University, by learning more about their interests, likes and dislikes and aspects of their culture, to get a sense of their stories and histories. 

For our first blog, we spoke to Anne Oyewole, a Research Associate currently working with the Stroke Research Group, to find out more about her.

How did you end up in Newcastle?

About 13 years ago I applied for an MRes at Northumbria University and ended up being awarded the post which was a collaboration with a chemical company, so that was unique and fun. I thought at the time because I was coming up from London that I would only be here for a year, but one year evolved into thirteen years! Since then I have completed my PhD at Newcastle University and held a few postdoc positions, so it’s great to still be here.

How did you become involved in your role?

I completed my PhD in Dermatology followed by a couple of postdoc positions in this department. I then joined  the Neuromuscular team within the John Walton Muscular Dystrophy Research Centre (based at the Centre for Life) as the Post-marketing Surveillance Coordinator. In this role, I was responsible for supporting pharmaceutical companies with Phase IV studies for their licensed therapies. I was keen to gain more hands on experience setting up and delivering a clinical study, so I moved to the Stroke Research Group, where I am coordinating a clinical study evaluating the diagnostic accuracy of a point of care device. All the expertise, knowledge and experience I have gained over the last decade have been extremely valuable and helped me to secure my new role (which I’ll start in December 2019) as the Programme Manager for medical devices, diagnostics and digital technologies within the NIHR-Innovation Observatory, the national medical horizon scanning facility based at Newcastle University.

What are your main hobbies and interests outside of work?

I’m very passionate about dancing. I love dancing, in particular Bollywood dancing which I do at Dance City. I also enjoy ballroom and Latin dancing and Afro Mix, which is a mixture of different African styles of dance. I love cooking dishes from all over the world and I’m often inviting friends over, so that I can cook and bake for them. Over the last few years, I’ve set myself cooking/baking goals and this year my goal is to improve my bread baking skills as well as perfect my pastry techniques. So far this year I’ve enjoyed making croissants, naan bread, shortcrust pastry, bagels, Challah and all sorts.

What would you regard as your proudest achievement?

Though I have a lot to be proud of, one that stands out for me is having done my A levels and not getting the grade that I was expecting. Getting a lower grade meant I didn’t get into my first choice university and I remember at that time feeling my whole world had crumbled around me, it seemed very difficult to see how I was going to move forward. My family were all very supportive, and said, “It really wouldn’t be terrible to go to your second choice!” Although I wasn’t expecting to go to my second choice university, I continued and had a great time there. My passion and joy for science didn’t diminish in that time – if anything it increased, and so I was inspired and encouraged to go on to pursue postgraduate studies.

I think the thing I am proud of is that at the time it was difficult to see how things would come together, but actually things have turned out really well. Something that my parents instilled within me was to appreciate my education and to be disciplined and work hard. Being disciplined has been a real blessing as I’ve been able to go on from my Biology degree to complete my MRes (Masters) and PhD as well as to go on with my research career.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced?

Completing my PhD thesis!

I think some of the challenges I experienced before and during my PhD journey helped me to develop a good measure of resilience, which was so important in getting me through the writing up phase of my PhD, along with a supportive supervisor (Prof. Mark Birch-Machin) and my family and friends. Obviously in life there are always going to be challenges we face that don’t always lead to a positive outcome but I’ve been reminded recently through personal challenging circumstances I’m facing, that these times can be good opportunities to learn and grow.

What inspires you?

One of the things that shapes me would be my Christian faith. My trust in and love for Jesus inspires and encourages me to look out for and love other people. My faith is also the reason I love science – I love learning more about our universe and understanding more about the human body.

Can you give me a selection of your favourite things from your culture?

I mentioned dancing and that’s definitely something from my culture as well as listening/dancing to Afrobeats, there’s a real joy in being able to move so freely and rhythmically to the beat – I love that! I love wearing colourful clothing and eating Nigerian food such as jollof rice with plantain and moi moi. Growing up in London meant that I was exposed to a lot of different cultures, so as well as enjoying eating food from other countries I enjoyed learning about different cultures too.

In the Nigerian culture it’s very important that you respect your elders and this is instilled within you from a child. I’m really thankful that this is the case, as It’s sad when I see older people in our society not being respected or just ignored because their ideas, opinions, knowledge, expertise and life experience are not seen as valuable, which is not the case! Older people have so much to contribute to our society.

What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month”?

Firstly, I think of the legacy left by great heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr and Harriet Tubman and countless unsung heroes. It’s great that we have the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of so many black people throughout history this October. Whilst there is lots to celebrate, Black History Month is still a reminder that there is still lots to be done to bring about further change. Going forward it’s important to see more engagement and open dialogue on current racial issues across all sectors of our society, as so many people today still face discrimination because of their ethnicity.

Thank you so much to Anne for taking the time to speak with us. We hope you enjoyed getting to know a bit more about her and her story (and maybe have been inspired to try some baking?).

We’ll hopefully be running this blog series for the next few weeks, so if you would be interested in talking to us about yourself, or know someone else who would, we would love to hear from you! To take part, please contact Claire Bailie.

NUMed10: A Milestone of Excellence  

“We truly have a community that is both diverse and inclusive at NUMed, and we are incredibly humbled that so many have come to be with us to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We anticipate what the future holds as we continue to develop our role in medical education in Malaysia and across the world,”

– Prof. Chris Baldwin, the Provost & Chief Executive Officer of NUMed

On 21st September 2019, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) turned 10. Since welcoming its first cohort of students in September 2009, this first international branch campus of Newcastle University has been delivering exceptional medical education in Malaysia, extending the legacy to the Southeast Asian region. NUMed’s global community of students, faculty, staff and alumni convened to celebrate this momentous milestone, which was marked by a medley of local cultural performances and moving speeches by international and local leaders in education. Prof. Baldwin imparted his thoughts on what he observed were the makings of NUMed’s success: the excellence of all its staff, both academic and professional; the cooperation between NUMed, Newcastle University, UK, and NUMed’s partners in Malaysia; and the openness and collegiality of the NUMed community, whether international or local.

The Founding Provost and Chief Executive Officer of NUMed, Professor Reginald Jordan, spoke fondly of his experience: “Having seen the NUMed project through the early development stages, our move to the region marked the culmination of much hard work. It was a most exciting, if somewhat daunting, prospect, with the challenge being to translate the planning blueprint into reality and to fully realise the NUMed vision.”

Fast forward ten years, and the FMS EDI Team and the School of Medical Education Academic EDI Lead have been proud to support colleagues at NUMed to form their own EDI committee comprising 11 members of staff, a mixture of PS and academic staff plus two students. The team at Malaysia took the initiative to hold discussions with their counterparts in Reading and Southampton prior to setting up the EDI committee. These two campuses, along with Nottingham and Herriot-Watt, do not have local EDI committees, as a result NUMed has been a trailblazer, as the first campus in the region to look at EDI from a local perspective.

The over-riding principles for EDI work at NUMed are not around replicating what is currently in place in Newcastle but ensuring that the work is relevant for Malaysia. In deciding on the priorities for EDI at NUMed, members of the EDI committee attended an event in February 2019 held at the British Malaysian Chamber of Commerce where the keynote speech around EDI was delivered by the Deputy Minister for Women, Family and Community. In this speech the four key EDI areas for the Malaysian government were highlighted i.e. gender, race, disability and language and it is these areas that the EDI committee have taken as the cornerstone of their current work.

We are proud of the role that NUMed plays in the success of the Faculty and the University. As Prof. Richard Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Global, of Newcastle University noted, “The real strength of NUMed lies in the talented and passionate people of the university with shared affinity, ambition, and dedication. With that, there is no doubt that the best is yet to come.”

 

 

We’re back!

Long time no see, FMS EDI blog… After a busy summer, we are back to share more EDI news and updates with you. Exciting news: our team has taken on a new student intern this year!

My name is Claire Bailie, I’m from Northern Ireland and I will be working with the FMS EDI team for this academic year. I study Psychology at Newcastle University and am completing this role as part of a professional placement year, before my final year of study in 2020. After applying for a variety of placements I decided that working with EDI was the position I felt most passionately about. My role will mainly consist of assisting on research projects and carrying out communications to help with the promotion of the EDI Office’s work across the faculty. I am particularly passionate about EDI as I have a sibling with a hidden disability, and as a result am very conscious of the impact that a lack of awareness and inclusion around these issues can have, especially within higher education. I am honoured to be a part of the team this year, and will leave you with a quick reminder:

We would like our blog to be inclusive and interactive, which means we need you! Whether you’re at the University or are from the external community, we’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to write a post or have an idea for something you’d like to see on our blog, please drop us an email: c.bailie@newcastle.ac.uk.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • Do you have an opinion or response to something you’ve seen in the media?
  • Are you a student affected by any EDI issues that you would like to write about?
  • Are you doing any research related to EDI that you would like to share?
  • Would you like to share your inspirations or role models?
  • Do you face challenges in your career related to EDI issues?

We want a diverse range of topics, tones and styles, so feel free to be creative!

Demystifying Leadership: New Director of EDI (Simon Forrest)

A few months ago, we published the first blog in our Demystifying Leadership Series, in which Professor Candy Rowe chatted to us about what her role as Faculty Director of EDI had been like, to help potential replacements decide whether it was the leadership role for them.

And it worked! 

We are pleased to introduce our new Faculty Director of EDI, Professor Simon Forrest! Have a read of his Q&A to get to know a bit more about him, why he applied for the role, and what he’s most looking forward to:

Tell us a bit about your background. What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

Like a lot of academic careers, mine sounds like a series of wise choices when I tell in from where I am now. But, in truth, it has largely been about a combination of luck, when opportunity has spoken to my passions.

I began as a professional musician and got very interested in the sociology of health because of the advent of HIV/Aids, and the way that changes in sexual attitudes, behaviours and culture that came about because of that, and the way they were represented in the ‘pop’ culture of which I was part. I met and got involved in very early community responses to HIV through peer education with young people, and the mobilisation of gay men and MSM. That evolved into 30 years of work on sex, sexualities, gender and sexual health.

I am still engaged in advocacy, which often feeds my research, but also some more sedate pastimes, such as bee-keeping.

How did you first become interested in EDI? What are some of the aspects of EDI you are most passionate about?

I can’t imagine how anyone can be involved in the social aspects of sex, sexualities, gender and health and not have EDI running through their work.

I have seen the way that public policy has failed people and also then worked to improve people’s lives. I have seen and, I hope, been part of influencing great positive changes in the recognition sexual diversity, in seeing that the greatest threats to people sexual health and wellbeing are often about failure to provide that and promote respect and equality. What I’ve learnt is EDI is about listening; hearing and making sure we give voice those who get left behind or are disadvantaged by social attitudes, policy or organisations – mobilising their potential to change things for the better for everyone.

What drew you to the position of Director of EDI for FMS?

It’s very simple – FMS is a natural champion of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

All our contributions are about making everyone’s lives better, healthier, and happier. We have the opportunity, especially because of the values of the NHS and our other stake-holders, to put that at the heart of what we do. Who wouldn’t want to be able to contribute to that?

What has been your favourite thing about the role so far?

Finding my feet with the fantastic EDI team, both within FMS and across the University, hearing people being so honest about the challenges in their work and lives, and the energy right across the Faculty, from top to bottom, to effect real culture change so that it heartbeats with EDI.

What are the main things you hope to achieve in the role? Tell us what you’re most excited to get involved with?

To continue the amazing work done so far, and to see that recognised in further external recognition and accreditation.

I want to be an advocate, to empower, and mobilise the skills and expertise in the Faculty and our wider community, and to enjoy the debate, discussion, planning, and work we can do together.

What aspects of being FMS’ Director of EDI do you anticipate will be most challenging? What previous learning experiences do you think have helped prepare you to take on these challenges?

Universities are complex places and knowing how the system works and how to make the system work can be a challenge. I think I have had a lot of experience now and know something about we go about creating transparent and effective structures that support EDI.

What do you hope to learn through the role?

No day goes by when one doesn’t learn something about oneself and other people.

Universities are all about conversations and because I might see students or staff, do some engagement work with our community, and much more in a typical day, there’s always going to be a conversation out there which will make me think. It might be someone asking me a question I don’t know the answer to (that’s very common) or telling me something amazing about their lives that makes me stop and think.

Thank you so much to Simon for giving us a bit of insight into himself and how he’s feeling about his new role. We can’t wait to see all that you do as Faculty Director of EDI.

Talking Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in the Faculty of Medical Sciences and at Newcastle University.