What it’s like to live and work in uni halls as a Black student

16 Nov 2021
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

By Nkasi Stoll, PhD Candidate and Residence Welfare Lead at King’s College London; Co-Founder and Director at Black People Talk CIC; Co-Founder at Black In Mental Health.

Being a Black university student

Black university students (including myself) have had to survive and thrive through the Covid-19 pandemic, collectively grieve the disappearances and murders of Black people around the world, and become unpaid equality, diversity and inclusion consultants for their university. We've had to do this all whilst managing our personal, student, social, family, and working lives.

Being Black and living in student accommodation

Many Black university students don’t feel happy, safe or comfortable living in student accommodation for many different reasons including:

  • Being the only Black person in the flat, block or accommodation.
  • Staff asking a Black student to prove they live in the accommodation, especially when non-Black students don’t get asked to prove their identity.
  • Flatmates making racist ‘jokes’ about Black people and other racially minoritised people.
  • Student accommodation staff and other students being racist.
  • Reporting racism, harassment, discrimination and abuse and not being believed or not being taken seriously.

These experiences can make Black students feel isolated, lonely and like they don’t belong in student accommodation and at university. This can lead to a decline in mental health, resulting in depression and anxiety which can severely impact on a students’ ability to learn, socialise, continue their degree, and stay mentally and physically healthy.

Residence Welfare Leads in student accommodation

I lived in student accommodation during my undergraduate degree. Other students and staff were racist and made me feel like I did not belong, which severely affected my mental health. Because of this I decided to become a Residence Welfare Lead (RWL) whilst doing my doctorate degree.

RWLs are postgraduate student volunteers who are recruited for their dedication and enthusiasm for helping others. They are specially trained to live in student accommodation and provide an out-of-hours wellbeing support service to residents who find living in halls difficult.

My advice on addressing issues and living happily in student accommodation

If you are a Black university student who is struggling to live in student accommodation:

  • Reach out to university services such as chaplaincy, wellbeing, disability, your personal tutor and tell them about your experiences.
  • Invest in self-care for your wellbeing.
  • Talk to your student union (SU) about making a formal complaint if needed.
  • Connect with other Black students outside of student accommodation via student societies e.g. the Afro-Caribbean Society (ACS).
  • Attend a Black Students Talk (BST) session to get peer support from other Black university students.
  • If your circumstances allow, ask the residences team whether you can terminate your contract early for your health.

If you work in student accommodation there are many ways you can make the accommodation a safer and more comfortable place for Black university students to thrive:

  • Introduce yourself to Black students if you haven’t met them before, don’t ask them to prove their identity.
  • Listen to Black students if they tell you they are struggling and help them access support from services if they want to.
  • Don’t tell a Black student who has told you about a racist incident that they are wrong, exaggerating or the person didn’t mean to cause harm. Listen and validate how the student feels.
  • Attend anti-racism training to better understand the experiences of Black students.

Black Students Talk

Black Students Talk (BST) is a programme delivered by Black People Talk CIC where Black university students come together to listen, learn, and support each other's mental health and wellbeing.

BST is a brave and safe space where we unpack our traumas, celebrate our successes, and be our authentic unapologetic selves.

To find out more about BST, including how to sign up for or signpost to support, visit our website: www.blackpeopletalk.co.uk and follow us on Twitter and Instagram: @BPTwellbeing

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Staff writer at The Common Room