The Hot Seat: Samantha Budd (Bristol SU)

Tuesday 23-02-2016 - 14:19

Ahead of our first ever Race Matters Summit which takes place next week, we spoke to Samantha Budd about her role at Bristol SU, being nominated for Chief Executive of the Year and how senior leaders can truly champion Black advancement in the student movement. 

There are over 600 students’ unions across the UK, yet you are one of five Black Chief Executives in the movement. What steps need to be taken to address this?

That is a rather depressing statistic particularly coming from this sector, I think that most people from within the movement and also in wider society would expect students’ unions to be at the forefront of progressive practice in this area. We all need to take this seriously as I think not getting this right casts a shadow over the good work that is done to defend the rights and promote opportunities for Black students.

I believe that the people who work in this sector largely do so because they are passionate about values such as equality and fair access and I think that particularly those of us in positions where we can really influence this agenda need to take really seriously the job of bringing about change. This includes engaging our trustees and looking to ensure that we have diverse boards and external trustees that are committed to this agenda.

The first step is to engage in events like the Race Matters Summit and to recognise that we can’t afford to open ourselves up to the charge of hypocrisy, we can’t effectively lead the way in relation to Black students if we aren’t simultaneously champions of Black advancement in our own organisations.

It’s often stated that Black professionals have to work twice as hard to break through the glass ceiling and become senior leaders in most industries. Do you believe this to be true?

Sadly, I know this to be true. The fact that I am where I am now is yes as a result of hard work but also as a result of random luck and I know of countless Black friends and family who are more talented than I am and have worked as hard if not harder but luck has eluded them and that just isn’t fair. They say that you can create your own luck but when the opportunities are so random it becomes a lottery and that is not only unfair it just isn’t a sensible way to develop talent from either the individual or organisational perspective.

Have you faced more of a struggle to get where you are being both a Black and a Woman?

The intersectionality question. I find it hard to separate my own experiences, logically two sets of barriers is more difficult to overcome than one. I think that there is something particularly complex about being a Black woman as the ‘isms’ come at you from all sides, the expectations of you as a woman from your own group can be challenging and the expectations you place on yourself as a woman, wife, mother, sister, worker, colleague, manager on their own and in the context of you being a Black woman, wife, colleague etc. etc. is often overwhelming.

The thing is that it is really hard to imagine what it would be like to live a life where I wasn’t judged, so often detrimentally, by my race and my sex but equally these experiences have also made me who I am and at 52 years of age I have come to be at peace with who I am and understand that the best protection from the struggle is to believe in and love yourself.

You were shortlisted for the Chief Executive of the Year at the Investors in Diversity Awards, how did it feel to be nominated?

It was a lovely thing indeed. A Chief Executive award nomination is as much a reflection of the people that surround you now as those you met along the way so a big thank you to all of them too. It certainly made me reflect on life and think about how proud my Dad would have been, his was a hard life where he faced unbelievable racism and poverty and this nomination in a small way would have eased some of that pain.

What are Bristol SU doing to increase representation of Black officers and staff on your campus?

We are committed to diversifying student representation and over the last few years have worked on a number of campaigns to diversify our elections that have led to an increase in the number and breadth of candidates for our full and part- time posts, there is still work to be done in turning Black candidates into FTO elects. Over the last few years we have seen really active BME PTOs that have led campaigns and delivered great intercultural events.

The university is currently undergoing a strategic review and is listening to the students’ union, it recognises that there is much to be done in this area and has agreed to place diversity on its strategic agenda from reviewing the curriculum to recognising that work has to be done in order to recruit, support and retain a diverse workforce. I’m certainly not saying it’s a job done, far from it, but the conversation has started, the issue is being faced and that is where progress starts.

What would you like to see the NUS and the student movement doing more of as a whole to increase representation of Black officers and staff?

As I mentioned earlier I think that working with trustees is important. We sometimes forget the influence that the board of trustees has in setting the priorities for a union and supporting these boards to aspire to be equality leaders wouldn’t be a bad place to start.


Registration for Race Matters Summit is now open, and you can book your place here. For further information about the Race Matters Summit, please email Mandeep Rupra-Daine, NUS’ Equality & Diversity Consultant.


Black, Features, Union Development

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