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Living Black at University: One Year On

By ASRAcomms 21 Feb 2023

It’s been a year since Unite Students published its Living Black at University report.

Here, we share what we’ve done since to support greater equity for Black students within the sphere of student accommodation.

Working with the wider sector through our Commission

The report’s first recommendation was for universities and accommodation providers to collaborate on eliminating racism from student accommodation. In order to begin embedding the recommendations into the fabric of the student accommodation sector – and the wider higher education sector – we created the Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University.

The Commission includes representatives from national organisations including Unipol, Advance HE and Student Minds, as well as professional sector bodies CUBO (College and University Business Officers), ASRA (Association for Student Residential Accommodation) and AMOSSHE (Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education). A full list of Commissioners is available here.

Since May, the Commission has met every two months to discuss the recommendations, highlight challenges, and agree on a set of actions, as well as update on progress to existing actions. The Commission’s work is ongoing, but details of its response to recommendations will be compiled in a forthcoming series of sector notes, alongside case studies of projects, initiatives and best practice developed to support Black students, in line with the report’s recommendations.

Bringing everyone together

We’ve brought these insights to a wider audience at sector conferences, putting on sessions at conferences including the CUBO ResLife Conference, ASRA Conference, Joint Codes Conference and the CUBO Winter Conference.

We’re also holding the Living Black at University Conference: Creating meaningful change at Newcastle University on Tuesday 7th March. This free one-day event, aimed at those working in student accommodation and university DEI teams, is an opportunity to hear from both student accommodation experts and students, network with other professionals working in these areas of Higher Education, and take best practice, tools and insights from the Commission back to your institution.

Cultural services trial with Newcastle University

Since early 2022, we’ve been working closely with Newcastle University on matters of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), to create more inclusive environments in halls of residence.

In the initial stages, this has consisted of the trial of a cultural services programme with the university – one of the first outputs from the Commission. The report highlighted that more than a quarter (28%) of Black students indicated they were unable to access culturally relevant services, including Black haircare, international foods, and mental health support – and this came up as a discussion point in the first full Commission meeting in May 2022, with one Commissioner sharing that they were personally asked for recommendations of this nature by new arrivals.

The Commission agreed that tailored, local guides and advice for Black students would support their acclimatisation at university, and took this on as an action to be trialled by Newcastle University and Unite Students. The information in the template, which spanned local services and businesses with Black heritage, was carefully curated by Jessica Eve and Andrew Nartey, who worked at Unite Students over the summer of 2022 as part of the 10,000 Black Interns Programme. Unite Students and the university then distributed the web version of the template to students, while it was also promoted in Unite Students properties with posters with QR codes linking to the webpage.

More on the initiative will be shared by Kerry Watson (Student Support Manager at Unite Students) at the Living Black at University Conference, but feedback from students at Newcastle University has been overwhelmingly positive to date.

This work has contributed towards Newcastle University being awarded a Race Equality Charter Bronze Award by Advance HE on its first attempt. In the coming months, our partnership will pivot to exploring how we can share our student-facing diversity and inclusion policies and procedures and better communicate them to students.

Creating resources for everyone to use

As the Commission draws to a close, we’re delighted to share that in the coming weeks and months, we’ll have some resources and outputs to share with the Higher Education sector.

Here are just three of the outputs – coming soon to the Living Black at University Commission website:

  • Living Black at University research toolkit to support universities and student unions who would like to run the Living Black at University survey in their own institution, with the question set, advice on how to include Black students in the process of running the research, and how to act on the results.
  • An Equality, Diversity and Inclusion data maturity framework that supports higher education institutions (HEIs) to benchmark their use of EDI data in all aspects of the student and staff experience and to advance their practice.
  • cultural services toolkit to help universities create a version of the cultural services template for their city, signposting students to local Black services and businesses including specialist haircare, international supermarkets and mental health support.

We look forward to publishing these resources in the coming weeks, and hope that they will prove valuable in supporting the sector to work towards racial equity in student accommodation.


ASRAcomms is Jordan Meates, ASRA Communications & IT Officer based at Sheffield Hallam University.
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Living Black, EDI