Brand Ambassador Showcase: Francess Okia-Anie
Hello Everyone! Welcome back to our showcase series, where every month we interview people who’ve worked with Hype on campaigns and as Brand Ambassadors, to give you a glimpse into our fab network.
In honour of Black History Month, we thought it’d be an excellent opportunity to showcase our black studnet network, and the amazing things they’re doing to take action for equality at University, and beyond.
This week, we had the absolute pleasure of speaking to Francess, now an LSE grad, on her work with the ACS (African Caribbean Society) BIPOC (Black, indigenous people of colour), her university experience as a person of colour and how she incorporated her passion for change into her work at The Hype Collective.
Hype: Hi Francess, thanks for talking to us today! Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I went to LSE where I studied Law; I’ve now graduated and work as a Secondary school teacher, where I try my best to consistently incorporate Afro-Caribbean culture into the curriculum. Whilst at LSE, I played rugby, and I was the Media and Marketing Officer for the BPOC (British People of Colour society). I was also Creative Officer for the ACS (Afro-Caribbean Society) during my second year at the university. I definitely merged my love of celebrating my heritage with my interest in photography and visual art.
Hype: That sounds amazing, what kind of work did you do whilst you were involved with these societies?
As the ACS Creative Officer, I was in charge of combining African and Caribbean culture, such as music and poetry, into the LSE SU events and supporting the SU during Black History Month. I was also responsible for creating visuals for society events. During Black History Month, we shared content on the SU radio and the school newspaper to educate the campus. I also curated a photo exhibition with contributions from the society. Additionally, the ACS holds an annual panel conference called Black Ascent. During my year of office, I contributed to the conference which was themed: The role of Arts in the Black Community. We partnered with UAL – Central Saint Martins to deliver a panel discussion featuring authors, poets, photographers and radio personalities. It was a great opportunity for students to network. Finally, as a member of BPOC, we focused on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, through careers events.
My main aims within those two societies was to find how to incorporate and explore Afro-Caribbean culture into the wider life of university. For example, the ACS supported our peers to set up a literary magazine focused on African literature. I also wanted to help BAME students to have the confidence to join creative societies, such as Dance and Photography.
Hype: Do you feel that your societies made a big impact on how LSE treat and represent BAME students?
Yes and no. The year I was on these committees, LSE’s Student Union President was a past member of the ACS, so there was a lot of support. In previous years, we had to fight really hard to get our voice heard. Things did change, but there’s still so much change that needs to happen.
Hype: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Hype as a Brand Ambassador
Hype reached out to BPOC whilst working on a campaign with Shell, who were attempting to encourage BAME students to apply for their opportunities. I met Simon, the Founder of Hype Collective, for coffee and we both had the same point of view in terms of what needs to be done for diversity.
I was a brand ambassador for 3 years, and it was so beneficial for my marketing experience. I was involved in quite a lot of campaigns, so although it was sometimes stressful, it definitely taught me the skill of time management.
Hype: Are you aware of anything LSE have further done to encourage equality?
I have strong feelings about the way they responded to previous incidents whilst I was a student and after my graduation. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the email that they sent out whilst the BLM protests were occurring, it was very bland and lacked any promise of real action. There was also an individual who was accepted on to an MA at the school, who was heavily involved in the Charlestown riots, and they allowed him to study at the university, despite a petition signed by BAME and non-BAME students saying that they would not feel safe or comfortable having him on campus. I think having the view that LSE can only act as an academic institution without socio-political implications needs to change, and they need to assess the impacts of their decisions as a university on their students.
It frustrates me that LSE teaches the importance of diversity in political practice, and encourages democracy. However, when black students try and put their voice out, they are often silenced or face many barriers. They’re very supportive towards other communities such as LGBT or Sports teams who are championed. This is fantastic; however, there is limited to no support for BPOC or BAME students.
LSE as an institution prides itself on being around 68% international. However, only a small sector of that figure are Black British or Afro Caribbean. This needs to be considered when praising their diversity and inclusion support on campus. They can give BAME students positions in the SU, but I unfortunately haven’t heard of any drastic changes made whilst I was there, or when I left. I understand that it takes time to decolonise an entire institution. However, LSE (as well as all other institutions) need to be honest about the steps they are willing to take to make change and include the minority in the discussion.
Hype: What would you say is the first step towards doing better as universities?
First, I believe a proper apology showing evidence of their reflection is in order. If you are writing to students discussing an event that has happened, you need to address what exactly you’re referencing, your role and mishandling/contribution. Additionally, it’s important to also state what you’re going to do to better yourself as an institution.
Secondly, I believe that LSE, along with other universities, should support societies that are working towards social justice.
Finally, the curriculum should include black innovators. There were black philosophers, economists, writers and more who are relevant to the courses offered at many universities. Discussing their contributions to the fields you are teaching on would be beneficial for all students.
Hype: Finally, how do you feel about Black History Month, what does it mean to you?
My first reaction to Black History Month is: why? I understand it’s a great opportunity to celebrate Afro-Caribbean contribution to this country. However, what about the other 11 months?