Justice and compassion: Black Lives Matter - STEPPS
This piece has been written by Estifaa Zaid co-founder of STTEPS (Syrian Teenager Tutoring and Educational Programme)
In paying respect to African-American George Floyd, unjustly killed at the hands of the police in Minneapolis (May 2020), Estifa’a Zaid voices her just and compassionate commitment to naming and addressing BAME struggles in the University, the UK, and globally. She describes how STTEPS, the Syrian Tutoring Programme for teenage Syrians recently arrived in Edinburgh, consciously took steps to respond to the suffering and potential alienation of refugees. Many of the tutors, all students at the UoE, are from BAME backgrounds, and all are making wise, compassionate choices to promote friendship and equal opportunities in our conflicted world.
The murder of George Floyd, father of 6 year old Gianna, has permeated through our apathy and ignited anger across the world. It serves as yet another painful reminder for Black people that they are not yet free, and a wake up call to others that they have not done enough.
The Syrian refugee Tutoring & Educational Program (STTEPS) began 4 years ago as a way to help a neglected demographic of the Edinburgh community. It has since grown into a community of its own who understand that the ongoing suffering of a group in our society diminishes us all. However far removed we may feel, the conditional freedom and oppression of Black people in the UK diminishes us all.
I along with my fellow STTEPS volunteers and organisers have long understood that there are no sidelines when it comes to injustice.As a part of the University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy, we stand in solidarity with Black members of the University.
We do this by demanding justice and acknowledging that Edinburgh University, much like the rest of society, was built on white supremacy. As an integral part of the University we must become powerful allies and active participants in the movement against UK racism and state-sponsored violence.
The student body has written a petition addressed to the Vice Principal of the University articulating the terrible experiences of BME students at the University, and has gathered over 7,500 signatures. The petition calls for (amongst many things) the establishment of an anti-racist culture in the University as well as a comprehensive zero tolerance policy.
At the Chaplaincy, we can work to address some of these issues by creating a compassionate safe space, specifically supporting BME students during their time at this University.
As a Black Muslim woman, I found refuge within the Chaplaincy community and it has become a vital support structure over my 6 years at the university. Many BME students have not been so lucky to have this support and it is important that we create targeted initiatives that can allow all BME students to express their pain, their faith, and their culture.
Justice does not happen by accident. Equality does not come naturally with time. History has taught us that the fight for freedom is hard work, the burdens of which should not be left to the BME community alone.
STTEPS began in the wake of the Syrian crisis. We were prompted by feelings of compassion for Syrian refugees who had suffered great loss and there was a desire to respond and act by befriending and tutoring the teenagers of Syrian refugee families who were newly arrived in Edinburgh. They had arrived in Scotland seeking refuge from war and conflict and looking for new beginnings from oppression which took away their opportunities for education and freedom. Many who joined STTEPS as volunteer student tutors have come from the BAME community in the University and all tutors want to be in solidarity with the Syrian teenagers as they regain their voices. They want to translate compassion into action and into STTEPS for change.
Estifaa Zaid co-founder of STTEPS (Syrian Teenager Tutoring and Educational Programme)