Enabling the flourishing of our diverse community
Incoming Students' Association BME Officer, Isabella Neergaard-Petersen, tells us about her plans for the role.
Two students in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) have been voted in as Students' Association Liberation Officers for 2018/19.
Isabella Neergaard-Petersen (Scandinavian Studies and Classics) and Natasha Ion (French and History), both of whom study in LLC and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, will be taking up the roles of Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) Officer and LGBT+ Officer respectively in September this year.
LLC is one of the largest Schools in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, and is proud of its diversity, both in the range of subjects it teaches, and in bringing together a truly international community of students, alumni and staff.
In this article, the first of two on the Liberation Officers, we talk to Isabella about what the BME Officer does, why she stood for election, what her plans are for the role, and how her degree programme has inspired her.
Supporting BME students with whatever they want to achieve
"It's being that liaison between self-identifying BME students and the University", says Isabella, when asked what the Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) Officer role involves. "For example, if a student had an issue, I could communicate that to the University and represent them on their behalf."
"It's also about supporting students with whatever they want to achieve and campaigns they want to run. So, if a BME group wanted to foster networks within the LGBT+ community, for example, like having an event for queer people of colour, I would support them in doing that."
"I went for the role because, being a first year, I actually came from a community without a BME presence, or not so much of one, and going to a community with a BME presence was extremely exciting for me."
"It helped me to see the positivity of the BME community, how the University can benefit BME students, and what needs to be done to ensure our security. I've made a lot of friends [over the year] and that's given me the support to go for the role."
Freshers, LiberatEd and intersectionality
"My hopes and plans for the role are to enable the flourishing of the BME community at Edinburgh. When I came here there was an amazing community, and I want to extend that within my role."
"I want to get more freshers involved. I really want the people coming in next year to be able to build the sorts of friendships I did."
"Furthermore, I want to work with LiberatEd, which is an initiative to help decolonise the curriculum. I want to help continue with their work."
"I also want to promote intersectionality, so fostering those connections between other Liberation groups to make sure that all the students within the intersections feel valid."
Race in the curriculum
"LLC have been extremely supportive of me in this role", says Isabella, who was brought up in Copenhagen. "The Scandinavian department in particular; the department I'm part of. My tutors have been great about it".
"During Scandinavian Civilisation [a first year course], we did a topic on immigration and, by extension, race. That really helped me... it forced me to think about racism in a Scandinavian context. Being a Dane myself, of colour, being a black Dane, [the topic] was a good nod to that part of my culture. The representation was really important, especially at the height of multiculturalism in Scandinavia."
"There’s a stigma around Scandinavian people, that we all look a certain way (you know the stereotype). But Copenhagen (where I’m from), looks completely different from how it did 10 years ago. I love this about the city. People often look at me strangely for saying I’m Danish, because of this predetermined notion of what a Dane is supposed to look like. Well, in 2018, what is a Dane supposed to look like?"
"Additionally, it’s vital to teach every aspect of Scandinavia’s past. Every history is multifaceted and complex. For example, Denmark has a dark colonial past. So although you may think Scandinavia is all fjords and smørrebrød, it’s vital to critically analyse history in an objective way. That is what this department does so well."
Our staff's perspective
For Celeste Marie-Bernier, Professor of Black Studies, Personal Chair in English Literature, and Director of People and Equalities in LLC, the elections of Isabella and Natasha are hugely welcome.
"The commitment of our inspirational students to an inclusive learning community is not only felt very strongly, but is at the very heart of our School, so it’s fantastic that - of the four brilliant people spearheading the Students’ Association’s Liberation Campaigns next year - two study with us. We're so incredibly lucky!"
"Through People and Equalities initiatives, and the award-winning work of wonderful staff like Katherine Inglis (recent recipient of a Students’ Association Inclusive Learning and Teaching Award - a stellar achievement!), we are not only extremely keen but incredibly honoured and privileged to work with our brilliant learners to make LLC the most supportive environment it possibly can be."
She echoes the thoughts of colleagues throughout the School when she says "Thank you all so, so much!!!"
Are you interested in Scandinavian Studies at LLC?
Edinburgh is the only university in Scotland, and one of only two in the UK, to offer undergraduate honours programmes in Scandinavian Studies, enabling you to learn modern Danish, Swedish or Norwegian in the context of Scandinavian culture, past and present.