Being Black at CSM

Being one of very few black faces at Central Saint Martins is just something many wouldn’t love to experience. After being elected I felt it would be important to try and set up a way for Black students across UAL to communicate. The most obvious way I felt this could happen was by creating a space that is sign posted for students to opt in if they felt they wanted to find each other. I called it black UAL and during the first term of this year I would hold weekly lunchtime meet-ups. Over a number of weeks, I was able to gain some insight into how black students at CSM feel about being black at CSM.

The first thing that was made apparent to me when speaking to students from a variety of courses was the ratio of black students to other nationalities. It seems to be one black student in every group of twenty to thirty students. This is itself can cause students to feel isolated. However, the general feeling from students towards this was that it is just something to suck up and deal with, nobody seemed to upset or angry about it; “we just get used to it and move on because there isn’t really anything you can do” is a statement made by one student.

By keeping busy outside of university black students feel that they gain the ability to adapt to multiple environments. As they have different cultural experiences and references that may be misunderstood by classmates and tutors whereas in circles outside of university they would be widely understood and accepted. The difference in cultures also allows students to control how much they share or hold back. By learning whether to share and how much they do enables students to do the same outside of university with potential employers; a skill many of their peers may not develop and having this extra skill is viewed positively where networking is concerned.

Being able to prepare for the working world is also a positive outcome from sometimes feeling isolated while on their course, because students remind themselves that this portion of their career is not permanent; “You learn to deal with things as they are now but remember that after three years’ things will be better.” Is an opinion shared by numerous students, in the meantime making contacts in industry is key? Entering competitions, attending events and taking part in workshops some students are just as focused on having a clear career path once they leave as they are on completing their course well.

Being a student at Central Saint Martins is a privilege. But it can also put a huge amount of pressure on students to succeed in a specific way. This seems particularly true in the case of black students who are in the minority. Simply by seeing so few people around who look like you can cause students to feel as if they do not belong.


Shani-Louise Osei