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Executive officer profile: Shamima Akter

Meet Shamima Akter, Computer Science graduate and VP Welfare for the Students’ Union. We caught up with Shamima to discuss her plans for this academic year, as well as to find out more about Islamophobia Awareness Month.

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Shamima outside her favourite spot on campus (where she spent most of her time whilst studying!) the ITL building

What does your role at the Students’ Union entail?

My role is probably both the broadest and least understood role within the team. My main focus is on student wellbeing and making the university experience supportive and rewarding. I also lead on student liberation campaigns, notably, Black History Month, Islamophobia Awareness Month, LGBT+ History Month and Asian Heritage Month. As my role is the most student-facing, I’m also on-hand to offer advice and support to students on a range of topics; I have a lot to do with mental health and so I’ve just become trained as a mental health first aider.

 

Talk us through any exciting projects you are working on at the minute

Recently, I worked in collaboration with the University on Report + Support, a tool to report on bullying, hate crime, domestic violence and many more incidents, either anonymously or in person. I’m also working on my biggest project, We Move. It’s related to the Zero Tolerance campaign, but the focus will be more education-based rather than reactive. It has two streams, covering personal development and growth as a community. My hope is that it will be led by students, and become built into the operation of the Students’ Union after my role comes to an end – sort of like my legacy!

 

What are your plans for the Students’ Union over this academic year?

We want the Students’ Union to be as engaging as it can be, with more students getting involved in its direction and future. The Democracy Review and the creation of more executive officer positions is part of this. We want students to feel like they can trust us and that we’re there for them.

 

What have you achieved from your manifesto so far?

One of the big things is planning We Move, which broadly covers everything in my manifesto! Essentially, taking those first steps to shift to a more-student led Students’ Union and better signposting for students on the options available to them throughout their time at university. An example of this is by setting up student working groups for each of the liberation months and creating a liberation fund to make sure they’re the best they can be. Recognising men’s mental health over Movember is another great campaign that has been heavily led by students. The launch of Report + Support has been a good signposting tool for getting the correct information and support on a range of issues, and I’m also working in collaboration with KCL to raise awareness of domestic violence over two weeks in November and December.

 

Tell us a little about Islamophobia Awareness Month. Why do you think IAM is important today?

The main thing to note is that IAM isn’t a celebration, it’s about raising awareness of the structural oppression faced by Muslims every day. Post-Brexit, there has been a 57% increase in hate crime. Islamophobia is quite widespread within our media and politics worldwide; it’s so inbuilt in our society that a lot of the time people don’t even realise that their comments and actions are offensive. The only way we can tackle Islamophobia is by educating people, and that’s what IAM is about. We are living in an open society and we need to understand that hate is not a language we need to use. 

 

How well do you think Muslim people are portrayed in popular culture? Has this changed over the years?

The media really doesn’t portray us well. I’ve hardly come across Muslim women in TV who are not oppressed and don’t follow the narrative of needing a white saviour. Having said that, some things are happening here and there to take back the narrative, especially with comedians and other content creators who are re-owning our labels.

 

What does being a British Muslim woman mean to you?

As a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, I know the disadvantages that I face due to the stereotypes attached to me. I’m a woman, I’m Muslim, I wear a headscarf. That’s why I choose to work so much harder and I refuse to give in to all of those prejudices. It’s really important that I represent my community in a good light. I want to be viewed positively as a British Muslim woman, challenging those stereotypes of Muslim women being oppressed. These are the nuances we want to tackle in Islamophobia month. 

 

Tell us a little about the events taking place over Islamophobia Awareness Month?

IAM is more informative than event-focused, but we do have a few events taking place. 2 Muslim 2 Furious is a safe discussion space, Islamic Society are doing a talk, and there’s also an exhibition next week. There is more of a digital push, so I’m publishing weekly blog posts. It’s a serious month and a serious issue. Unfortunately, a lot of our students are victims of this, myself included, and so we need to address it.

 

What are the main things you want people to take away from IAM?

It’s more about understanding the root of Islamophobia than just physical attacks. We want people to think about how their words and actions can be perceived. Is it okay to ask a hijabi to take her headscarf off? Is it okay that the media only label Muslims at terrorists? We also want to be aware of the things that are happening internationally and how people turn a blind eye to it.

 

Is there a specific Muslim woman/man from history who inspires you?

A lot of Muslims would say the Prophet and I would agree. The Prophet and his wives are great role models. In modern history, I would say Malcolm X. I have a lot of respect of him – he was the voice of uprising against oppression at a time where it was really needed. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot more male Muslim role models than women, so I would like to see more of this.

 

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?

Akala, Malcolm X and Khaled Hosseini. Akala is someone I’ve always respected by the way he connects politics, history and literature so well together. I love the way Khaled Hosseini writes about pain, redemption and figuring out yourself and your identity so beautifully – I read The Kite Runner twice. Another person would be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – she came from nothing to become a real voice of the people against oppression and hate. I’d also invite Hassan Minhaj – he’s a genius when it comes to comedy.

 

What are your hobbies in your spare time?

Outside of my time at the SU, I love spending time with my friends and family. I also watch a lot of TV shows – the series I’m watching now is Jack Ryan which is really good!

 

How well do you think Queen Mary does in staying in touch with its BAME population? Do you think this has changed during your time here?

I think it’s changed a lot for the better, but there’s still a long way to go. The first step to that is understanding why there’s a long way to go. We need to look at reducing the BAME attainment gap and integrating equality into the Students’ Union so that no one is disadvantaged and there’s a level playing field for all. There is a lot of support that can and should be given to our students who are in minority groups – a lot of people care more about BAME the acronym than the issue. I feel like the University and SU can work well together to address this.