To mark Black History Month this October, Jacqueline Dyett, Head of School for Business, Accounting and Travel and Tourism, shares her experiences of life as a black person and what can be done to eradicate racism in society and make colleges more inclusive.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in the Eastern Caribbean on the island of Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory, and migrated to the United Kingdom after the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in the late 1990s.
Is Black History Month important to you?
I have mixed feelings about Black History Month. Although it is good to take time to reflect on the contributions of African and Caribbean communities to the UK, it saddens me that we still have to rely on a month to do so, after which these contributions are quickly forgotten until the next year. It seems to be a never-ending cycle where the inequalities faced by our backgrounds persist in everyday life. I look forward to the day when black history is integrated into the social, moral and educational fabric of today’s society.
What was it like for you growing up as a black person?
My experiences were eye openers of the wider societal issue of race and ethnic identity and only served to strengthen my resolve and character. It made me more determined to be successful in the UK regardless of my background. I have benefited academically from my migration to the UK and have enhanced my career as a result of the positive experiences I have had. I continue to be optimistic regardless of the challenges my ethnic background brings. It gives me hope seeing the many encouraging changes over the years.
Tell us about a time when you have experienced racism.
I led a relatively sheltered life growing up in Montserrat and was not subjected to racism until I went to Vancouver in British Columbia to study Marketing in my early 20s. I distinctly remember boarding a bus and taking a seat next to a passenger who then immediately got up and took another seat at the rear of the bus. This left me feeling very uncomfortable at the time. I was also the only black female West Indian student in my class, and this made for a number of very difficult moments while trying to fit in and be accepted.
How much has society changed in its attitudes to race since you were younger?
There are more black people in positions of leadership and people tend generally to be less openly racist. However, I feel that attitudes to race have simply mutated into various forms, which are now more entrenched institutionally and so less visible and more difficult to eradicate.
Who are your black heroes and role models and why?
My inspirations over the years came from not one person but many people such as Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and a former Canadian tutor of mine named John Porteous who started me on my accounting journey, as well as my parents and two former managers. Michelle Obama is a strong, black woman, passionate about changing the world and the fate of everyone, as was Maya Angelou.
What can be done to stop racism in our society?
I agree with Michelle Obama when she stated that “race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. It’s up to all of us – black, white, everyone, no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.” I would like to see black history included in the wider national curriculum in all state and public schools. Perhaps then, we will not require a Black History Month.
How can the further education sector become more racially inclusive?
The FE sector is well placed to become more racially inclusive as we have such diverse classrooms. At our School of Business, Accounting and Travel and Tourism, students are taught by staff who they can identify with and relate to, which enables them to feel part of the curriculum and aspire. Our students are today’s workforce, and we need to do our best to enrich their lives no matter what their backgrounds, so that they can individually fulfil their potential.