In a perfect world where safe spaces are just spaces, and universities across the country have actually been successful in diversifying and integrating their campuses, it would seem that groups like the BME network are unnecessary.
Even though we at York are definitely not in that perfect world just yet, groups and networks like BME are still not useful. It could be argued they are even a negative influence on students, teaching them that they will always have the safety net of people like them all throughout life. This is definitely not the case. Many minority students come to university fearing the onslaught of faces that don’t look anything like them, creating an impulsive need to find as many similar people to them as possible: an ‘us versus them’ mentality in its simplest form. I fell victim to it at first too, but groups based on a student’s ethnic status simply reinforce this. That due to the lack of black and brown people, here is a group of people you don’t know to reaffirm your self identity and culture. Ultimately leading to more isolation from the other group, due to lack of integration.
I personally didn’t join the BME network because I knew I’d find black people here regardless. And I don’t need a bi-weekly meeting space to see other students who apparently are like me, because we both share similar amounts of melanin within our skin. I get it, it’s easy to feel like you’re losing your self to the dominant culture here that is so different to what you know and love. But I knew I’d find like minded people culturally, intellectually and personality wise through my day to day university life.
Also the idea that because we are all ethnic minorities at York together, we share some similar struggle or plight is a ridiculous notion. Most people of colour are and should be aware of the privileges that exist between our similar but separate cultures, and how that creates different hurdles for us to face. The argument that the BME exists as a place for us to share our experiences are flawed because we definitely do not. They are individual and different, between cultures, languages and the regions we live in.
Most importantly groups formed for minorities and people of colour push forward an exclusionary mentality. Many of us come from places where most of our close friends, neighbours or people we pass by on the street look like us. Groups like the BME network put us back into our comfort zones. Allowing us to live in a middle class white city, and not actually know any white people. I understand why not knowing anyone like yourself is a genuine concern for many students of colour entering university, at a first glance there is nobody who really gets your culture, which can make you feel isolated within yourself. Being the only black person in a flat of 12, there are plenty of times where I want a black person with me who understands exactly what this university is like.
However, I do understand the need to be uncomfortable sometimes, we are all here to better ourselves. Different experiences from people that aren’t like us are fundamental to growing up. Being forced to be nice to everyone because I know I haven’t got a safety net of people exactly like me to fall back on has benefited my university experience amazingly.