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To assume makes an ass out of you and poses a barrier to me

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Nana Gyasi is a member of NUS Scotland Black Students' Committee, NUS Scotland Women's Committee and NUS UK Women's Committee

Being a black woman in Scotland has proven itself to be a challenge. I moved to Scotland when I was 16 years old, leaving my likeminded friends and the comfort of my black community in Luton, to be confronted with a very white city that still seemed to be learning about black people.

Starting college helped me through this move, I found my course mates were from a diverse range of backgrounds with students from all over the world coming to study in Scotland’s capital. I found other black students who were going through similar experiences and we found strength in each other.

This experience of my peers at college was in contrast to my later experience at college. I started a new course, looking to broaden my skills base, but immediately had a fight on my hands. I was stopped from taking Highers because course tutors assumed that I didn’t have the qualifications. I was told by the college that I must take English proficiency courses. I fought against this as I was from London, I speak fluent English and I came across the border with a whole host of GCSE’s in hand.

I later found out that this was an assumption that had been made, purely based on my last name. After months of fighting this battle and when course tutors came around I was told that I hadn’t made my situation clear. I had applied like every other student and provided them the information that they asked for, what more could I have done?

My confusion led me to become more depressed and made me very self-conscious, I was a shell of what I used to be. I watched as my school friends went through the education system, not facing these barriers.

This all eventually changed when I met a student advisor at the college, she saw potential in me and recognized the unnecessary and unfair barriers that I was facing. When she came with me to an interview to support me, she saw these assumptions play out once more, when the tutor addressed her, assuming that I didn’t speak English.

Since I was 16, for six years now, I have been in and out of courses, studying lower level courses unnecessarily. By now I could have studied a degree and a half in Scotland. All my high school peers have finished and I’ve just started my university studies. I’m now happy to say that I’ve developed as a strong political activist, and I am studying politics at university, something that I always wanted to do from the start.

It’s a disgraceful thing that these assumptions are made about me, and I know I’m not the only one, black students across Scotland are facing these problems as a result of assumptions being made about them. Complacent behaviour leads to this situation and we have a responsibility to tackle this as a student movement.

My call to you, to student officers across the country is to make sure that students aren’t being trapped out of education, and that situations similar to mine are being fought. I had the support and the power to fight on to challenge what was wrong, but others might need your help. Our campaign against racism doesn’t stop just because Black History Month is drawing to an end, the fight continues on and it’s up to you to support it.

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