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Talking Heads Events, Part of Kaleidoscope BAME Engagement Project

At the end of February, Leeds Beckett University and Notre Dame Sixth Form College collaborated to hold two Talking Heads events for students looking ahead to their futures in Higher Education and beyond.

A repeat of a similar event held the previous academic year, the engagement was part of the Kaleidoscope project of intervention with BAME young people designed to support black students’ progression to degree-level and their attainment when there. The project has been put together in consultation with Leeds City College Notre Dame’s African Caribbean Society, who have advised on what kind of activities the students feel they would benefit from. One of the primary outcomes of this has been that these young people like to hear from other young people who they can relate to and interact with to learn about student experience.

The events described here were intended to do exactly that. The first event of the Project Kaleidoscope programme, Talking Heads was split into two separate events – one targeted at boys and one girls. Cohorts of around 50 students were invited to each based on their home postcodes and their ethnic status.

Firstly, the boys event saw professional rugby player and Leeds Beckett alumnus Kevin Larroyer capture the students attention with a passionate, and at times emotional, key note speech covering his background as a child in the care system in France. He also spoke about his flirtation with petty crime and dealing with depression as a successful adult.

The boys then entered into discussions with the ‘Talking Heads’ guests in a carousel format. These were BAME young men who have either already benefitted from HE as graduates or who are current Leeds Beckett students. Notre Dame’s students rotated around the tables to have conversations with all of the visitors. Little prompting for questions was required and conversations took place naturally around topics of careers and Higher Education.

A final closing speech by Kingsley Duru, President of the University of Leeds African Caribbean Society, reassured the boys that they can mix with others from a similar background by joining cultural societies to lessen any daunting nature of life in HE and feelings that people ‘aren’t like them’.

The girls event encountered some difficulties. The original intention was to host the event at Notre Dame, however this was made impossible when a staff strike was called at the College on the planned day of the event. With short notice to find a new venue, it was thought the event would need to be rescheduled, however Leeds Beckett kindly offered to step in the host the event.

The time needed to confirm this meant that invites to the event for Notre Dame students were delayed and went out only a few days in advance of the event. This and the fact that College was officially closed on the day of the event contributed to a smaller number of students attending than was originally hoped. However, these students were able to benefit from a campus tour of Leeds Beckett’s City Campus, taking in the Rose Bowl, Leslie Silver Building and Broadcasting Place.

Professor Udy Archibong MBE gave the key note speech, covering her background and work at the University of Bradford in ensuring Diversity permeates the institution’s ethic at all levels. Much of her presentation focussed on resilience, the importance of the ability to ‘feel the joy’ despite setbacks and that a positive outlook which disregards unnecessary negatives can be of huge importance in achieving academic, career and personal happiness. This was very well received by the Notre Dame students and they were keen to speak to and have photographs with Udy after her speech. Although Professor Archibong’s time was limited given she had a family wedding to attend in the afternoon!

We then moved to another room for the Talking Heads carousel segment. The learners were pleased to hear from female BAME speakers with differing experiences and roles, including Leeds Beckett’s Head of Admissions. Conversations were continued over lunch about topics as varied as education and choosing a career, rethinking when a first choice option ceases to be possible and to the social side of university life and the opportunities offered through joining societies, with a particular emphasis on African Caribbean Cultural activities.

In reflecting on the events, Leeds Beckett must be commended on how appropriately selected the speakers and Talking Heads were and how well briefed they were as to the purpose of the event and the context of Notre Dame. Having prominent key note speakers in high profile roles, but who were willing to speak of adversity in their personal life in a humble manner, set an excellent tone and captured the students attention for the rest of the event. The fact that some Student Ambassadors were Notre Dame alumni, or from the same national/cultural backgrounds to the students, was also very appropriate.

It was clear to see that the Notre Dame students felt comfortable in sharing experiences in an informal manner with the guests and were paying close attention to them. There was an attitude of respect for their stories and advice which, on the surface, appeared so strong given their level of empathy with people from similar backgrounds. Our students were receptive and keen to get involved. On both events, Notre Dame’s students left the day in high spirits having formed good bonds with each other and the guests/Leeds Beckett students.

It is hoped that these Kaleidoscope students and others yet to take part will continue to engage with the project’s activities in this way and mix with inspiring others to share experiences and learn about the opportunities HE can provide.

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