Is Allyship for Me?
Read on for a blog post sent to us from Jeff Saddington-Wiltshire who was the Education Officer at KeeleSU between 2016 and 2018. He now works for Hertfordshire Students’ Union as a Representation Coordinator. He was involved in the early planning stages of WOKE.
What even is an ally? Do I know enough? Should I be an ally?
In the summer of 2018, when football fever and Love Island gripped the nation another movement was making its first tentative steps towards change – WOKE.
The Keele community is a fantastic one, but there are still marginalised voices whose opinions are not at the forefront of institutional decision-making. As straight, white, cis, my voice has never been marginalised.
Nor have I never faced discrimination based upon my gender, age, colour of my skin or sexuality. I am also incredibly privileged to have the financial and social capital to not face any barriers to access or participation in Higher Education.
So, when I was first asked to be involved in the initial planning stages of WOKE, I thought long and hard about whether it was my place to be an ally and help.
What even is an ally?
To me, being an ally involves using your own privilege to support others and allow them to access spaces and resources that they may not have otherwise being able to access.
Being an ally isn’t about being the face of campaigns, projects and movements. It can be as little as supportive words, showing solidarity and understanding or a listening ear.
Often, privilege is used to recreate structural inequalities, wealthy businessmen supporting other wealthy businessmen for example.
But true allyship is a lifelong process of supporting marginalised groups and in relation to WOKE, I realised that I could help.
I had access to useful contacts through my position in the Students’ Union and I knew where additional funding could be accessed.
Do I know enough?
This was one thing I was certain of.
I did not know enough about the experiences of women, nor LGBTQ+ or BAME communities.
Even as an elected officer, I could only speak with true authenticity from my own experience.
The same way a MP who studied at Oxford and whose parents attended University do not know about the lived experiences of working-class communities. Likewise, a seminar group of white students at a British University do not know what it is like to be the only black student in the room.
This is why listening is a vital component of being an ally.
You will never know enough about anyone’s experience that isn’t your own. As an ally you are always learning and that is why being brave enough to take those initial steps is incredibly rewarding.
Should I be an ally?
In a short answer, yes!
You don’t have to make grand sacrifices to be an ally, you just need to listen and support where you can.
By helping others, you are not losing any of your own privilege and there is plenty of space for everyone to have their voice heard.
For example, the 2019 Women’s World Cup was not held in expense of the 2018 Men’s World Cup (only two football examples used so far!).
One of my favourite quotes is from Desmond Tutu:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
This is the core essence of what good allyship is.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve seen WOKE grown in to a force to be reckoned with an ever-increasing number of organisers putting their name forward to help.
Having left Keele, this gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction and I have great pride about being involved in those embryonic conversations last summer.
I also feel more confident in supporting others through active listening and I met some wonderful people along the way.
Should the chance arise, I can certainly recommend being an ally.
In such a divided, unbalanced world the need for understanding, tolerance and support could not be greater.