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Democracy

Education Officer:
Maahwish Mirza

Maahwish Mirza is the SU's Education Officer.

Hey everyone! I'm Maahwish, your Education Officer this year. Before this I was your average struggling, ever-so-slightly undernourished English Literature student, and I'm now here working to make sure you get the best out of your university experience!

I work specifically on all things related to your course - if you ever have any issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch via email (or, better yet, come and say hello to me in my office where there'll be a cup of tea waiting for you!)

All of us over at the SU work really hard to make sure that you get the best academic and social experience possible during your time here, and in order for us to do this effectively we need your feedback and want to hear your concerns. We have so many fantastic resources available to help you, and we want to see all of you happily navigating your university life.

I hope to see you around at some point!

Blog

  • Fri 12 Dec 2014 20:37

    Today I helped my sister draft a complaint to her university (not Warwick) about a fellow student. She's training to be a doctor at a Russell Group university, and these are just some of the things that that student has said and done:

    - Photoshopped her into a burka, totally unprovoked, for amusement. When asked why he thought this appropriate to do, replied with: "I think there was a serious point in there too but it wasn't the right way to go about it. Something along the lines of "I know conservative friends of you're would see it and it would annoy them. So what? All other religious and nations get made fun of but when it's Muslims people go crazy and people die!" But again, that wasn't the way to do it. The irony of you looking pretty and dignified was lost!"

    - Asked her if she had gotten married over the summer holiday, if our mother had "arranged" a marriage for her and if she was keeping this secret (again, totally unprovoked).

    - Asked her why she is light-skinned if she is Pakistani and why she has "Arab eyes" and if she puts on make up to not look Pakistani.

    - Shown pictures of his friend in blackface "dressed as Michael Jackson" and laughed about it.

    - Dressed as a "Muslim" on Halloween (i.e. wore a salwaar kameez, a fake bomb vest and held a fake gun).

    When experiences like this happen to you, they stay with you forever. Sometimes they boil up inside of you and make you feel bitter, until you have to learn to let them go. At other times they make you question what it is about you that never makes you good enough to be able to escape such judgments but, mostly, these incidents stay with you.

    I can still remember as a child waking up one day and finding out that someone had written the word “Paki” in the snow on our car. I had to stand and watch my poor mother scrape that off – the same mother who came to this country with high hopes and gorgeous dreams, believing that she would be treated equally. The same mother that raised me telling me that Britain is a tolerant and kind country. That stayed with me.

    A girl at primary school told me that her mother had said to her to not be friends with me because I was Pakistani/Muslim, despite the fact that I was one of the top-achievers in my school (I say this not to boast but to point out that I was not a wayward, irresponsible child, and had not done anything to warrant such a sentiment besides being Pakistani and Muslim). Years later, I was at an award ceremony and won an award. That same girl’s mother came up to me to congratulate me and tell me that I was an inspiration, probably out of guilt. What she had said about me to her daughter had stayed with me, and the fact that she had done that to me - a child at the time – stayed with me.

    When one of my best friends of two years reacted in horror when I told her that there were a few million Muslims in the UK, and was only calmed by “there are 60 million people in the UK’’, it stayed with me. Her protesting the existence of what she saw as “too many Muslims” – i.e. too many people like me, stayed with me.

    When she told me that my people “breed like rabbits” – actively dehumanizing my community and comparing us to animals, it stayed with me.

    When she laughed at Asian people and told me “you know, they all have that smell”, it stayed with me.

    When I saw people supporting the EDL at my school and whipping up a backlash against Muslims for eating halal meat, it stayed with me.

    When I came to university, I thought Warwick was a tolerant and kind place. I had succeeded in my A-Levels and made it to a Russell Group university, studying a subject that I loved. Then, one day, someone I considered a friend told me: "you are very white" (for being educated). When I said that this was a racist assertion, the person decided to explode at me for daring to call him racist, but did not seem to find anything offensive about what he had said. He also decided that people are far too politically correct and tried to dismiss my surprise at his sentiments by saying: "you can't say anything nowadays without someone taking offense!"

    He tried to justify his assertion with: "well, Western civilisation has always been synonymous with being educated!” (As if no non-Western country has ever produced any form of society or progress in human civilization.)

    He bemoaned the fact that minorities are "too segregated", "multiculturalism has failed", and also added that over the next fifty years Muslims are going to take over the country entirely. And finally, he told me that me wearing Asian clothes was indicative of “self-segregation”, but thought that Scottish people wearing a kilt was acceptable. It all stayed with me.

    When another friend – a Politics MA student, someone who I thought had a heart of gold, was always smiling, kind and polite and was widely known for his sweetness - told me that colonialism was a good thing and “civilized people” in India, even when I told him that this was the racist ''Asia as savage'' narrative that presumed Indians as barbarians, it stayed with me.

    When Woolwich happened and I saw my Muslim friends frantically sharing posts on how to stay safe – “don’t go out after dark, don’t travel alone” – fearing that they would be attacked just for being Muslim, it stayed with me.

    For some of you reading this, these comments will be a surprise, and you might think that I’m a unique case. The sad fact is that I’m not, and I have probably had it better than most. Many ethnic minority students face these experiences in some form, and many of us are so unused to being able to articulate our anger and fear on these issues that we simply do not actively react at all. That lack of reaction is not because we believe these things to be acceptable but because we all too often feel too afraid to speak up.

    Many people are under the belief that “success” or being from a certain class protects you from racism, and that if you just act polite, kind and are well educated and work hard to be “integrated”, you will be gifted with some kind of an invisible barrier that protects you from ideas of cultural and racial supremacy. Many people think that if you’re successful enough to be at a Russell Group university you will automatically be living in a “good” community and will be immune from racist beliefs and ideologies.

    This is the final paragraph of my sister’s letter, which I found deeply touching and sad:

    "I have thought long and hard about complaining to the university. I am with him for most of the year and cannot predict how he will react once he finds out I have complained about him (although I hope you will maintain and protect my anonymity and privacy). This has not been easy for me. Since coming to [name of institution] I have become acutely aware of the fact that I am an ethnic minority student and that I am a Muslim. I have faced [name of perpetrator]'s prejudice towards Muslims and people of colour and I have changed as a person. I had always been very naïve about issues such as racism and Islamophobia and didn’t think I would one day be a victim, but I was mistaken. This entire experience has left me feeling alienated, disempowered and disenfranchised, and has reminded me, a Pakistani and Muslim, that no matter how far I progress in life – how many degrees I hold, how many achievements I accumulate - I will ultimately be seen as nothing more than a walking stereotype by certain people to be laughed at and mocked. I cannot even begin to articulate how deeply upsetting this is to feel.

    My time at this university will be coloured by these events and I hope that the university takes appropriate action and does not fail me. I trust that this institution aims to produce doctors equipped with the knowledge and values of the twenty-first century and will not overlook such deeply racist ideologies. I trust that this institution will fulfill its duty."

    If you're reading this - you have a duty to educate yourself and your future children. Your words, ideologies and actions have an impact. I've had to watch my sister be deeply upset by all this, but I've also seen her grow and undergo a racial awakening when she never truly understood issues of race and racism before.

    She’s come out of this a more informed person and that's what I hope people can do: educate themselves, because no one should be made to feel like this. The student who said some of those things to me last year came up to me this year and apologised, openly and truly. We sat and had a conversation about what had happened, and he showed that he now fully understood why what he had said was racist and indicative of ideas of cultural supremacy. He had gone away and educated himself and had changed. I was shocked, but after talking through it all with him and seeing that he had educated himself I was finally able to let go of my anger at him and truly forgive him.

    And yes, it is your responsibility to educate yourself, not the responsibility of ethnic minorities to simply "integrate" - because even when we do we're still far too often kicked in the teeth like this. My sister is walking away from these incidents empowered in her identity and willing to challenge racism, but yes, she has been afraid of doing so, and yes, it's been difficult. It’s difficult because these things suggest to you that you can never be good enough for some people – even when you’ve been friends with them for years, or when you’ve shown them nothing but kindness. It’s difficult because you’re sometimes the only ethnic minority in the room at a Russell Group institution that you worked hard to get into, and feel too afraid to challenge those ideas or to speak up about them for fear of people labeling you “too sensitive” or “too politically correct”, even when it hurts you.

    It’s difficult because these incidents set you back and remind you of that time you had to powerlessly watch your mother scrape off an ethnic slur from your car, and make you think how little things have changed.

     

     

  • Mon 24 Nov 2014 17:11

    October was a fantastic month – as always, new friendships were made, old faces returned and the year began anew, bringing with it the usual possibilities for all of our students.

     

     

    What was different about October this year was that we finally had our first month-long programme of events for Black History Month (BHM) at Warwick. While I was an undergraduate, I never saw anything organised for BHM, and the importance of this event cannot be overstated – at a Russell Group university like Warwick, we unfortunately struggle when it comes to recruiting home students from non-white backgrounds. For those few of us who are here life at university can at times feel isolating and alienating, and this is further felt by students who come from areas of diversity and are not accustomed to being such obvious minorities.

     

    I remember when the Woolwich incident happened - I’m sure a lot of you will remember seeing some prejudiced views being shared over social media, but between the abusive posts I spotted something far more disturbing than the usual Islamophobia that I’ve grown used to seeing. I spotted my Muslim friends frantically sharing a status with tips on how to stay safe - telling each other to go home early, to travel in groups, especially if you have a beard or wear a hijab, and to avoid being out after dark. I was visibly seeing fear – genuine fear – and it hit me then that many Muslims must have accepted life as second-class citizens to feel compelled to share statuses on how to avoid being the victim of hate crimes. That post upset and angered me, and although I wanted to respond saying that we shouldn’t feel afraid of walking the streets, I knew that my friends who were sharing the posts were not the ones to blame. Fear means an absence of hope - and, in a hopeless situation, words that aim to challenge perceptions ring hollow. There was nothing that I could do. 

     

    That wasn’t the only alienating incident I faced while a student at Warwick – there were countless others, from a ‘friend’ telling me that he thought I was “white” because I was educated, to another ‘friend’ trying to tell me that the British Empire “civilised savage nations”. These small incidents had a deep impact on me, and showed me that certain ideologies – principally, ideologies of supremacy – were alive and present at Warwick.

     

    In this context, BHM, then, is vital. I took the lead on organising BHM this year because past histories shape our present world in ways that we sometimes fail to recognise. BHM is important because it asks people to question whether non-white people in our society are still viewed in a certain way or treated differently. What is the legacy and long-term impact of centuries of state-sponsored racial discrimination, slavery and colonialist projects, and how does it manifest itself today? What is life like as someone who's not white? 

     

    BHM is also a firm celebration and reminder of the limitless achievements of people of colour around the world, and this acknowledgement is important because it's not something that's always acknowledged in syllabuses. 

     

    When I was planning events and wrote the funding bid for BHM, I stated that I wanted Warwick to become the premier hub for extra-curricular engagement with questions of race, ethnicity and identity. It was an absolutely incredible month – by the end of it more chairs had to be frantically pulled in for our events as people crowded to listen to our speakers. Numerous panels and talks were held that tackled some provocative questions; a student seminar series was started; a group of students were organised and taken to London to see The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick Theatre; film screenings were held, and there was so much fantastic engagement and enthusiasm from students of many different backgrounds who were all curious to learn and question more. In short, BHM went a long way in us confronting issues of race - but there’s still plenty of work left to do.

     

    I’m happy to announce that this year I will be working on a project I’ve called ‘Race, Academic Attainment and Equality at Warwick’, which will be looking at the academic issues that ethnic minority students face. The attainment gap is nationally recognised as a phenomenon that sees students of colour graduate with lower degree classifications than their white peers, despite arriving at the same academic level. As a Russell Group institution it is vital that we take this issue seriously, and I was disappointed to learn that the University did not join the Race Equality Charter Mark trial this year (citing a lack of resources), which aims to measure institutions’ records on issues of race. While I cannot overstate that time and resource issues are significant barriers to participation, our competitor institutions like King’s College London put into place specific staff to look at the issues the Charter aims to deal with and set up the BME Student Success Project as a result. Institutions like Bradford and Birmingham have been looking into these issues for a number of years prior to the start of the charter trial, and Warwick has never conducted this specific research into attainment or adequately addressed wider student issues around race and ethnicity. While the University may not currently be doing this work that does not mean that we can afford to be complacent and fall behind.

     

    Through the course of this research project, I will be collating quantitative (data analysis) and qualitative data through surveying and focus groups. I will look at the experiences of ethnic minority students at the university, all with the aim of ultimately identifying ways in which the University and the SU can do better on race and ethnicity, and improve the academic experiences of often-neglected members of our Warwick community. Please keep an eye on this space for further announcements on the project, as well as information on the dates of focus groups. 

     

     

    Together we can – and we will – work to build a better Warwick community that is open and honest about the areas that it can do better on, as well as one which both takes seriously and actively confronts issues of race in Higher Education. 

Contact Me

Maahwish's office is on the 2nd floor of SUHQ.

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The election for Education Officer takes place during the Officer Elections in Term 2.

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