New initiative at London’s SOAS university aims to inspire more Black scholars

London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has launched a new programme called The Ebony Initiative 2021, to equip Black students to pursue postgraduate and research careers. 

The programme will be taught monthly through workshops where students will discuss topics, receive funding support, get advice for their current studies and speak with career mentors.

“The Ebony initiative recognises the importance of the intellectual contribution that is made by racialised students, in the UK and globally,” said Althea-Maria Rivas, founder of the Ebony initiative and a lecturer in development at SOAS.

A PhD graduate herself, Rivas hoped Black students at SOAS will sign up to this initiative and succeed in postgraduate and research careers. 

“The new faculty-initiated programme seeks to address the ‘broken pipeline’ of Black students progressing to PhDs and academic positions in UK HE [Higher Education],” SOAS said. 

This has been documented by several reports including Leading Routes: The Broken Pipeline – Barriers to Black PhD Students.

So far 20 students have registered for this initiative, advertised on the SOAS university student intranet webpage. The first workshop was on November 12.

A BBC Newsnight report revealed Black students are least likely to be offered PhD places. 

Programmes like The Ebony Initiative aim to provide support and sought-after networking opportunities for Black students because being successful in applying for a PhD in the UK can be very difficult.

Eleanor Newbigin, co-ordinator of The Ebony Initiative and senior lecturer at SOAS, said: “For now we have framed it as the Black Initiative, only for Black students at SOAS university.

“It’s important to have a diverse range of voices in academia today. This will start changing the knowledge produced in academic work.”

The Ebony Initiative 2021 workshop topics include: 

  • The Black PhD Experience and Building Community (November 2020)
  • The Joys and Pain of Writing Workshop (January 2021)
  • Black Scholars Series: Strategizing and Planning for Academic Careers and Pathways (February 2021)
  • Finding Your Voice (March 2021) 
  • Decolonising Your Writing (April 2021) 
  • Negotiating Conferences and Building Networks (May 2021) etc.

The second part of the Ebony Initiative will be a student summer research project to start in January 2021.

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