Alumni profile - Efe Uwadiae
I would like people to know more about Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who was the first black British actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. Bearing in mind the Oscars have been around for nearly one hundred years, the first Black British woman wasn’t nominated until 24 years ago, and that’s a very important disparity. This is because British people often conflate African-American and Black-British struggles, however when it comes to the arts we have to note the significant disparities between the two groups’ successes.
Why did you study Law and Politics at Queen Mary? What sparked your interest in this specific degree? I decided to study Law and Politics after the EU referendum. It was a very disappointing and shocking moment for me coming from a very political home that was pro-EU. This made me want to learn more about politics in general and Law felt like a very good companion to this. Queen Mary is the only London Russell Group University to offer an LLB in Law and Politics, so it was pretty much my only choice.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? What modules did you like learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? I absolutely loved the discrimination focused modules that I was lucky enough to study. Race and Racism in World Politics, Gender and Politics, Law, Modernity & the Holocaust, really helped me develop my knowledge of institutional racism and sexism. This was especially important because I’m very passionate about activism for disadvantaged groups. Therefore, my degree helped me advance my academic comprehension of how some of this structural discrimination occurs. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Equity and Trusts Law, there was something really engaging about all the family drama cases!
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary in particular? As I said above, Queen Mary was the only Russell Group in London offering my degree, but I was also aware it had a higher BAME population than most Russell Groups. I was also really interested in the drama society Queen Mary Theatre Company because of my interest in the arts, so it was an easy choice!
You are currently studying your MA in acting at Mountview Academy of Theatre arts, what made you decide to pursue this Masters after your undergraduate degree? Do you think there is any correlation between Law, Politics and Theatre? I had definitely planned to do an MA in acting as I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in the arts since I was child. I already had a BTEC, GCSE and A-Level in Drama, so a Masters wasn’t too removed! I think there is a very strong correlation between the three. The arts do not exist in a vacuum, therefore worldly events are constantly influencing the way Theatre is made, consumed and interpreted. Many people at the start of the lockdown reminded the world that the last time Theatre was shut down, Shakespeare wrote King Lear. When the world resumes, I’ll be very interested to see the types of stories shown.
I understand that you won the Oxford University Press Prize for Equity and Trusts; what did you have to do to win this prize and how did you feel when you received this award? To win the award you have to get the highest module grade across the university in your Essay (25%) and Exam (75%). It was quite humbling to see that! It was the highest grade I’d ever received at university and I didn’t expect it at all, especially considering I had to beat hundreds of intelligent students. It is definitely one of the most memorable moments I’ve had!
During your time at Queen Mary you were an Undergraduate Student Researcher investigating the BAME attainment gap across the university. Why did you decide to get involved in this investigation and what were some of your findings? I am very passionate and interested in systemic racism because of my experiences as a black woman, so I wanted to be involved in this project from the get-go. What we found was that in Science and Maths, the quantitative based STEM subjects had an almost negligible attainment gap between BAME and white students, which was really interesting as the subjects involve mainly definitive answers whereas humanities had a much larger disparity. In terms of student’s personal issues with the syllabus, humanities students also had more complaints with the content.
What does Black History Month mean to you? Are there any Black historical figures you wish more people knew about? Black History Month to me means a time to reflect and celebrate the black community in a way mainstream society is not currently set up to do. If mainstream society was set up in this way, we wouldn’t need this month and one day I hope we won’t. I would like people to know more about Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who was the first black British actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. Bearing in mind the Oscars have been around for nearly one hundred years, the first Black British woman wasn’t nominated until 24 years ago, and that’s a very important disparity. This is because British people often conflate African-American and Black-British struggles, however when it comes to the arts we have to note the significant disparities between the two groups’ successes. For example, although Marianne was nominated for a British film, most of the Black British Academy Award nominees are for American films using American accents. Moreover, to this day, a Black British woman has never won an Academy Award.
Are you involved in any projects that aim to bring about equality and racial justice to the black community? Currently, I’m an organiser for an anti-racism reading group which helps to further discussions on issues of equality and racial justice. I’m also going to be lecturing at Mountview to their current MA students on some anti-racism reading.
In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues faced by black communities and what do you think needs to be done to break the cycle of oppression and discrimination faced by black people? Systemic racism is the most pressing issue facing the black community, and it’s a completely white problem that needs to be solved to break the cycle of oppression. Often in these discussions we centre black people, but actually as Dr Mojisola Adebayo, a lecturer at Queen Mary, made clear to me, it is actually a white problem, and we should frame it as such.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Make sure you choose happiness.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? Queen Mary was a place where you could really do whatever you wanted and I definitely felt that. One of my most memorable moments, was as Vice President of the Queen Mary Theatre Company. I had advocated for a BHM supporting festival that had purely BAME directors and writers, and one of the shows sold out to a 90% black audience with a fully black cast and creative team. This was the first time in the history of the society anything close to that had occurred. My second example is less poignant. After Halloween in 1st year, I left my clothes, glasses and laptop at my friend’s place so I had to attend my Contract Law Seminar in a sexy nun costume.
Based on your own time at university, is there anything you feel that Queen Mary can do to improve the student experience for black students? Queen Mary could most definitely better fund the African and Caribbean society and Pan-African society which do the majority of the work in uniting black students across the campus. They could also hire black teachers, as in both Law and Politics I was not taught by a single black person in three years.
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Efe or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.