Valerie Amos ‘astounded’ to be the first black woman to lead a UK university

SOAS director expresses 'huge concern' for 'incredibly low' number of black professors in Britain

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Wednesday 20 April 2016 17:58 BST

Baroness Valerie Amos has said she was “astounded” to discover she was the first ever black woman to head a university in the UK after her appointment last year.

Her comments have come on the day AOL launches MAKERS UK, a platform that celebrates groundbreaking women by hosting the largest ever collection of stories to inspire “the leaders of tomorrow,” with the Baroness featuring in a video of her own.

Speaking about starting her role at SOAS, University of London in September, however, she told the Independent: “The numberof black professors is incredibly low. It's a cause for huge concern and must be a priority area for action.

“I wanted to come to SOAS because it’s a special place. It’s a school I have long-admired for the quality of its scholarship, the high level of critical engagement and enquiry, and its impact on the way we think about our world.

Baroness Valerie Amos via MAKERS:

“The fact that SOAS looks at the world differently, from the perspective of its regions, and seeks to challenge conventional orthodoxy is part of its appeal.”

A former politician and senior United Nations (UN) official, Baroness Amos described how, in her last role with the UN, she saw the “paralysis” caused by the lack of comprehensive strategies to address complex issues, including conflict, inequality and injustice, in a “politically, socially, and culturally sensitive and informed way.”

She said: “Given the global challenges we face, SOAS - with the depth and breadth of its knowledge and expertise - has a key role to play.

“Many SOAS academics give advice to governments, international and civil society organisations on what needs to be done to address some of these challenges.”

Since launching in 2012, MAKERS has amassed a collection of over 3,000 videos from more than 300 women, including Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, with the platform aiming to roll out in Canada and China also.

In her own video, Baroness Amos talks about her experience growing up in South-East London and being the first black girl to go to her grammar school, as well as addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, being appointed director of SOAs, and why it’s good to feel fearful.

She continued: “Life is all about learning and I want to be learning every single day. It’s important to look forward, take risks and learn from the things that didn’t go right before.

“If one is risk averse, you can’t really get a sense of what you can achieve.”

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