The newly-elected National Union of Student (NUS) National President has vowed to “unify, strengthen, and lead” the country’s student movement as social media continues to be divided over her appointment.
Former NUS black students’ officer, Malia Bouattia, became the first black Muslim woman to land the highest national role in student politics in the UK on Tuesday.
In her speech at the NUS National Conference in Brighton, Ms Bouattia told the crowd: “When we talk about liberation, it’s not just about women, black, LGBT+, or disabled students. It’s about us all.”
She later described being “so proud” to be elected as the national student campaigner’s first black woman president, and added: “I know students have huge transformative potential when we come together and put liberation at the heart of our work.
“From cuts to maintenance grants, college closures, the black attainment gap, and the Prevent agenda, the number of voices and groups being silenced by this government grows by day.
Watch Malia Bouattia’s winning speech:
“In the face of these attacks, I promise to unify, strengthen and lead our movement.”
Ms Bouattia was elected over rival candidates Megan Dunn - the current president of NUS - and Adil Waraich, former De Montfort students’ union president.
The new president elect received 372 votes, Ms Dunn received 328 votes, and Mr Waraich received nine. There were 22 votes to re-open nominations.
In her manifesto, Ms Bouattia has promised to fight for a free and liberated education for all students, and implement liberation in every aspect of the student movement.
She has highlighted how she will support grassroots campaigns, campaign for better mental health provisions, defend the future of further education, and work to better support international students.
In her role as black students’ officer, the NUS said Ms Bouattia had co-launched the Race Matters report, the #LiberateMyDegree campaign, and developed the ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ campaign on ten campuses.
The student campaigner also said she campaigned on the Prevent agenda and spoke at the United Nations’ human rights council in Geneva about the effects of Prevent, as well as working to narrow the black attainment gap for sabbatical officers, staff, and university senior management.
Ms Bouattia will finish her term as NUS black students’ officer and begin her new role as NUS national president on 1 July.
Despite her appointment being celebrated by many on Twitter, opinion seemed divided in the hours after the announcement with many social media users expressing “disappointment.”
Last week, Ms Bouattia became the centre of controversy as over 300 protesters and heads of student Jewish societies accused her of “anti-Semitism,” and asked her: “Why do you see a large Jewish society as a problem?”
In an article she had co-authored five years earlier, it emerged Ms Bouattia had referred to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education.”
In response, Ms Bouattia told the supporters of the letter: “I do not now, nor did I five years ago when I contributed to the article cited in your letter, see a large Jewish society on campus as a problem.”
After her election, chairman of the Zionist Federation UK, Paul Charney, described Tuesday as a “deeply challenging day for Jewish students” in an online statement.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) also said in a statement: “There will still be many Jewish students who have not been satisfied with Malia’s response, so far, to the concerns raised by Jewish students over the last few weeks.
“Now, knowing the result of the election, these questions still need to be answered.”
Speaking after the election, however, Ms Bouattia said she was “committed” to putting liberation at the heart of the student movement.
She said: “In my role as NUS black students’ officer, I have a long track record of opposing racism and discrimination in all its forms and actively campaigning against it.
“Jews have faced horrendous persecution over thousands of years and Jewish students on campuses and elsewhere continue to face anti-Semitism. Our movement knows this, and will stand alongside them.”
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