My university organises regular career events, inviting alumni back to talk about their experiences in the big bad world, providing little tips and tricks, and allowing the space to network. Unfortunately, the majority of the panellists, sometimes all, are white.
So I worked with the careers team to hold termly events where the entire panel will be alumni who are also people of colour. Everyone would be welcome to the event, but it would also provide an opportunity for students of colour to ask specific questions that white graduates just do not understand or have expertise in.
The first event was a huge success, with over 100 students attending and received very positive feedback. So, we were very excited for the next event – which would be focusing on graduate schemes. The day of the event came and as I welcomed the guests in, a white man approached me, introducing himself as a panellist.
I was initially taken aback, not sure if I should refuse him to speak or email the company after the event. I took too long to make up my mind, handing him his badge.
My introductory speech had to be edited and I could tell some of the other panellists and students were confused as to why a white man was on stage at an event advertised as BME Alumni panel event. I would just like to point out that the company were well aware of the aims of this event. They had essentially lied to us just to send a rep.
On with the show I rolled and the initial stories were brilliant. Then we came to him, and I kid you not, this was his story (I am obviously paraphrasing):
I attended my interview at XXX but I had not prepared very well and was not successful. But a few days later I got a call back from my interviewer saying he really liked me and would give me another chance. He arranged another interview and put me in touch with other graduates who helped me prepare better. This time I was successful. Moral of the story: don’t give up.
I could not believe my ears. I wanted to shout: no! You got into the old boys club that people of colour do not have privy to. If I failed my interviews (and I have), no one would call me back and prep me for my second chance. Moral of the story: white male privilege. It wasn’t just me who noticed and several students actually wrote that exact point in their feedback forms.
But the whole fiasco reminded me just how normal this sort of thing is for some people. The panellist could not even see how lucky he had been. There was no gratitude there, he genuinely believed he had worked hard for that second chance.
As for the company, they sent an apology afterwards but the damage was done.