No, I don't want to be Mary Seacole - views on implicit bias in higher education for Black Caribbean women in the health sector

When will you understand that not every Black Caribbean woman in the health sector wants to be Mary Seacole?

* P.s. This post is in no way disrespectful to the nursing queen that is the late, great Mary Seacole* BUT, sometimes I ask myself if racism truly exists or if it can even be operationalised in Higher Education. Famed Psychologist Dr Anthony Greenwald coined the term implict bias in his development of the Implicit Association Test. He suggested that sometimes people are not racist, but because of the amount of associations and stereotypes that exist with society, they develop an unconscious bias to perceive people in a certain way. Too often than not this bias is almost always negative and racial.

Unconscious bias is exactly what I feel can occur in Higher Education - especially in those institutions which are lacking in a significant representation of both students and professors who self-identify as Black/Minority Ethnic.

This week UCL did a press release congratulating them on recieving an award with the Race Equality Charter. A move that is welcomed, but yet only 70 out of almost 15,000 professors in the UK are Black. A whooping (im being sarcastic- if you don't know my personality) 0.47%. Wow. We haven't even reached the 1% mark. Nevertheless, the government announced late last year that UCAS applications will now be "blind" to avoid unconscious bias - great now more "unusual named Kamaria's" (as I was told by a professor) will find their way into the top ranking universities.

Why is it that even though such efforts have been made to prevent unconscious bias, that I sit down with a professor to discuss my career development and progression onto a Doctoral degree (I am currently taking a Masters that fulfils Pre-Doctoral requirements; so naturally a Doctorate is the next progressive step), she looks very surprised and suggests that rather I might make a very good nurse.

WDMA and KMT -  if you are Caribbean you will understand these abbreviations.

Now no disrespect to anyone in the nursing profession. I have much family that come from a nursing background and some of my friends and closest colleagues are great nurses - yes, I am playing the get out of jail free card - "I'm not prejudice, I have (insert your ethnicity) friends." I commend nurses for their tireless efforts in a job that often entails being the recipient of much abuse.

BUT - not every Black Caribbean woman in the health sector wants to be Mary Seacole.

Maybe I am taking this the wrong way, but I am trying to make sense of any part of the conversation that may have given this woman the impression that I would want to get a diploma in nursing. She has known me for little but a few weeks and has no knowledge of my interests or capabilities - apart from the fact that I study psychology of course.

I have a Bachelors degree and I am pursuing my Masters with the intention of gaining my Doctorate. What logical sense does it make for me to get a diploma in nursing? How does this fit in with my dream, which I  CLEARLY outlined to you is to become a Psychologist? What exactly gave you the impression that I want to be a nurse - maybe its my "unusual name."

I'm getting my Doctorate and YOU LADY CAN GET YOUR LIFE!

But I am not the first UCL student to have this experience. Professor Uchegbu pro vice-provost at UCL and professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience at University College London has spoken about being advised to become a pharmacist instread of taking a route into academia, as this was the career pathway that ethnic minority women studying at the School of Pharmacy followed.

I wonder if there was similar advice dished out to potential Florence Nightingales?

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