New UK Student Leader Speaks at ‘Women in Jewish Leadership’ Event, In First Public Appearance Since Election to Head NUS
The incoming president of the UK’s largest student group spoke at an event this week promoting gender equality in the Jewish community, in her first public appearance since the student elections two months ago, the Jewish News reported on Wednesday.
Shakira Martin, who will take office as the president of the National Union of Students (NUS) on July 1, attended the Women in Jewish Leadership program as a the guest of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and spoke of her own challenging upbringing in an economically-disadvantaged, single-parent family “where drug abuse played a major part.”
Martin, now a single mother of two, was quoted as saying, “I knew I wanted to make something of myself but never had the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and confront the obstacles, challenges and stereotypes I faced just for being a black, working class woman.”
“All of us will have dealt with the barriers of being a woman from an ethnic minority background,” Martin noted. “When we come together in rooms like these, we’re saying that we want the next generation to have more than what we had. It is important that we women share this journey together to achieve success, we help each other out and not be afraid to dream big. If we can inspire, empower or motivate one person, then it will all be worth it.”
Martin also addressed the difficulties Jewish students have faced on campus, including the strained relations the community has had with student politics in recent years. She made clear that she would support Jewish students and work to unify university-goers.
The tenure of former NUS president Malia Bouattia was marked by allegations of antisemitism, and many Jewish students felt alienated by the group under Bouttia’s leadership, with some considering or severing ties with the NUS over her rhetoric and activities, which included calling the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost” because of the size of its Jewish community and attending a conference funded in part by a Hamas apologist.
Bouattia’s last words spoken as NUS president was “Free, Free Palestine.”
Many in the UK Jewish community rejoiced after Martin’s unexpected landslide victory over Bouattia in the April elections, with Martin’s perceived strong ties with the Jewish community giving some hope for reform in the NUS.