BME students can now get the support they need at Cambridge. Source: Shutterstock

If you’re a BME student, you know the issues affecting you are hard to understand from a white perspective. Throw going to a prestigious, predominantly white university such as Cambridge into the mix and it’s easy to feel isolated.

This is why Cambridge – in a year-long trial – has started offering students the option to request a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) counsellor when accessing the university’s mental health services.

Cambridge University Students’ Union last year conducted a report on BME mental health, which uncovered “a need for increased, clearer, and more explicit channels by which BME students can access BME counsellors”, according to Varsity.

The report said BME students “face unique pressures, including alienation, structural discrimination, a lack of representation, and unconscious bias in the institution”.

Only 22 percent of students studying at Cambridge belonged to a BME group last year, according to The Cambridge Student, and about a quarter of all students accessing counselling services were BME, said Varsity.

The University Counselling Services already encourages students to choose a counsellor of a specific gender, and this should be the case for requesting a BME counsellor as well, says the report.

The University Counselling Services responded to the report’s findings by offering students an option to request a BME counsellor on the application form, noting this may increase waiting times.

Micha Frazer-Carroll, Cambridge University Students’ Union welfare and rights officer told Varsity:

“I see this as a great step towards culturally-specific welfare support for students; which acknowledges how race interacts with mental health, both within the therapeutic relationship and outside of it.” 

She added there was “still some way to go in terms of support for BME students”. She suggests the counselling services “might consider training on working interculturally, as well as reflecting diversity in service-organised support groups to lift the load of organising support networks from students.”

A BME student, who wished to remain anonymous, described the trial scheme as “an important step towards ensuring a nuanced approach to the mental health of students”.

“Despite my great experience with the UCS, knowing that I could speak with a counsellor who had worked with and shared experiences with students from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds would definitely have prompted me to seek support for my mental health sooner,” they said.

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