Black History Month 2023

News | Posted on Tuesday 3 October 2023

We're celebrating Black History Month 2023 throughout October.

Black History Month in the UK is in its 36th year and is celebrated and recognised across the country in schools, city centres, cinemas, festivals and more.

The theme for 2023 is Saluting Our Sisters 

Here at the University we will be hosting a variety of online and in-person events to celebrate Black History. In addition to the celebratory aspects, the month presents an engaging space of reflection on the achievements and innovative contributions of Black people to the social, political and cultural development of the United Kingdom. There are also opportunities for members of our community to learn more about the issues that continue to impact societies and people of colour in the UK and on an international level. 

In line with the University's commitment to anti-racism, we invite everyone to learn with us the diverse stories, aspirations and activism that tackle racial inequality.

Contact us

Equality and Diversity Office
+44 (0)1904 324680

‘Everything is racialised on top’

In March at the University of York, the report 'Everything is racialised on top': Black and racially minoritised girls’ and women’s experiences of public sexual harassment in the UK was formally launched with a discussion from activist-survivors, survivor organisations, students and researchers.

The report, produced by Professor Vanita Sundaram, Dr Beth Bell, Dr Nadia Jessop and Emma Jackson and funded by Plan International UK, is the first on this issue in the UK. The report highlights the prevalence and forms of sexual harassment experienced by Black and minoritised women, as well as structural, institutional and cultural barriers to disclosure and help-seeking. Trust in the police, in school professionals, and in university systems is low. Stigma within communities makes talking about the impacts of sexual harassment difficult. The research shows that sexual harassment impacts on Black and minoritised girls' and women's feelings of safety, their mental health, and freedom to move around in public spaces.

The report offers a list of recommendations including listening to young women’s diverse experiences, implementing training and systemic change, and transforming education and reporting mechanisms.

Read the full report 

Our actions

This year, we have been promoting Union Black: Britain’s Black cultures and steps to anti-racism, an online training module to encourage our students and staff to understand different forms of racism - including micro-aggression and institutional racism - and to become an active ally. The course inspires self-reflection and makes learners become aware of the insidious nature of racism. 

The University has implemented actions that address the under-representation of ‘BAME’ student population in York and in the UK Higher Education. Some of our race equality initiatives include:

Since 2022, we have been publishing our ethnicity pay gap report and the Race Equality Action Plan to make our work more transparent and visible. Our Staff Race Equality Forum (SREF) expands and brings positive influence on the University’s anti-racism agenda. Building on the impact of our staff listening exercise in 2019, another listening exercise was conducted in October 2022 with the Vice Chancellor to gather feedback and develop a renewed action plan. Our newly established SREF Operations Team has been leading awareness-raising events and building better connections with different communities. Collaborating with the University of York Students’ Union, we have organised joint events including social, a discussion of ‘where are you really from?’, and sharing stories of individuals’ names to highlight intersectional experiences. 

Looking ahead to the 2023/24 academic year, we will continue to embed anti-racism and EDI in our work and everyday culture. We are also developing our work on decolonisation, expanding our work from the curriculum to other aspects that include research and organisational practice. We aim to build webpages to share case studies, research profiles and more reflexive questions on decolonisation. Our Race Equality Coordination Group - see below - continues to reflect on its role and priorities to progress in the shifting social and political landscape. 

Race Equality Co-ordination Group

As an institution, we acknowledge the significance of not losing sight of the important work around anti-racism, which is why we have established the Race Equality Co-ordination Group (RECG). As part of this, we have agreed an anti-racism statement and set ourselves ambitious and impactful targets. 

Our anti-racism statement

Our Race Equality Action Plan

The purpose of the group is to oversee activities, to challenge and to redress systemic inequalities and disadvantages. RECG's priorities are under the following three headings: 

  • Establishing a culture and environment where we can talk about the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of race and inequality
  • Addressing the ethnicity pay gap and BAME staff under-representation
  • Diversifying and decolonising the curriculum

RECG has a connection to the University’s Executive Board (UEB) and the Council through the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (EDIC). RECG regularly reports to EDIC, which provides an oversight of the EDI activities and make recommendations to UEB and the Council. The University's Executive Board has endorsed these priorities and has committed to supporting the progress of these across our learning, teaching, working, social and living environments.

What's on?

Wednesday, 4 October 2023, 1pm - 2.30pm

ARC/014 (The Alan Maynard Auditorium, Department of Health Sciences)

A drama-documentary looking back over the life and work of Jamaican nurse/'doctress' and unsung heroine of the Crimean War, Mary Seacole. Seacole was feisty, fearless and funny. The documentary is based on her autobiography, with dramatic sequences telling of how she established the British Hotel for wounded soldiers and of her meeting with Florence Nightingale in Turkey. A film by Sonali Fernando.

Book for Mary Seacole: The Real Angel of the Crimea

Friday 13 October 2023, 3pm - 4.30pm

Presentation by Safeena Rafiq and Sue Westwood,

LMB 139/140, Law and Sociology Building

All welcome

Sunday, 15 October, 2pm - 4.30pm

York Law School, problem-based learning area

A relaxed event for staff and students of Black heritage. Gentle Hair Day is a space to support one another with hair care, learn new ways to style and engage with deeper questions and conversations around hair. Led by Jade Richards.

Book your place for Gentle Hair Day

Tuesday, 17 October 2023, 6pm - 8pm

BS/104 Tree House, Berrick Saul Building

This panel discusses two new books on slavery and other forms of unfree labour, both by York staff: Shane O’Rourke, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, Princess Isabel and the Ending of Servile Labour in Russia and Brazil (Anthem Impact, 2023) and Henrice Altink, ed. , A Cultural History of Slavery and Human Trafficking, vol. 5 1900-1945 (Bloomsbury, 2024). The authors will present a short overview of their books, followed by a commentary by Professor James Walvin, a leading scholar of slavery, and an opportunity for the audience to ask the authors questions. There will be a wine reception after the event, hosted by the History Department.

Wednesday 18 October 2023, 6pm - 7.30pm

PZA/103, Piazza Building

The momentous Black Lives Matter movement that swept through the UK following the police killing of George Floyd in the US in May 2020 exposed an uncomfortable and unsettling truth: thirty years after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, institutional racism still exists, and remains both insidious and pervasive. On 18 October 2023, York Law School (YLS) will be delighted to welcome four powerful speakers who, drawing on their experiences as campaigners, lawyers, and writers, will explore the various ways in which racism is embedded within the structures and institutions of the legal system. This event, part of the Black History Month programme in YLS, aims to foster a vital conversation on how we can collectively resist institutional racism and strive for a future that is more just and equitable for all. Join us for this essential discussion.

Find out more and register for Law, racism and resistance

Thursday, 19 October, 7pm - 8.30pm

LMB/002, Law and Management building 

Professor T.T. Arvind will speak about the often overlooked role that slave uprisings played in the journey towards the abolition of slavery.

Register for Uprising, abolition and constitutions

What can we do as educators to create strong and confident black female students who can actively contribute to society

Monday, 23 October, 11:30am- 1pm


Find out more and register for Empowering our black female students using the curriculum

Tuesday, 24 October, 1pm to 4.15pm in the IPC Reception

In light of the theme of this year's Black History Month, some of the students at the IPC will be participating in an event that highlights the importance of black women in our society. There will be informative posters, cultural items, music and food.

Please come and show your support by stopping by the IPC reception on Tuesday, 24 October between 1pm and 4.15pm, there is no booking required. 


Tuesday,  24 October, 6.45pm - 9.30pm

LMB/002, Law and Management building

York Law School presents a Screening of 'Belle' (2013) followed by a discussion of the legal proceedings around the Zong Massacre, facilitated by Prof. T.T. Arvind (Head of York Law School) 

Book your place for Belle

Tuesday 24 October 2023, 20:00 - 21:00 8pm to 9pm

Online event via Zoom

Beyond the vision of Victorian Britain traditionally advanced in our textbooks, there always existed another, more diverse Britain, populated by people of colour marking achievements both ordinary and extraordinary.

Drawing upon the extensive research in their book Black Victorians: Hidden in History, Keshia N. Abraham and John Woolf will guide us through the archives to recentre our attention on marginalised Black Victorians, from leading medic George Rice to political agitator William Cuffay to abolitionists Henry ‘Box’ Brown and Sarah Parker Remond; from pre-Raphaelite muse Fanny Eaton to renowned composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. While acknowledging the paradoxes of Victorian views of race, this talk will demonstrate how Black people were visible and influential, firmly rooted in British life.

Find out more and book for Black Victorians: Hidden in History


A documentary film about Henrietta Lacks and her groundbreaking impact on modern medicine

Thursday, 26 October 2023, 3pm - 4.30pm

ARC/014 (The Alan Maynard Auditorium, Department of Health Sciences)

In 1951, scientists removed cancerous cells from African American woman Henrietta Lacks just before she died in the hope that they held the secret of how to conquer cancer. Henrietta Lacks' (HeLa) human cell lines are now immortalised, and have been used to find treatments for a wide range of diseases including the cure for polio. This film tells how many believe they hold the key to conquering cancer, and also raises many questions, including about informed consent and medical ethics. A film by Adam Curtis.

Register for The Way of All Flesh

Monday, 30 October, 2pm - 4pm

SLB/005, Spring Lane Building

Find out more and register

Tuesday, 31 October, 12 noon - 2pm

P/T/005, Physics/Exhibition Centre

Staff and students are invited to join the Staff Race Equality Forum (SREF) for an Open Mic social event to celebrate Black History Month. We welcome poetry, music, and readings that encompass this year's BHM theme #SalutingOurSisters. These can be your own original creations or known pieces that have made an impact on you. Come along and share your creativity, have your voice heard and meet like-minded people!

This event is a safe space to celebrate and support one another in a relaxed and welcoming environment. There is no pressure to perform, and whether you are a member of the Black community, an ally or a friend, it would be great to have you in attendance.

Register for the Open Mic night

Tuesday, 7 November, 12 noon - 2pm

SLB/118 Lecture Theature, Spring Lane Building

Following Black History Month which amplifies Black voices, this event focuses on the actions and practices that we can take to disrupt structural inequalities in the ways we organise. At the event, we will share experiences of collaborative practice and flat organisation that disrupt hierarchies, learning from more grassroots groups.

The event will start with a presentation by York Anti Racist Collective a local grassroots group focusing on building supportive communities through arts and connections - followed by a panel discussion. We will be joined by members from departments to share their practices, learning from what works and what doesn't. There will also be a Q&A and feedback time to expand our discussion.

Register for DecolonisING the University


Further resources

We have a series of recordings from previous Black History Month, and other related awareness day events, that are available for you to watch again:

Our Let's talk about race and racism web page directs you to information and resources to help all members of our community better understand what it is like to experience racism, how to support those who experience racism and what the University is doing to progress its anti-racism work.

Union Black: Britain's Black cultures and steps to anti-racism is an online course provided by Santander Universities in partnership with The Open University, and is freely available to all staff and students in UK universities.

Contact us

Equality and Diversity Office
+44 (0)1904 324680