A few weeks ago, RACE was contacted by a group called Black Geographers. The group is organised by undergraduate students, so RACE wanted to find out more! This interview is with Francisca Rockey, the founder of the group and a BSc student at York St John’s University. You can find out more about the team and the work of Black Geographers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (website coming soon). They also have a fundraising page over at GoFundMe. Their next event is on 31 July 2020. You can register for it here.
Image: The Black Geographers logo.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and about your interest in Geography.
I’m Francisca Rockey, a 20-year old geographer, blogger and activist. I became aware of my interest in Geography when I found that I was intrigued by natural features of the earth and the dynamics of our changing world. Not only is Geography relevant to current affairs but we are surrounded by characteristics of physical geography in our everyday lives, from the type of soil found in your local park to the drainage of your nearest river.
You also have an interest in lifestyle blogging. How did you get into that, and how are you combining that with your studies?
In 2014, I started Francisca Rockey, formerly Fran’s World, as a place to document my teenage years and get my writing ‘out there’. What started as a hobby has now grown into something a lot bigger and I’m constantly looking for ways to make my corner of the internet bigger and better. Here, you’ll find lifestyle, travel and student-related content. I dabble into fashion, beauty and fitness from time to time though, I wouldn’t say they’re part of my niche, but I can direct you to my favourite bloggers who do.
I publish a new post every Wednesday at 12pm and writing is something that comes naturally to me, so I don’t have to dedicate much time to it other than a few hours on a Sunday evening or a few hours before I’m due to publish on a Wednesday. Having a schedule makes it really easy to juggle while studying and is why I’ve managed to keep it going for 6 years.
That’s impressive, and a great writing tactic! How did you decide to create Black Geographers? How did you connect with other Black Geography students?
It all started with a tweet, ‘I wish geography, environmental science and related subjects were most diverse. I’m the only black girl on my course and I know it’s the same at other universities across the country’ from here, I created the name ‘Black Geographers’ (BG) and started looking into the reasons why numbers of black people in Geography were low.
Following a discussion with Eden Lunghy (a fellow black geographer and BG’s content manager) we found that a way to tackle this would be to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum, encourage uptake at GCSE/A Level by increasing awareness of career prospects within and outside of Geography and more representation of black geographers in the different areas of geography.
I set up an Instagram page for BG before the Twitter page and I started following various Geography-based accounts e.g. Geography departments of various universities and I did a callout for black geographers on Twitter and I was flooded with DMs from black geographers who also felt alone in the geoscience world.
Image taken from Black Geographers Facebook page.
Who is currently involved in it, both on the organisational side and in terms of participation in events? Who would you like to reach and involve?
BG is currently a team of four black people, three of whom are geographers, and the other is an ethical activist. Our team consists of a founder (me, Francisca, pictured top left), content manager (Eden, pictured bottom right), content assistant (Louis, pictured top right) and social media manager (Abi, pictured bottom left), for now the roles work well with the work we’re doing behind the scenes, but they may change as my business plan shifts between now and September, as we prepare for the new academic year and hosting physical events at universities, schools, community centres etc.
We’re hoping to reach all black geographers of all ages and to create a safe space/platform for us to network and connect that is for black geographers by black geographers. We want to involve all geoscientists, schools and universities not just in the UK but across the world because we’ve discovered that this isn’t just an issue in the UK but the erasure of black people in geoscience is global. For the next 5 months, we want to get to work in the UK and host events in the UK and have them recorded for black geographers across the world to attend or view. We want to be seen, heard and respected within the industry.
You are currently putting on online events that are also supported by Geography departments around the country. How have you found these so far? Do you think you will keep doing them online, or are you hoping to also put on in-person events once that is possible?
I have loved hosting virtual events and engaging with people online but I would love to meet every geographer/geoscientist that my team and I have interacted in real life and so in-person events are definitely on the cards and we’ve already had a few universities reaching out to host us.
What are you planning for the future – I saw on social media that you are looking into mentoring schemes?
Our aim is to tackle the erasure of black Geosciences by providing/ creating a platform for Black Geoscientists to network and connect and offering low cost or free tutoring and mentoring for black geoscientists. We’re planning to get our website live by the end of this month or next with writers on various geography-based topics and their experiences within the subject and by September, we’d like to have tutoring and mentoring schemes live too. A lot of interviews are taking place at the moment, DBS checks for tutors who may be working with under 18s and so on.
I feel like because we’re the first CIC (community interest company) of our kind, a lot is expected of us and we want to cater to everyone’s needs while not overstretching ourselves in the first few months as a company. Next year, we’re hoping to host a BG fieldtrip within the UK and encouraging those who sign up to fundraise to ‘get them to *insert destination*’.
In your view, how can UK Geography undergraduate experience be improved for Black geographers?
I think geography departments need to acknowledge the fact that there is a problem. From there, they can look at their department and ask if it’s representative of the UK, a diverse country. How can they encourage more black people to do Masters and PhDs in Geography or Geosciences? How can they diversify the cohort of geographers each year? As a black person, it was difficult to get my mum on board with geography because it’s not a “traditional STEM” but if there was more information about the potential careers with geography and seeing more black faces in the marketing for the department, representation is a huge part of getting more diverse faces on board.
Many thanks for the interview, and we hope to see you at one of your events, or our events, soon!