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Teachers and advisers

Student voices

This year, we are delighted to share these fantastic blogs written by current students about their lived experience as black students at the University of Exeter.

Also enjoy our throwback from last year's Black History Month when students, Beth, Herbie and Austin shared their reflections on what makes them ‘Proud to be’ in the short videos.

Meet Herbie

Herbie is a current student in his final year studying Politics and International Relations at the Penryn Campus at the University of Exeter

Meet Beth

Beth is a current student in her final year studying Medicine at the Truro Campus at the University of Exeter

Meet Austin

Austin is a current student in his final year studying Accounting and Finance (With Industrial Experience) on the Streatham Campus at the University of Exeter

Black History Month in the UK is the time of year that everyone comes together to act as if they care for the Black Community. There are many topics linked to Black heritage and the community that could be discussed AND should be.

As President of the African-Caribbean Society on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, for both the University of Exeter and Falmouth University, something I have been advising in regard to the planning of events, creating engagement and actually celebrating the Black students and staff within these institutions is to appreciate that this is something many of us are well versed in already, this history impacts our daily lives, and can be quite upsetting to discuss.

What I mean by this is that many of us have been educated on plenty of topics. Whether that be racism, or the subcategories that follow, such as segregation, microaggressions, or our characters being painted in a certain light, and so on. Whether this be through education, personal experience or having to hear our family member’s experiences growing up as children, becoming young adults in education or the workplace, or our experiences when receiving healthcare and more. Whether this be those of us from a Black-British background, or our fellow Black international students, who will have had to experience racism from other parts of their lives, and then have joined us in the UK to experience it here, again, in a way that’s culturally specific to this region.

I have pushed for the education of people from other ethnic backgrounds, separate to the celebration and support of our Black students and staff. It is important to note, it is not our job to educate you. Some of us may be more willing than others to discuss our experiences, to comment on topics of slavery or some of our home countries gaining independence etc. But when a lot of us feel our voices are not listened to or heard, this performative support is not what we want, we do not want to sit there and bring up history that is painful to us in hopes to clear your conscience or educate you. Quite frankly, read a book.

Black History Month for us should be a celebration of our different cultures, a way to bring our community together. Sharing culturally significant media, music, fashion etc throughout time, discussing what makes us who we are on an individual level also. Join in and show your support. Come and try new foods, come and party to new music, and if the topic starts to get heavy, do not argue about something you have not experienced. Just listen.

Yes. Black History Month is about history, but from having had to participate in Black History Month in education from a young age, I am tired of seeing the same topics of Slavery and drug scandals, the same people in our history discussed. The way our country goes about this time is ridiculous, it should change each year. I want to hear more about people who have positively impacted Education, Business, Healthcare, Science. Discuss the MANY Black people who have made positive, necessary and invaluable change to society.

Although I made the decision to change courses this year, the Bioscience department was lovely. I would specifically like to share my appreciation to EDI Andrew Pye and fellow student Indigo-Pai Gibson for their dedication and thoughtfulness when planning out their BHM career talks. As I was the only Black student on that course, it gave me hope and inspiration to see how many Black people there were in a space I felt so isolated entering. I would also like to thank the team at the Students Union, who have also been so thoughtful, in making sure to reach out for our opinions, on how we want what is essentially our month, to go.

I may not speak for everyone when I say this. We do not want a space made for us, we have made that space for ourselves. We want to be welcomed, we want to be involved, we want to be included. We want to be equally respected counterparts. Genuinely.

And as I have heard this so many times. I am not your Black friend, I am me!

When I first arrived at Exeter, I had a whole heap of expectations. My friends joked that my going to Exeter would probably increase the black population by about 100% on arrival. My response would always be that I’d seen at least 4 different black people on the prospectus, so I’d be good. But the truth is that it played on a real fear that I am sure many ethnic minority students face when they enter institutions as prestigious as our own – specifically those outside of London.

Going to a state school in inner-city London afforded me a certain invisibility that just isn’t attainable in a majority white institution. For example, when I am with my family, I am a sister, a daughter, granddaughter etc. While proud of my heritage and blackness, I am not conscious of it. However, arriving at university changed that, it made me conscious of my blackness in a way that I wasn’t used to.

Honestly speaking, I felt this most poignantly in my first term. One specific example of this was in a Politics seminar. For context, I was the only attending black student in the room. The topic of discussion: poppies; the red poppies that serve as a reminder of soldiers who died in the war. The purple poppy which serves as a reminder of the important role of animals during the war. And lastly, the black poppy that commemorates the sacrifices of Africans and the African diaspora. A debate that ensued between two people about the utility of different colour poppies, with one colleague arguing that black poppies were unnecessary and divisive. Purple poppies, more understandable. Stripped of my invisibility I was asked, “Aize [me]… what are your thoughts?”. Having none, I was a little surprised – others clearly had a lot more to say on the matter. What was probably a well-intentioned attempt to facilitate a more inclusive discussion had left me feeling desperately uncomfortable and slightly frustrated. It made me conscious of my blackness, creating an internal pressure to be a ‘spokesperson’ for ‘my people’.

Navigating inclusion can be a tricky and at times uncomfortable and it made me question how organisations do this. However, this moment was crucial in my personal character development. It pushed me to start embodying confidence and to take up space. It spurred me to work with the University of Exeter to become a more inclusive space, and I became a part of the diversifying the curriculum initiative and a student ambassador. This allowed me to talk honestly about my growing pains with prospective students but also share how the university had truly become my home away from home.

For example, during my time as a student ambassador, I was asked by a young black prospective student if there were any black hair shops or hairdressers – an inexplicably important factor in the lives of many black women, myself included. Over the course of my 4-year degree, certainly towards the end, I could honestly say that I had found some in the unlikely Falmouth! Which meant a lot to me, the prospective student who asked me, and I am sure many others who will come to uni here.

Furthermore, during my 2nd year ‘ban drill” conversations were preeminent in the media. Through my Violence in World Politics module, I was prompted to look at how structural violence and the problematisation of community's manifest in policy decisions and discussions. My lecturer Owen Thomas played a large part in fanning the flame of my long-term interests. In coming to Exeter, I have found new passions, motivation and sources that I will constantly pursue. I can only hope lecturers such as Sabiha, Owen and Xianan don’t change their email for a while so I can continue to pick their brains for the years to come.

Lastly, one of my biggest fears about university was that I wouldn’t find my community. I am sure that this is a rather universal experience for all embarking on the journey. But in Exeter, I found unique friendships and sisterhoods that nourished and watered me throughout my time here. We cooked together at times, ate together at times, foods that we missed from home, lamented together at the typical stresses of university.

I never really had black friends growing up. Well, I had two in year 5 and 6 but then I moved schools and became the only black girl in my year for the entirety of high school. It was character building to say the least, to be the ‘odd one out’; my hair always a topic of conversation, being mixed up with the two other black girls in school, easily picked out in the school photo and my last name rarely pronounced correctly (including on speech day when I gave my head girl speech). I saw university as an opportunity to find somewhere I was not ‘the only one’.

It goes without saying that the University of Exeter, like any university, has its stereotypes so to be brutally honest I approached fresher’s week with rather low expectations of diversity. Yet, contrastingly to my high school experience, I walked into the lecture hall for the first time and realised I was not the anomaly – quite far from it, actually. The most enlightening moment was Freshers’ Fair; patiently waiting in the queue for what was likely a second slice of free Domino’s pizza, contemplating if my year 10 netball skills were enough to join the team, my gaze finally landed upon the African-Caribbean society. I found this was a safe and supportive community of black students who were all wanting and willing to celebrate each other and our cultures both socially and academically.

A significant impact was finally seeing myself represented within a seminar or lecture. Taking it at face value it may appear trivial but having other black women in the same environment was not only comforting but motivating. This particularly reached its pinnacle during our mock trials. Imagine one hundred overly keen and ambitious law students put into eight separate ‘firms’ having studied episodes of Suits as opposed to witness statements in hopes of miraculously creating the most innovative and groundbreaking argument after only one term of lectures – essentially a phony Harvey Spector with a cheaper suit and same arrogance. I was fortunate enough to be one of three black women in my firm, all barristers for our ‘client’ leading the cross examination and closing statement. We were full of excitement sporting our black gowns, practicing our questions, taking pictures, ready to do each other proud, each imagining ourselves Annalise Keating preparing to reduce the defence’s witness to tears with a “no further questions my lord” as our mic dropping moment. The trial did not play out nearly as dramatic as imagined but we were successful on two of the three claims, and it truly felt like a profound moment that I would remember for years to come.

Ultimately, I do think the university is making efforts to ensure all students from differing backgrounds feel welcome. It can at times feel like a parent trying to be cool or trendy; whilst some of the attempts can be slightly cringeworthy, the overall determination is very much appreciated. It’s imperative to note this is my own experience and perspective that will likely differ from the next person’s; therefore, I can only speak for the departments, societies, and culture I have interacted with as a second year Law with Business student. I truly hope to learn from other’s experiences this Black History Month as I believe October is not only appreciating the past but knowing how to shape the best path for generations to come.

I was both excited and nervous about attending the University of Exeter. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of diversity or how many individuals of colour there would be. This was mainly because the people I would talk to who were already in the UK had told me that the South West was predominantly white and that if I wanted more diversity I would be better off going to study in the midlands like Birmingham. Due to covid travel restrictions, I missed freshers’ week and arrived on the third week of my first year, by which time many had already developed friendships and it was difficult to fit in more, especially as I didn't see many people who looked like me. I recall arriving at my first lecture and not seeing many people of colour and that made feel out of place.

Making one friend was all it took for me. I started going out more and meeting new people. One thing I realized was that, while there were not many black people on campus, there were other international students with whom you shared similar experiences. This made it easier for me,

especially when it came to the topic of homesickness. Additionally, as I started going out more I began to realise that there were not a lot of black people in the community. I did not let that make me uncomfortable and enjoyed my time exploring the city of Exeter.

One thing I realized was that when people found out I went to the University of Exeter, they were taken aback. This was primarily due to the perception that the University of Exeter is only for white, wealthy students. I was fortunate to be able to participate in leadership roles at university and try to make a difference. I was a student representative and a department officer, which also gave me the opportunity to get to know the staff members well. I also became a student ambassador, and I enjoyed interacting with students from all over the country, as well as engaging with prospective international students and demonstrating to them that even minority groups exist at Exeter. I didn't want the stereotype of Exeter being only for white students to be maintained, and this helped me to feel like I was making a difference.

When you come to Exeter as a black student, it is crucial to understand that you will be in the minority; you will not only feel it, but you will also see it, whether on campus or in the community. However, because there are so many international students, it becomes a little easier to make friends. It is also important to join societies and clubs to meet new individuals.

Your experience is what you make it; if you want to have fun and enjoy your time at the University of Exeter, you can.