Experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Students at Cambridge University

November 18, 2019 0 By Kody Olson


Hi I’m Alyia, I’m going into my third year
and I study HSPS at Selwyn College. Hi my name is Ashfaq and I’m studying at Churchill College I just finished three years of studying
chemistry and I’m about to start my Masters. Hi guys my name is Chiedxa. I do
English at Homerton College and I’ve just finished my first year. My name is Patrick Sylla, I’ve just graduated material science from Jesus College. Hi, I’m Sugina and I just graduated and I studied Law at Fitzwilliam College. Hi guys, my
name is Ibrahim Mohamed and I study psychological and behavioral sciences at
Wolfson College. I’m about to go into my final year at Cambridge University. I’m originally from East Africa in Uganda but I live in London and specifically
Harrow. My ethnic heritage is I’m Bangladeshi but I was born and raised in
Maidstone, Kent. My ethnic background is that I was born in Namibia and then I
lived in Zimbabwe for a while. I came to the UK when I was four
years old and ever since then I’ve been living in Hounslow, West London. My ethnic heritage is that my dad is from Senegal in West Africa, my mum is from Ireland.
I am from Hounslow, West London. My parents are from Bangladesh and I grew up in Tower Hamlets in East London. My mum is Pakistani and my dad is
Bangladeshi, but I was born and raised in Hackney, East London. My perception of Cambridge was that it
wasn’t a space, or a university, or an institution available for me, or people
like me. My perception of Cambridge before applying was, posh and nerdy. It
was maybe not that diverse, maybe for a certain type of people class. I didn’t
know that much about what the student reality of being at Cambridge is like,
because you kind of just see prospectuses. So I was really anxious
about getting here and not seeing people like myself. My perception of Cambridge
before I attended was that it was not very diverse and that people wouldn’t be
very fun and everyone would just be very studious, clever and posh. I
think I realised what my original perception of Cambridge was, was just a
stereotype. When I came here I found that there are spaces no matter what background you’re from, what race or class. Coming to Cambridge I’ve met so
many different people, people who look like me, but people who don’t and
that’s been great, because I’ve learnt so much from all of my peers here. And I
think that everything I thought Cambridge was, was just a bad stereotype of it I did have one teacher who believed in
me and said to me, apply to Cambridge you have what it takes, you’re predicted A*
A A. Why not just do it, and at first I thought you were crazy, but you know what
Miss Jill Bucock, who was my sociology teacher, was right. And now look, I’m here.
For some people their subject is a part of them and I’m one of those people
where that my subject, English is a part of me. I think a big thing that convinced
me to apply to Cambridge was the academics here. I think I was a person
who really liked studying politics and I was really interested in it. I thought why let all of my negative stereotypes prevent me from something
that I should aim for and that I am able to aim for. I remember coming into
Homerton and kind of like doing that look around like, where are the people
like me. And at first that is like really daunting when you don’t see people like
you. I cried for my first two weeks pretty much non-stop. Coming to university is always going to be difficult, because you don’t know anyone. You’ve always kind of
gotta be switched on and like trying to make your friends and stuff like that. So
on one level it was easy to meet new people, yet on another level, I was finding it maybe a bit difficult at the
beginning to find people I connected with, maybe from a similar background
to me. Where I’m from in Hounslow, is like the most like super ethnically
diverse place. I’m not really a minority there. So that was unusual at
times, being like okay, I’m the only guy that’s not like white here. I
actually hated it, I called my mum on my second day and I was like you gotta pick
me up because I’m gonna go home right now, I’m gonna call the cab, but then
after two weeks it just kind of… I think by December, I thought Cambridge was home. Luckily on my first day here, I found someone who was similar to me I guess
and we just hit it off and we became friends and I had that as an anchor to
keep me going. I was quite confident, in the sense that, because I got really good
grades I deserve a space there the same as anybody else. So this imposter syndrome that a lot of people may have, I never really had that
because I believed in myself and because I had a good community back home, my
friends constantly believing in me I settled in really well. Be patient with yourself, don’t think
that after the first week this is going to be the best place ever and this is
the best time of your life. Because I think those kind of ideas about
University aren’t necessarily true at first. Especially I think what helped me
the most were my tutors and my DOS. I don’t know how to explain it, but
everyone’s just so nice, like that’s the only thing I can say. Make sure you do
go home, if you want to go home, it’s fine if you do. Call your family, call your
friends, that’s nice take comfort in that, but also don’t let that stop you from trying new things. Take one day at a time and just remember
it takes time and everyone really is in the same boat. So what really helped me
settle in, was the fact that I found common ground with people and so, you
know, there were some people that went drinking and that was fine, but there
were some people that stayed behind with me and we drank tea and just talked. And
then I got involved with loads of societies, like Isoc and BANGLA soc. I think they really nurtured me and helped me feel at home. Throughout
my first year I think I did stay a lot with the cultural societies, but It really
helped me build a home in Cambridge. Then I ventured out a bit more and
got involved with other societies and I just became a lot more confident. Only in
the second year did I start doing like comedy and going to like
hip-hop society nights. That’s when I started to meet people that were
really like-minded to me. It just takes time to find the people, that kind of
click with you and once you get that then you’re laughing. Then I joined the boardgame society and the plant society and the Knitting
society and I actually realised, you know what, this place is perfect for me. I think sometimes it’s about looking beyond the race aspect, which is an
important aspect, but you need to realise that when you come here, you meet people
not skin colours. You interact with people which is really
important. I think the moment I realised Cambridge was
for me is when I actually graduated and left. Because I think I have this
persisting feeling of impostor syndrome whilst I was here. So to leave
Cambridge with the 2:1, at that moment, I just knew that I’d made it, but
I think it was a bit late to feel like I’d settled in. I think it was when I went
home in December that I realised I was actually happy at Cambridge and I was
actually comfortable at Cambridge. I think it’s because, by the end of my
first term, I had met really cool people so I got on with the people
at my college. The work was hard, but I was starting to kind of get what they
wanted from me and I also met people who I really did relate to at places like
Islamic Society. So once I had a base there, I think I started to feel
comfortable to be me and you know when you find people, and people who will be your friends for life, they’ll accept you for whoever you are and it’s just
finding those people and once they’re found, because you will find them
eventually, you kind of feel happy again. But also like, after my first year, I did
have a good group of friends to support me and help me through things, so it
wasn’t awful throughout three years. But I think, when I graduated, I knew that it
was my place and I’d done myself, justice. One day I walking in the
corridor and I overheard my neighbours speaking and the way I speak, is very
particular. They weren’t mimicking me, but it showed me that,
we had exchanged so much and we’d been around each other so much that we were
starting to pick up mannerisms or the way we talk from each other.Just seeing that kind of cultural exchange was really nice to me. I think I
started to feel like, I could really be comfortable here when I started going to
things like hip hop society events. That’s when I saw a lot of people who are from London, maybe from an ethnic minority
backgrounds, and they were like into hip-hop. I love hip-hop, I make rap
music and stuff, myself, so it gave me a chance to perform, but also to be
around other people who are probably like-minded, maybe have similar up
bringing to me. I was like yeah this, this could easily be in London, these
people are like my friends back home. Sometimes you create your own
barriers, which is what I did and when I realised that those barriers,
especially with the people I was living with, weren’t there, that’s just when I felt
comfortable to be myself I was in the kitchen, listening to my Afrobeats, when I was cooking. People will come in and I’d like recommend songs for them and we’d listen and just.. exchange things with each other. I
think that’s such a nice moment, where you realise that you’re comfortable, in
this environment and there are people that you’ll find, where you can just get
along with genuinely. Before the whole application, stage, my perception of Cambridge was that it wasn’t a place, for me because of my religion, skin colour or
race etc. I think what really would have helped a lot more, is seeing there are
people like that, at this university. Maybe through videos, maybe through
school visits. I had school visits, but I don’t think I saw a single BAME person on those visits. It’s not enough to just be diverse in student body, you have
to be diverse in curriculum as well, which is really important for people. But
I think having a more diverse curriculum to actually reflect the diversity of the
world. A lot of the people we study are just centered around this Eurocentric
academic perspective and it would be great if we could go beyond that and
look at other thinkers who aren’t just old white men. I think to increase the
intake of ethnic minorities, and the perception that ethnic minorities in
general have of Cambridge, I think it is just like, kind of, shining light on the
students that are here. The Stormzy scholarship, I thought was the sickest
thing. Because I saw it on platforms that I look at and all of my friends look at,
like fdtv, link-up TV, GRM Daily and stuff. That’s showing someone everyone
looks up to Stormzy and he endorses this, so maybe it’s not that I
shouldn’t go there because it’s not for someone like me ah it’s not cool you’re
seeing someone you look up to you is like yeah this is sick, I think that was
like the coolest thing, so yeah.