Izzy

Aruna

What was your experience like as a student at Exeter? Positive? Negative?

My experience as an Exeter student on Penryn campus was largely positive. I studied International Relations with English and Study Abroad as a Flexible Combined Honours (FCH) student and I just graduated in July 2019.I loved the interdisciplinary nature of my course and the flexibility that I had  to design my academic pathway. I found my degree to be thought-provoking and intellectually challenging. 

I think one of the academic assets with studying on this campus is the small class sizes and approachable lecturers who generally have an open door policy. You are not just a face in the crowd here. I received encouragement and support from lecturers and staff when pursuing wider opportunities and incredible experiences such as a British Council sponsored summer internship in Beijing and a study abroad in South Korea. 

Socially, this campus offers a good blend of students especially being in community with students at Falmouth University. I have definitely made close friendships whilst being here with individuals who have been an instrumental source of support in challenging decisions and situations.

Throughout university, it has been a blessing to be a part of Grace Church Truro. People there have been a brilliant church community who continue to support and encourage me in my personal and spiritual development. 

I have found that apart from Falmouth’s beautiful scenery, there is just a different pace of life here that I enjoy. Of course, there have been difficulties, but overall I have had a positive outlook to my experience here in Cornwall. I recognise that this might not be representative of everyone’s journey, particularly when focusing on challenges as an ethnic minority, but I guess no two perspectives are the same. 

 

Did you experience any discrimination, racism or microaggression during your time as a student?

Yes. Sometimes, I have felt like I have had to explain my “Britishness” despite the fact that I was born and brought up here my whole life. It can be weird how other people’s language and actions can spark a familiar sense of “otherness” to the place you call home. I have met people who have commented on my ‘blackness’ or my “exotic look”. Others who are surprised that” your English is so good”. Or some white people who do not seem satisfied that Bedfordshire is the place where I am from. I then sometimes get further enquiries on where I am “actually from” cause all they really want to know is about my ethnicity. I have strangers and friends alike who without my permission dig their hands into my afro or tug on my braids like it is a toy, all in the name of fondness without a thought to my personal space.

But, this has honestly been reflective of my experience everywhere on different spectrums in my life. The unfortunate universality of covert and overt racial discrimination and microaggressions does not make it acceptable or justifiable, but it is still important to bear in mind to help put this issue in perspective. Racism in all its forms is still a problem, everywhere. Perhaps that might seem like an obvious point, even to those who do not feel its reality every day. But, even though people know that racism still thrives, I have met many individuals even friends who do not take my experience of microaggression seriously.  

Some still only recognise racial prejudice with explicit derogatory language or with racial abuse and overt racial biases. I can recall countless occasions of microaggression and discrimination here by people who do not consider their behaviour as racist purely because they did not mean it to be. Now please do not get me wrong. I truly do understand and appreciate that some people do mean well, are good people, make mistakes, are genuinely unaware or ignorant that their choice of words or actions can be offensive. But no matter how well-intentioned, it should not be tolerated the way it is. I do not think I stand alone when I say the hardest aspect about dealing with racism or microaggression is not necessarily just the discrimination itself, but the flood of denial that follows it. 

From what I have experienced as writer Reni Eddo-Lodge explains, some people are more afraid and offended of being labelled as racist than being conscious of the racist behaviour they are doing themselves. As writer Amelia Shroyer highlights “being called a racist is not worse than being the victim of racism”. I have experienced that some people are too preoccupied defending their “colour blind” nature to stop, listen, accept or understand how you have even come to that conclusion. 

Quite frankly white fragility is frustrating and exhausting. Having to justify the racial prejudice I endure and dealing with some people’s dismissive nature or emotional disconnect with the implicit racial biases I have witnessed, is draining and offensive. I do think it is right to speak up and voice the realities of racial discrimination that people from an ethnic minorities face. I do not think change can happen without it. But all too often it sometimes seems easier to silently endure moments of microaggression, not out of tolerance as writer Reni Eddo-Lodge mentions but self-preservation. 

However, I have been challenged in many ways with that stance. Upon reflection, there are times where I regret not speaking up more when faced with moments of implicit discrimination. Even though sometimes it does not feel like it is always my responsibility to inform people of their offensive behaviour, since they should know better. But can they if I do not say anything? A lot of white people do not know how to talk to ethnic minorities about race. Feeling paralysed by political correctness some do not dare to ask uncomfortable questions which are necessary to start to see the reality of what ethnic minorities face.

On the other spectrum, I have met people eager to hear the realities of microaggression and institutional racism because they want to understand the problem and be part of the solution. People who are willing to believe and accept that what they did or said was offensive and who genuinely apologise. Friends who want to stand by me and listen to my truth because they care and want to know me better. In those moments it reminds me that even if they can never truly understand, my voice is seen. Ultimately, I think we all have a role to play in combating racism in all of its forms. 

 

Were you part of any societies? 

Yes. Some of my closest friends are people I met in different societies during university. Societies offer a great chance to meet students from other disciplines that share a common interest with you. Personally as a follower of Jesus, faith is an important part of my life and journey throughout university. Alongside church, the FCU was an incredible environment for me to wrestle with spiritual questions, be part of a community who actively serve and share the gospel.

The different responsibilities I was given in societies and volunteering was a good platform to build on my skills, understanding and discover what type of roles and issues that I am interested in. You might hear it a lot, but the experience you gain in societies will be useful when applying for future job opportunities when you graduate. The reality is you are likely to be competing against candidates with the same degree or equivalent qualifications as you. What you do now, will help set you apart. I am not saying you should only get involved with particular societies or roles because ‘it will look good’ on your CV. But, be open to trying new opportunities. Truly be proactive in engaging with something you are passionate about, it will be more meaningful and interest you more.

In my first two years, I got involved with the Falmouth Anchor as the Online and Print Editor. I had a chance to be the 2nd year student representative for FCH and voice the interests and concerns of my cohort at the Student Staff Liaison Committee. I realised as a student that FCH so often get forgotten within the academic administration system because students tailor their degree and do not fit into a normal course category. Alongside this, I worked as one of the Peer Advisors for the Humanities Undergraduate Writing Centre which offered constructive and practical advice to students on academic writing.

Through societies and lectures, I realised I am passionate about enhancing BAME representation and diversity. From Second year, I was one of the ambassadors for the Fast Stream’s Early Diversity internship programme and be a part of raising awareness of their diversity schemes at employability fairs and events on campus.  In my final year, as one of the BAME student representatives for the Humanities Education Strategy Group for Widening Participation, we had a voice in shaping how the department engaged with their access and participation strategy for underrepresented groups. Furthermore, in my final year as Faith Officer for the FXU Leadership Team I advocated for the needs and concerns of the faith societies on campus.  Whatever you are interested in there are a lot of opportunities available on this campus and locally, so make use of it.

 

What made you want to stay in Falmouth after graduation?

I never thought I would stay in Falmouth after graduation. Like many people I was planning to find a job in city and get started on my career, whatever that looked like. However, my year abroad shifted my perspective on the way I considered my future plans. I think it made me think about what I truly valued, which is my faith. So, I decided to stay in Falmouth to do a part time internship with my church for a year. I wanted the opportunity to carve some intentional time to study theology, grow in spiritual character and serve my church community. It is definitely a year of sacrifice and faith. So far, it has been interesting the doors of opportunity that have opened and the level of introspection that I have experienced. I have been stretched and challenged with issues that are close to my heart. Funny enough, whilst this was my primary reason for staying, in the summer I realised that Falmouth is just the right place for me to be in right now. Even if I was not doing this part time church internship, for this year I think I would still choose to be based here. 

 

What is your current role now?

I work part time in Exeter’s Business School on this campus. I am the College’s Operations Administrative Assistant so essentially, I support them with their employability initiatives and events, employer engagement, their monthly department newsletter, students’ risk assessments for their placements and other aspects.  

 

Are you enjoying it?

Yes, so far I am. It is really interesting working on the other side of the university as a staff member. You understand and appreciate the hard work and nuances behind the scenes that you so easily took for granted as a student.  I have only been in this position since the end of September, but I have had the chance to receive more responsibilities beyond my role with aspects that I am interested in.

For example, I recently coordinated the college’s Business and Community networking event for its students. I was responsible for its oversight and delegating tasks to students who were working with department to organise it. It is weird transitioning as a student into the working world. Though, I have received great support and advice from my co-workers, supervisor and line manager particularly regarding managing my workload as a part time employee. 

 

Have you seen any discrimination whilst a staff member at Exeter?

I have only been in this role for a short time and can only comment on what I have seen so far in my College. Honestly, no. At least half of the staff in my department are from an international background. People have been welcoming and warmly embraced me as a new member of the team. My opinion and outlook has been valued even with aspects beyond my role and I have been given autonomy and support within my responsibilities. I feel like I have walked into an environment that is conscious with its inclusivity and open to me voicing my past experiences of microaggressions as a student.

 

What is your opinion on ‘quotas’ at Exeter University?

I think that Exeter University recognises and appreciates the benefits diversity and inclusivity brings to its community.  The university has a principle that everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education should have an equal opportunity to do so. I think that speaks more to its goals of widening participation and supporting students from all backgrounds to access, succeed and progress through its university.

So no, I do not think the university primarily subscribes to filling quotas to maintain an image of representation. I do think that students and staff alike are chosen based on a system of meritocracy which in itself is a complex issue. However, the university has conscious strategies and initiatives to help put disadvantaged students on an equal playing field. Obviously, there is still significant progress to make with improving accessibility and support for underrepresented groups. Though, I think that increasing equality within opportunities is the university’s priority in order to create more accessibility in higher education; this is vital towards enabling social mobility which benefits individuals and in the long-term society as a whole.

 

How has your environment and people you surround yourself with changed from transitioning from being a student to an employee?

I think that depends on how you look at it. In one way, it has not been a big change for me. Obviously, most of my friends and cohort that I knew have moved on to live in different places. But I know a lot of people that have stayed in Falmouth beyond graduation and friends who are still studying here. Even as a student my social scene did not only orientate around people at university. I was always involved with my church community for instance and most of the people there are permanently based here. I think what has shifted is the people I surround myself with at work who are mainly other staff members. Even though this university is a familiar environment, it is still a new chapter for me which comes with its own challenges as well as benefits. 

"I have experienced that some people are too preoccupied defending their “colour blind” nature to stop, listen, accept or understand how you have even come to that conclusion. "

© Falmouth and Exeter Students' Union