Growing up Black in a Majority-White University

Hey y’all. Welcome back to my blog. Hope you’re all doing great! As you can tell from the title, this post is about the next step in my academic journey: university. After attending a college in inner-city London, I was back a majority-white, prestigious institution and about to learn the most valuable lessons of my educational career.

If you’re here for the first time, you may want to check out my previous posts for this series – Growing up Black in a Majority White School and Growing up Black and Privileged in Inner-city London. In terms of growing up Black at uni, my overall experience was quite positive but there were a few issues that I didn’t think I’d ever be exposed to, especially in this day and age. University is a place where teenagers live by their own rules, a place where boundaries are tested and people show their true colours. And unfortunately, those colours are not always pretty…

At what stage did you learn the most important lessons of your life? Let me know in the comments!

What I learned about Race

Here are the Ethnicity Statistics from Nottingham University back in 2008:
• 82% are white
3% are black
• 10% are Asian
• 3% are mixed race
• 1% are other
• 2% are not known

You know I’m used to these statistics because of the majority-white secondary school I went to. I personally didn’t have a problem with the diversity (or lack of it) but it was clear that others had never mixed with people from different cultures before, and didn’t intend to start.

A Blackface Party held on the show ‘Dear White People,’ similar to my real life experience.
  • Racism is very real. I know people (especially the British) like to pretend that racism is a thing of the past but I can assure you that it is not. Some people don’t even try to be discreet about it. At UoN, a group of boisterous young men thought it would be hilarious to dress up as minstrels at a hustings party, fully kitted out in blackface. They saw nothing offensive about it. When the ethnic community made noise about it, as you can guess, we were made to look as though we were overreacting and absolutely nothing was done to remedy the situation. It got swept under the carpet as though nothing happened. I can’t even find an article on it. And I know they existed.
  • Black Societies aren’t just about parties. Don’t get me wrong, if there’s one thing UoN’s African Caribbean Society could do, it was throw a party. But dancing wasn’t all we were good for. My uni, in particular, was saturated with ambitious Black people who were inspirational just be around. I had never been exposed to such a large group of Black intellectuals all in one place before, and we made sure to put on events to nourish our minds and help prepare us for life after graduation. And we also had litty raves.
  • When Africans are rich, they are RICH. I’ll be the first to admit that I used to think ‘wealthy African’ was an oxymoron. Growing up Black, we have divisions amongst ourselves that don’t make sense to anyone on the outside looking in. Being British-Caribbean was always cool but British-African? Not a chance. Our American counterparts would refer to this as being an African Booty Scratcher. However, there’s a lesser class amongst us, the Africans that come straight from Africa. When I got to uni, I realised that such a thing existed as a wealthy African person from Africa, unlike what I’d seen in the media. And their wealth is on another level. Most of us British-borns were there stuggling to make ends meet whilst these guys were living their best lives. I’m glad they were there to showcase the many facets of Africa.
  • People from ethnic minorities don’t do as well at university as their White counterparts. Not only were many of us struggling financially, a lot of us weren’t doing very well in our courses either. Have a look at these statistics below:

At The University of Nottingham the difference between the
proportion of white qualifiers who obtained a first class honours
or upper second class honours degree and that of BME qualifiers
(the attainment gap) increased from 19% in 2007/08 to 22% in
2010/11. This identified trend is one area the University will be
paying close attention to in the coming year.

Nottingham University Diversity Report

So if, say, 30% of White students gained a first class at university, only 8% of BME students would come out with the same grade. If 50% of White students gained 2;1 degrees, only 28% of BME students would do the same? Something doesn’t quite add up.

I was perturbed to learn that although many educated Black people earned their acceptance into these institutions, many of them left university with less-than-satisfactory grades, or grades that were incongruent with their previous educational achievements. I wonder if Nottingham University, and others like it, have worked out what to attribute this worrying statistic to.

What I learned about Education

  • Make sure the way your course is taught and the way you learn are matched. My course and I were not well suited. I absolutely adored my Psychology course during college (A-levels) but the one at university was a different ball game. Looking back now, the way it was taught did not appeal to my learning style and I was too young and insecure to do anything about it.
  • Ask your lecturers questions. There were approximately 200 students enrolled on my Psychology course. It was daunting to ask questions at the end of class and sometimes impossible because of the sheer number of students with their hands up. However, I learned that I could go and seek help from my lecturers directly and when I did this, I performed much better in essays and exams.
  • Study Groups will get you through. As often as you can, get into small groups with people from your course and study together. Especially if there are loads of people on your course but aren’t any tutorials/seminars (like mine). Being exposed to different perspectives will help, plus, the more friends you have on your course, the more comfortable you’ll feel in those massive lecture halls.

What I learned Socially

Image by Jens Johnsson
  • Find your balance-iaga. It’s not everyday work, sometimes enjoyment. Likewise, don’t spend all your time in the raves, go to your 9ams! Make sure you have a healthy work/life balance at university.
  • Join societies. They could very well teach you more than your degree. In my final year I began applying for jobs and the only relevant experience came from my position as Events Organiser on the ACS Committee. Turns out I learned much more about human behaviour working with the ACS than from studying Psychology at degree level.
  • Moving out is priceless. Do it. Yes, people are filthy but you will learn so much about yourself when you move out of your parents house and only have yourself to answer to.

What was your university/college experience like? Let me know in the comments peeps!

I hope you enjoyed my final piece in this series! I’ll be travelling to Malaysia and Singapore tomorrow (I’m so excited) so I’ll be producing some juicy content and microblogging on my Insta. Follow me on hdebrahampofo on IG to keep up with my travels.

Love you guys, Helen x


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