18 July 2017

The elite of the elite?

Cambridge_Main

A few years ago a friend told me a great story. He is British Asian and was recruited to the fast-track intake of an elite government department – one of only 12 taken on. All the other recruits were white. At a reception for the group, one approached him and said ‘Oh, I know why you are here. You are just here to make up the numbers.’

Looking around the room, the friend said ‘Actually, looking at this group I would say it’s you who are here to make up the numbers. ’What do you do if you succeed in entering the UK’s elite institutions and find yourself one of a miniscule minority?

Inspired by ‘Black men of Yale’ the 15 black male students who started studying at Cambridge in this academic year got together and took a photo of themselves.

The photo went viral on social media, drawing wide praise. The photo – and the students – are role models for others.

The students took this initiative to challenge the stereotype of a Cambridge student and encourage more black students to apply to the University.

One of the students, Dami Adebayo described how he had known how capable he was, but feared whether he would fit in. But he decided that, ‘with a mindset like that, these types of institutions will never be the right place for people like me. Every student from a diverse background who applies and gets in here is a step towards changing that.

’Engineering student, Folajimi Babasola, said: ‘The aim of the picture was really to encourage more black students to apply here because many people get discouraged by a particular image or stereotype of a Cambridge student that they have in their mind, thinking that they won't fit in or be accepted.’ William Gore, studying English, said ‘You don’t need to change who you are to get here.'

The Equality Challenge Unit supports equality and diversity in universities and colleges. In 2016 finalized its Race Equality Charter. Cambridge University joined the charter in that year.

What is it like to be the first role models, or one of a very tiny minority? Result CIC’s Jane Cordell was one of the first women to study at St John’s College in Cambridge and also one of the few students from a State Comprehensive school. She was then the first ever deaf woman to work at senior level in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She says ‘It is almost equally exciting and frightening to ‘be the first’. There are few or no role models paving the way for you and you are made conscious of being different. The risk can be that you put too much of your personal energy into handling others’ awareness of your identity which leaves you with less to devote to developing your skills and career. It is good to develop awareness techniques to keep this risk to a minimum and be who you are without over-consciousness of how other people may perceive this.’

Are you a ‘pioneer’ such as this? Result CIC was set up to support people who find themselves in situations which can make them feel excluded – to help them develop confidence to follow their own path. Coaching can help you develop the best ways for you to support yourself. And as a social enterprise, we hold an inclusion fund to ensure people with very limited resources can access this. Interested?

Get in touch.

 
 
 
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