‘The overwhelming whiteness is isolating’: Black students on their experience at Exeter Uni

October is Black History Month in the UK, so everybody take the knee

It’s no secret that Exeter is lacking in diversity. While most people are aware of this before coming here, it doesn’t make it any less shocking for minorities when we arrive. It’s an experience most black students I spoke to have described as “isolating” and I would have to agree. It’s a shame it needs to be Black History Month for the uni to address this topic. Everyone I spoke to agreed that more of an effort could be made throughout the year to try and integrate black culture into the university. Here’s everything else they had to say:

How would you describe your experience as a black student in Exeter?

Abged, second year:

“I’ve found that being a black student in a majority white city has been a very interesting experience – not particularly amazing or terrible, just interesting. For the most part people are normal but there have been many times where people (while meaning well I’m sure) make a big deal of asking me questions to prove (not sure to who??) that they’re self aware and woke white people – an experience as alienating as it is humorous. While there have been more than a few microaggressions experienced (no, I don’t know your one friend or look like him either), I can’t say I’ve ever felt unsafe due to racism and have enjoyed my time here :)”

Valter, third year:

“I spent the first 18 years of my life surrounded by a black family, black friend groups, black teachers and overall black environments. I remember when I was choosing what unis to apply to in the UK, I was aware of the fact that Exeter as a city was not the most diverse place. I even DM’d a student at the time to ask about their experience as a black person here. But even with all of that, being here was obviously quite a shock.”

“Having to actively look for spaces with other black people; not having a single professor that looks like me in three years of studying here; having to constantly deal with microaggressions not just from other students but from teachers as well; having to interact with racist locals on nights out in the kindest way possible just to be safe; having to go all the way to Bristol for a proper haircut; and above all, having to repeatedly explain why and how those things affect me to people that can’t relate are some of the first things that come to mind when thinking about my experience as a black person in Exeter.”

“I feel like Black History Month is always a time where there is a particular celebration of the community and a focus on our shared struggles but with the way our university is regularly talking about how much they value diversity, I expected a lot more of that throughout the year.”

Anonymous student:

“As a Black student at the University of Exeter, my experience has been different from what I was used to. I come from a big city where there are many black people from a variety of different backgrounds, so it was a bit of a shock to be in a place with significantly fewer people who look like me, which made me feel like an outsider.”

“Despite the lack of diversity, I’ve tried to find a sense of belonging by connecting with other black students. It’s comforting to be around other black students as they understand my experiences and challenges as they’ve likely faced similar ones, such as blatant racism and microaggressions.”

Troy, third year:

“Overwhelming whiteness of Exeter feels kinda isolating compared to the diversity of South london. Also not as easy to get hair products lmao.”

Samira, third year:

“Honestly the black experience in Exeter is good when you have other black people around you. There’s a sense of community that societies like the ACS and SCA create that makes the city feel more like home.”

What does black history month mean to you?

Anonymous student:

“I see it as a time on campus to celebrate and recognise students and staff of black heritage at the university and within the Exeter community. On campus, I think it’s a chance to recognise the works of some black authors, writers and creators. In previous years, the university made an effort to promote black authors in the student guild by placing books for students to read there during black history month. Although I suppose it was not widely talked about so not many people would have been aware of it – perhaps this is something that may need to be improved upon and maybe it would be nice to see books like this placed in there all year round along with the other books as opposed to just the one month.”

“The ACS host a lot of socials throughout the year and during BHM to which bring together lots of people from different African and Caribbean backgrounds which aids in celebrating black people all year round and not just the single month which I think is really good. So I think some effort has been made to celebrate black history month in Exeter but there is possibly room for more improvement, namely more awareness being raised by the uni of the things that are going on during the year.” 

Unathi, second year:

“For me, black history month should be a time of celebrating the good leaders that black people have as we don’t get to see many people that look like us. It is also a time to learn about the history of those that looked like me and to see how far society has come or in what areas we could develop. I wouldn’t say black history month is a time to solely focus on black people in the way of making them superior to others, but more so see the part, just like any other race, black people have played in our society and celebrate the way they did so in unique ways. Which  I feel as though Exeter doesn’t do much of and could work on a bit more (even when it comes to other ethnicities).”

A spokesperson from the University of Exeter said: “The University of Exeter is working hard to make a difference to the day-to-day experience of Students of Colour across our Exeter and Cornwall campuses through a number of initiatives. We have continued to enhance the diversity of our community, but know that there is more progress to be made.”

“Our students from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority communities can access culturally appropriate support from our Wellbeing Services, and there is a range of information and support available through our Students’ Guild, which includes community pages and mailing lists, as well as societies such as the African Caribbean Society (ACS), Students of Colour Association (SCA) and the Queer & BAME Collective. Students of Colour can also take up positions of influence through the Guild Advisory Board and EDI Advisory Board.”

“The University of Exeter is committed to supporting equality, diversity and inclusion and our efforts to create a more inclusive and diverse university community have been recognised through the Race Equality Charter bronze award. We have identified five key priorities to drive this work forward and are committed to working with and listening to our students and colleagues as we progress towards our goal of becoming an anti-racist university, as set out in the University’s 2030 Strategy. We welcome our students’ participation in our equality groups and networks and would encourage you to reach out to our EDI team to find out more about these.”

If you’re interested in getting involved with Black History Month in Exeter, then here are all the events happening in Exeter for Black History Month. If you feel you are a minority at the University of Exeter, follow the SCA (@exetersca), the Student’s of Colour Association, for events promoting inclusivity and welfare. The ACS (@exeteruniacs) offer a vibrant community promoting African and Carribean culture within a student-led group.

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