Third year who went viral on Twitter explains the reality of being black at Cambridge

‘People won’t accept a black girl is intelligent enough for Cambridge’

Last week, third year student Courtney Boateng tweeted about the exhausting experience of constantly being told that she got into Cambridge because of the "diversity quota."

Courtney had previously replied to a comment, from a young white man, on her personal YouTube account. He expressed his fear of not getting a place at Cambridge because 'his place' would be occupied by 'people like her'. The post went viral, and has since kickstarted a discussion about race and inclusivity at British universities, in particular Oxford and Cambridge.

Courtney told us the following, discussing the importance of representation of ethnic minorities at places like Cambridge and the micro aggressions she faces on a regular basis as a black student.

After the tweets, people came out of the woodworks to tell me that I'm definitely a token black student

A lot of people tried to patronise me, despite the fact that I put my grades in the thread. They were saying that it's because of affirmative action – which isn't even a thing in the UK. People even said stuff like "why do you dumb yourself down by speaking slang?"

But everyone who is at Cambridge is qualified because we went through the same entry process and the same mode of testing. We all sat national exams and got the grades.

I'm glad the story has been covered nationally, because it's making young black girls feel represented

If I was 14 and The Tab wrote an article about a young Ghanian girl who grew up in a council estate in North London, and she was telling black girls they can get into Cambridge despite your race, that would make me feel represented.

After the comment about me being a token black student, I thought: "Wow, bodies like me shouldn't exist in this institution."

I replied to the young man who sent me that message because he didn't seem angry or malicious. He was genuinely concerned and that's what opened my eyes and made me feel like "wow, bodies like me shouldn't exist in this institution." He could not fathom that he couldn't be there, and I could.

If you are worried you won't get in because of people like me, my advice is to focus on yourself, instead of trying to lessen other people's achievements.

I can't even pinpoint the micro aggressions I experience, because they happen so often

When I'm in London, the types of comment this young man expressed wouldn't even get to me. But, because there are so few black people at Cambridge, assumptions are often made about who I am, where I'm from and how I got here in the first place – things like that can get exhausting.

Sometimes people approach me and talk in slang, when I know it's not in their vocabulary. This happens an an attempt to 'help me' understand what they're saying.

I nearly missed my Cambridge interview because I didn't think I'd get in

As soon as I started at Cambridge or even at my interview, it became quite apparent I was different, and it pushed me into a corner. I didn't speak to anyone in the beginning, just because I felt like people would assume I was dumb and shouldn't be there, or that I was a loud black girl.

I spent the whole of first year telling myself I'm not a token student

Even though I got amazing A-Level grades, I felt that spaces like Cambridge weren't for me. Everyone needs to get over this mentality – not just white people, but people of colour as well. We need to fight institutional racism by pushing ourselves to apply in the first place.

For so long, the model Oxbridge student was always imagined as a smart, white middle-class male

That's the body people have in their mind when thinking of a typical Oxbridge student. Much has been done to try and change that through social activism, and because of that, we can now also imagine women in those spaces.

But now people outside of university need to start imagining that body as a person of colour, or someone from the LGBTQ+ community. What about bodies with disabilities? It's hard because as much as higher education institutions should be of access to everyone, it also comes with its own assumptions of the sort of person you must be in order to get there.

And until people can imagine a black girl from North London being intelligent enough to go to an institution like Cambridge, without being outraged, these sorts of racial assumptions won't change.