Being unapologetically and authentically Black in Cambridge

Taking up space is difficult in an institution like Cambridge but some freshers are trying to change that…

Being a Black student in Cambridge is never easy. If you’re not being asked “oh you mean Anglia Ruskin” when you tell people what uni you attend, you’re being met with an onslaught of racism, proudly displayed colonial history, general ignorance and last but certainly not least, people who believe that you’re only here to fill a diversity quota… because of course you could never be smart enough to get here on your own. To put it simply… it’s rough.

However, first year student Will Awomoyi organised a photoshoot with many other Black freshers to show that Black students are here to stay. These photos also emphasise the fact that we are not the “typical” Cambridge student and that is not something that should be looked down on, but instead it is something that should be celebrated. In these photos, you can see many of the students dressed in traditional clothing in order to embrace their individual cultural heritages, an aspect of their identity which Black students are often forced to water down in order to “fit in” with the standard, which is usually whiteness.

Photo Credit: Lesley Lau

We all know the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” and these pictures are no exception. Together, they tell a story, a story of taking up space in an institution that was not made for us and continually reminds us of that fact, whether that’s through the lack of Black hair shops across the city or the lack of proper consequences that non-Black students receive for saying the n-word in clubs. However, these pictures show that Black students have been able to rise, in spite of the elements of this institution that continue to pull us down. Throughout my time at Cambridge I have been able to see the community of Black people at this university grow and change, the bond that we have been able to form has been one of closeness and support where often there is none. It is a community that works to redefine the perceived definition of intelligence and constantly breaks stereotypes, it is a community that continues to amaze me everyday.

Photo Credit: Lesley Lau

Ultimately, being Black at Cambridge is a unique experience with many highs and many lows. Taking up space within this university will always be important and I think this quote from the students, explaining their motivations behind the photoshoot, encapsulates many of the feelings of Black students across the university:

“We felt it necessary, while studying at Cambridge, to hold on to our roots. At such institutions, there is pressure to make ourselves palatable to meet the criteria of the established status quo. Rather than feeling like imposters in uncomfortable suits and ties, we felt that we should embrace our cultural heritage by wearing something more comfortable- our traditional clothing. We want to encourage those that think they don’t fit the image of the “Cambridge student” to embrace their uniqueness and walk in it, purposefully. This photoshoot therefore represents how we wish to carry ourselves throughout our education here – authentically and unapologetically Black.”

Cover Image: Lesley Lau