Straight Outta Exeter

In late 2009, actor Emma Thompson labelled Exeter University as “somewhere the BNP would love” –describing the “unpleasant” experiences of her adopted son. It fuelled the suggestion of Exeter as a racially intolerant University. In a frank account, Exeter student TJ Nartey gives his response.

Emma Thompson exeter university Racism TJ Nartey

I have always believed that skin colour doesn’t matter. This belief, however, was tested when I came to the University of Exeter.

When I left Dulwich College, a multi-cultural school with several black people like myself, I had no idea what I was getting myself in to upon arriving at Exeter in the September of 2010. Throughout my final year at Dulwich when I was applying to universities, I was told by various friends about Exeter’s reputation, a ‘white-man university’ as they put it and that I would find it strange down there. I took these warnings with a pinch of salt. How bad could it be? After-all, I have mixed with white people all my life; in fact my best friends were all white. I presumed that I was going to be a minority, but not to the extent that my friends were implying.

I was led to my room in Lazenby House and happened to be the first one there. One by one I greeted my seventeen new housemates and not one was black. Was I surprised? Not really. What are the chances that in my accommodation of only eighteen people I would find one of my own in there? They all seemed great people but immediately I found myself in unchartered territory. How did they view me? Although not an insecure person by nature, I couldn’t help but ask myself this question. I was scared of being prejudged.

In the evening everyone in Exeter Halls had to gather in Lopes dining room for an introductory talk. I entered and there I was, the black stain in a sea of whiteness. Not having a black person in my house was comprehensible, but not one in the whole of Exeter Halls was a massive shock to me. I had made my bed, now I had to lie in it.

As it turned out I was not in fact the only black person at the university. The following day I met three others in Exeter Halls who had arrived a day later and a couple from elsewhere on campus and immediately struck a bond with them. This helped me relax and my levels of paranoia decreased because I knew that I was not the only one. Although the first few days were tough, I now realise that it was me who made them so, and it was me and not my white counterparts who was doing the prejudging: I assumed that people would judge me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I do get a lot of banter from my friends about being black but I expect it and have never been offended by any comment related to my skin colour. I actually find the majority of the jokes hilarious. I have never been the object of genuine racial abuse by anyone here, and do not expect that I ever will.

After studying here in Exeter for a year and a half, my belief that skin colour does not matter has not changed. There is no doubt that I feel different from other people, but I suppose that's normal. The contrast between my initial thoughts about my four years of university life here to my feelings about them now could not be starker. I have been pleasantly surprised by people’s attitude towards me and it is much appreciated.

Long may it continue.