An open letter: Marginalisation in academia


To whoever wants to understand,

I am so profoundly sad. As I write, I cry – the kind of tears that feel as though they will never end, the kind that are experienced in times of deep sadness – they are rare and I cry not just for me, but for everyone.

It is important that I tell my story.

It begins with the letter M:


I have always been marginalised.

I suppose in many ways this comes hand-in-hand with the territory. I am an out-spoken, quirky, mixed-race female with working class roots from a middle-class background. I come from a predominantly white area in Salford and have attended both private and state schools.

Due to my heritage I am connected with countries all over the world, from Jamaica to India, Britain to Canada to those native to Jamaica – the Arawak Indians. My roots spread from continent to continent; I am firmly grounded in an amalgam of complexity and it is safe to say that because of this my experiences vary immensely from my peers.

It is reasonable to say I am often the outsider or the other, in many ways, which stem from both a conscious and unconscious ignorance, I’ve been treated as such. We live in a society where difference is immediately associated with wrongness and because of this I have experienced marginalisation, prejudice and racism in its many-faced forms, all of which are cruel, vicious and ugly.

I have suffered at the hands of my peers and teachers alike. This was especially problematic the three years I attended private school and I was subjected to horrific torment and verbal abuse. It is these experiences that shaped some of my most important years and they will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is because of this I am aware of a deeply ingrained racism and elitism that is inherent within the world of education. I suppose that is what inspired me to write this article, a recent situation at university which – as unintentional as it may have been – left me feeling extremely uncomfortable.

One of the course texts Three Lives, written by Gertrude Stein, was abhorrently racist and I’m not talking about the kind of racism that is addressed constructively, or racism that establishes social and historical context, I’m talking down-right blatant racism with no reasonable justification.

The story told the lives of three women, two white and the other girl of mixed-race background, or “mulatto”. My mixed heritage made me immediately connect with this character – at what other point am I going to find a mixed-race woman represented on an English Literature course? 


I read the story only to be met with repugnant words that left me feeling bitter for days; the word “nigger” was used multiple times in both the dialogue and the narrative voice. When the time came for the lecture the novel was introduced as a “Negro” text, and it was at this moment that I felt there was something wrong. I felt that I was not a student studying in 2017 Britain but had in fact time-travelled back to the not-so-distant past, to a time when it was considered progressive to call black people Negroes, to a time when institutionalised racism was not considered racism at all.

The mixed-raced girl depicted, Melanthca, was ‘half white’ and had been ‘half made with real white blood’; this not only drew attention to the fact I was the only mixed-race woman in the room, but the only person of colour too.

When the tutor was questioned about the racism inherent within the novella he did indeed acknowledge the prejudice within the text, but argued that the use of innovative language overshadowed this, stating that it was acceptable because it was a highly original artistic endeavour.

I was shocked: artistic genius does not justify racism, not ever and certainly not now. It is the implementation of this age-old ideology that is so apparent in modern academia; it is both wrong and concerning. Academic institutions are a place where new ideas are supposed to flourish, yet in reality it is where outdated modes of thinking thrive.

Someone in the seminar asked the tutor if he thought it appropriate for a white, middle class woman to assume the experiences of a mixed-race working class female. The tutor replied that denying the re-writing of another’s experiences would be to deny the imagination; he wholeheartedly failed to recognise the implications behind this for someone like me.

It is clear he has spoken from a position of privilege and a position of ignorance, standing above all as a white middle class male and a university professor. It is this pedestal that blinkers not only his perception but many other academics.

It was an extremely alienating situation and for the first time in many years I became hyper-aware of my ethnicity. I was the elephant in the room, an imposter – why was I in a room full of white people, studying English literature at a highly-rated academic institution? It scares me that this is a question I felt necessary to ask.

My argument here is not that we do not study texts that include racist narratives and rhetoric; it is a part of history that we all need to embrace. Rather it is the way that these texts are embraced that needs to be considered. If we are to progress further and away from racist structures then they need to be dealt with sensitively; the racism should not be overlooked. If the texts are racist then it needs to be discussed sensitively, with an awareness of how it may makes “the other” feel. Whether people like it or not the nature of our ever-diversifying society means that more and more people like me will be accepted into academic institutions.

Awareness is necessary.

Change is necessary.

But change only occurs when we use our voices.

I want to reiterate: just because prejudice isn’t overt does not mean it doesn’t exist. It is subtle, it is hidden and it is discreet. But I cannot hide and nor will I. I do not want sympathy. I do not want pity. I want empathy. I want understanding. I want to be heard. I want change.

This article was originally posted on Aimie's blog; Digging With Duggan

Freedom of Speech vs. Safe Spaces: A Crisis of Debate at UK Universities?


Flickr/The Weekly Bull

University is a place where open debate should be embraced; a place where differences of opinion on political, social, economic and religious issues are exchanged, and crucially, a place where intolerance and irrational hatred are challenged and ultimately discredited.

This philosophy was reflected in open letters to The Times, in January 2015, and to The Guardian in February 2015, in which 24 Vice Chancellors and 500 academic professors, stated that UK universities should be “centres for debate and open discussion, where received wisdom can be challenged”.

Nevertheless, the recent exclusions, or ‘no-platforming’, of prominent speakers, including the feminist writer Germaine Greer by Cardiff University, and the LGBT human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell by the NUS LGBT officer, has highlighted an increasingly noticeable issue of co-ordinating open debate on contentious issues, whilst ensuring the provision of ‘safe spaces’ for students whose emotional well-being may be affected.

As a result, according to Peter Tatchell, the race amongst student bodies “to be more left-wing and politically correct than anyone else is resulting in an intimidating, excluding atmosphere on campuses”.

This is a view shared by Joanna Williams, an expert in education at the University of Kent, who has suggested that in today’s “marketed and consumer-driven higher-education sector, many students have come to expect freedom from speech”, which includes “safe spaces free from emotional harm or potential offence”.

However, the right to freedom of speech includes the right to potentially offend those whose personal opinions are closely tied to their identity.

Of course, a right is not synonymous with a duty; yet the ability to counter ideas which students find objectionable is crucial in students’ intellectual development.

Indeed, as Louise Richardson, political scientist, and newly instated Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University stated on the day of her formal installation: “Education should be about confronting ideas you find objectionable… fashioning a reasoned argument against them, confronting the person you disagree with and trying to change their mind, whilst being open to them changing your mind. This isn’t a comfortable experience, but it is a very educational one”.

This belief is further echoed by Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, who regularly seeks to “challenge students, confront them with views they find unfamiliar, uncomfortable, even shocking, and to take them intellectually out of the ‘safe space’ which, in turn, encourages her students to argue with those with whom they fundamentally disagree, or whose views they might find offensive”.

However, this should not undermine the right, and indeed duty, of student bodies to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all students.

The concept of ‘safe spaces’ is primarily concerned with safeguarding the most vulnerable within the student community, and has stood as a forceful counterpoint to disturbing trends in student life, such as a misogynistic lad culture.

Furthermore, as Tim Squirrell, a former president of the Cambridge Union has highlighted; some issues, which are open to debate, “are not abstract issues. They affect real people”.

Therefore, according to Squirrell, “if you think your case is offensive, you haven’t found the right case to make… There are ways of debating these things which aren’t hurtful”.

Nevertheless, the policy of ‘safe spaces’ has too often been utilised in a reactionary manner, with little foresight as has to how such a policy might impact upon students’ intellectual development.

University should indeed be a ‘safe space’; a ‘safe space’ for free speech, for robust debate, for challenging dogmas and bigoted ideas, and for students to develop the intellectual courage with which to discredit objectionable views and prejudices.

Lad Culture: Why are we STILL debating this?

Slutwalk Trafalgar Square, June 2011 – Flickr/Garry Knight

I am sure you’re sick of reading the words “lad culture”. So am I and so are the other women who have experienced it at university. But despite the numerous articles, campaigns and research carried out into tackling lad culture on UK campuses, it is still rife. Until this culture is eradicated, we must keep talking about it, highlighting it and challenging it and its culprits.

During my Fresher’s week it seemed  anything went; drinking copious amounts of alcohol, making new friends, wearing ridiculous costumes and singing at the top of your voice on a double-decker bus. One of the songs we sang went: “Now she’s dead but not forgotten, dig her up and fuck her rotten.”

At the time, in my drunken haze, I didn’t even contemplate what I was singing. Looking back, this chant is downright disgusting and extremely disturbing. What makes it worse is that we were taught this chant by older, sober representatives who were supposed to be there to look after us. Why did we all think this was normal?

This is not banter.

I know what many of you will be thinking: “it’s just a song it doesn’t matter”, “lighten up it’s just banter”, “stupid girl, get over it”. And maybe you’re right, after all it is just a song. But I don’t really consider necrophilia to be banter. This was the first time I witnessed lad culture at play, and it definitely would not be the last.

To be one of the “lads” you’re expected to drink heavily, sleep around and then discuss your “conquests” with the rest of the “lads” over a cheeky Nandos and a pint. One of the most famous examples of lad culture in action comes from the rugby boys at LSE.

At the LSE’s freshers’ fair, the male rugby team handed out leaflets in which they described women as “trollops”, “mingers” and “slags”. It went on to describe women who play sport as “beast-like women who only play so they can come out with us on Wednesdays”. The leaflet also detailed part of their initiation, which included “pulling a sloppy bird”.

The disgusting laddish behaviour of university sports teams struck again, but this time a bit further North at a Durham University college. Members of the college rugby team played a game called “It’s not rape if…” at their social, where each of the players had to find a way to finish off the sentence. These are just two examples, but I am sure you are all recounting similar instances from your own universities or colleges.

Of course all of this was just “banter”, just part of the culture of university. But within the university environment lad culture is flourishing and becoming more and more dangerous. If we keep defining these offensive, sexist and misogynistic acts as just “banter” and “laddish” antics, we are heading down a slippery slope.

A survey by the NUS in 2014 revealed that 1 in every 4 students at UK universities have been subject to unwanted sexual advances. Hidden Marks reported that 1 in 7 women had experienced serious sexual or physical violence at university, and 68% had been sexually assaulted.

From incidents such as groping and forceful kissing, to games such as “pull the pig” (where the task is to get with the least attractive girl in the club) and “harpooning” (the largest girl), to un-consensual drunken sex and un-consensual sober sex. The dangerous lengths lad culture stretches too are clearly far beyond  boyish behaviour.

Lad culture is clearly synonymous with sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault on our university campuses.

Calling it what it is.

It’s time we stopped calling this behaviour “lad culture” and start calling it what it is: misogyny. How can sexism and harassment at university be something that we continue to ignore? How can we live in a supposedly equal gender society and still be okay with lad culture? How can so many people come forward to oppose this culture, and campaign for its end, yet its still so rife?

Universities across the UK have been too slow to get involved with this issue, consistently sweeping the problem under the rug until something serious occurs. But by that point it is too late? UK universities need to increase their resources and focus their time more wisely, in order to tackle a problem that affects 37% of the female student population and 12% of males.

Distributing “consent quizzes” at the Freshers fair (instead of the free pens and drinks vouchers) is a good place to start, and holding consent workshops is even better. However, we still have a long way to go before grabbing a girl in a nightclub and these vile chants and games are seen as sexual harassment and not just “laddish behaviour”.

For more articles related to feminism and lad culture, check out Evie’s blog here


A student guide to Newcastle

So, you’ve moved to university in Newcastle and you’re all settled in but what now? In all likelihood, your first year timetable isn’t that full which means you have a fair bit of free time on your hands and staring at your laptop, binge watching a TV series on Netflix, is only fun for so long.

There’s tons of things to do in this famous North East city that are sitting right under your nose, so make the most of your free time now because soon enough deadlines are looming, months pass by and suddenly you’re about to graduate, which means only one thing – entering the world of work.

Here’s a list of 10 things to do in Newcastle in your first year at University:


Even if you’re on the tightest of budgets, it’s still possible to eat out, and frequently too! Different people prioritise different things of course but if like me, you love food, there are so many restaurants and cafes with student friendly prices. My personal favourites are: Kafeneon, Mascalzone, Fat Hippo and Alvinos.


Newcastle is notorious for its nightlife and there’s no denying it, it’s pretty damn good. It’s cheap, always busy and always a laugh (especially when you end the night in Flares). Just make sure you actually turn up for that 9am the next day…

Pleased to Meet You restaurant, Newcastle.


The location of Newcastle is one of it’s best qualities. A few minutes walk away from leafy Jesmond, twenty minutes from the coast and an hour from Edinburgh, make the most of it and explore! If you haven’t had a trip to Jesmond Dene and Tynemouth beach by the end of the academic year, I’m going to be very disappointed!


You may be an avid sports fan or you may care about it as much as people care about Katie Hopkins’ opinions, but can you really say you live in Newcastle and not go to a match at St James’ Park? Look out for deals from your students’ union for super cheap tickets!


If you’d rather take part in a sport than watch it, there’s a heap of clubs you can join at your university, as well as budget priced gyms across the city. You could even dabble in Yoga, with Yogalillies offering a great student membership or utilise the many parks in the city, and take in the scenery on a jog with your friends.




It may not the be the warmest city in the world (and yes, it is true about the wind) but Newcastle is a beautiful city, with some amazing views on display. Whether it’s a walk along the Quayside and across the Millennium Bridge, or a scenic stroll through the old town, wrap up warm and get your phone at the ready, because Instagram won’t know what’s hit it…

Look up

Newcastle has the most stunning architecture, especially in the city centre, which can be quite unusual for a city. As you walk around, look up and take in the amazing surroundings.

Take part

University is one of the only opportunities you will get to join loads of weird and wonderful societies, try them out and hopefully take up a new hobby! Make the most of this time, have a look at all the societies on offer and if you don’t see one you like, start one yourself!

Grey Street, City Center.


If nights out drinking aren’t your thing, but you want to get out of the flat and have a good time, why not go to a comedy club? The Stand in the centre has some great live, stand up acts on every week and it’s cheap as chips! Plus, it’s been said that laughing can tone your stomach muscles so really, it’s like a free gym class…


Everyone knows that one thing students have in abundance is spare time. You might be told you need to get a job, have a new hobby and be doing things all the time “whilst your young” – but it’s also ok to do nothing. Kick back with a book or a TV series, make a cup of tea and relax, guilt free.

So there we have it, ten ways to make the most out of your first year at university in Newcastle. I hope you found it somewhat helpful, and if it at least inspired you to do one thing you hadn’t thought about before, my work here is done.

If you’d like to read more posts on where to eat, drink and visit in Newcastle, head over to my blog, Written by Girl, where you’ll find the ultimate “Student Guide to Newcastle”.


Film on Campus: Take 2 Cinema

Take 2’s crucial selling point may easily be the price of a ticket. Where else can you go to the cinema for £3 a pop? Though Lancaster’s Vue does deliver showings at the point of release for those frothing at the bit for the next big title, it’s a safe bet those same films will come to campus three months later. Due to this, Take 2 is perfect for those late to the game regarding the next big feature, or alternatively wanting round two with their new favourites.

You have to be pretty on the ball to catch the films you want to see, screenings typically only lasting a couple of days, but this is to be expected from a small cinema with a high film turnover. Over the past couple of years I’ve caught titles like The Avengers, Les Miserables and Cloud Atlas, in all cases the cinema providing a good service. Additional selling points include its close proximity to Bowland bar and fresh popcorn catering courtesy of Unicorn. Notably, it’s one of the few student cinemas to have a 3D projector.  The long and short of it: Take 2 is a good cinema and worth supporting, particularly because it’s entirely run by students.

In talking to Meg Bates and Hannah Davis, the president and vice-president of the cinema society, I gained more insight into how Take 2 operates. The group is comprised of projectionists and stewards, executive roles including the acquisition of films and posters, the training of society members and publicity.A new projectionist can expect five weeks’ training before being given the reins for a particular screening. After this, they are expected to run one screening per term. The perk: free films.

Take 2 Cinema Review Nathaniel Spain

It all sounds very neatly organised, though not without difficulties. Projector maintenance and making sure the received films are licensed can throw a spanner in the works, sometimes leading to cancellations. Thankfully these are pretty irregular. Anyone is welcome to join the society and they can be contacted via or through Facebook.

Perhaps Take 2 misses out on something through focusing on popular recent releases. The convenience of its location and the fact it is student-led has the potential to give people access to more unusual films on the big screen. As to be expected, however, this is dictated by audience size. I’m told that foreign language films and documentaries don’t get much of a look-in, these kinds of features typically drawing in only a handful of people. Democratic enough.

Take 2 is planning to show a greater number of older films, anyway, including a sci-fi week featuring Ghostbusters and 2001: A Space Odyssey (excellent), and a Lord of the Rings marathon, tickets for which will shortly go on sale. Next term also sees big releases like the latest instalments of the Hobbit and Hunger Games series, as well as Alan Turing’s biopic The Imitation Game. Screenings show Thursday-Monday with tickets costing £3 with a Purple card or £4 without – making for great cinema experience on a student budget.

If you’re interested in checking out Take 2 you can view a sneak peek at some of the films they have on offer for Lent Term here.

By Nathaniel Spain



A Survival Guide For Impending Graduates

The time has come. Soon you will be adorning your robes and posing awkwardly with a piece of paper you’ve flogged your guts out for 3 years or more to achieve… I am the only one who is terrified by the prospect of leaving education and joining the “real world”? Worse still, am I the only one who finds the prospect of remaining in education more daunting than leaving it?

  1. ‘So, are you on a Grad Scheme?’

No. No I’m not. Yet it seems like all my peers are, or at least attempting to get onto one. For me, diving into a scheme in a blind panic that I’ll be left well-educated but penniless and intellectually wasted seems wrong. I need to dip my toes into the world of work and discover what will inspire to get up in the mornings. Chasing a Grad Scheme seems a viable option to find that out for many people, but for me, somehow it feels too linear: you’ll do this, then this, then this, and within two years you’ll be on a £28,000 salary as a manager of this suburban store.

  1. ‘So, you’ve actually no idea what you want to be?’

No I don’t. And at 21, I find that no bad thing. We live in a society where it is a cultural norm to ask children from such young tender ages what they wish to be when they grow up. Why can’t we just accept them, as children? Why are we so fixated on ideal conceptions of our future selves? I wish to know how the interests in the career ambitions of five-year-old children are in any way constructive. Have we been tricked into a view of life where the desire for happiness – in the most part – economic security, guides us to live for the future and not the present. Do not mistake me, I am not the sort to write ‘Carpe Diem’ in my twitter bio; yet I see no real reason why present happiness must be subordinated for future conceptions.

  1. ‘You can’t just amble though life, and fall into something, you know.’

This is something I would have likely said before graduation became impending. But the more I think about how I’m going to address this next chapter of my life the more I realise that planning doesn’t really work anyway. When was the last time life didn’t get in the way of a ‘To Do List’ you made? I feel the best way to approach graduate life is to dip your toes into the icy cold waters of potential opportunities – those that scare you but excite you – until you feel brave enough to jump, wholeheartedly, into one of them. Like you would a freezing cold lido in the British summertime.

  1. ‘Oh, you’re considering a gap yah?’

A lot of us do, and at the end of it the majority of people say it was the best thing they did. I, like many of you I’m sure, feel as though I don’t really know who I am yet. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath, I know pretty much what I like and dislike, but I couldn’t tell you who I am. Perhaps I should stop trying to decipher it, and instead, lose myself in culture, language, food, fauna and landscape. I want to feel immersed by lifestyles unknown, and forget that not three months previously I was sat at a library desk with a packet of Hobnobs staring at the word count of my assignment. But please, let us not do the generic finding-oneself-in-Thailand-laying-across-a-chained-tiger-thing. Instead, pick somewhere different; don’t pick anywhere for its beaches, or its price on Skyscanner. This is the time when we’re most able to travel the world properly – so grab Lonely Planet’s ‘The Best Place to Be Today’ – read it, and realise. There may be a smattering of financial idealism within this sentiment, but there are always ways around it. Work as you travel, or work in Starbucks misspelling people’s names for 6 months to earn your journey.

  1. ‘Tick Tock, Tick Tock, the time is running out!’

Don’t listen to people who try and tell you to stop dithering and make real life choices. I’m not condoning a life of festering under your duvet binge watching Netflix, but I do mean to say that it is OK to take life at your own pace. We’re allowed days of indecision, and equally, we should embrace the days where we find happiness and excitement. Follow them, but let no one rush you into them.

If you enjoyed this, and would like to listen to someone perhaps more eloquent and funnier than I have been here, I urge to watch Tim Minchin’s Graduate Speech at the University of Western Australia, if you’ve not watched it already. I found this after I wrote the article, but found it most pertinent to the points made here.

By Beth Kirby


[Image Credit: bensonk42]

I Drink, Therefore I am: On Hitting the Bottle

Prior to coming to University I was what some may call a seasoned drinker – being 23 and having been committed to inebriation since the age of 15 – I feel I can say I know a little about the sometimes  cruel mistress that is alcohol, although admittedly I am still doing my apprenticeship in getting blotto by some standards.

So when I heard the news from the ‘New England Department of Medicine’ that daily intake of the old booze can improve your health I . . . well . . . reached for the bottle!

‘Drinking a glass or two of wine, beer or any other kind of alcohol everyday can significantly reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack, according to a large new study that is the first to examine whether drinking occasionally or daily is the best strategy for taking advantage of alcohol’s health benefits. Research also shows clearly for the first time that drinking any kind of alcohol — not just red wine — can protect the heart.’

Washington Post 

I rolled this information around my tongue with an approbation usually reserved for a Tennessee Twist (other bourbon based cocktails are available) from Grizedale bar. It’s so tantalising, not just the occasional drink, the daily drink. As we were all told in our childhoods ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Now my decision to hurl the acidic heartburn inducing fruit into the bin and reach for the corkscrew seems a good one.

It was the so-called French paradox that started the inquiry into the medicinal effects of alcohol in the first place.  American physicians, while taking their sober tours of Paris went to restaurants where they predicted from observation that all the diners would be dead or dying within a year.  Then they went back — perhaps after attending a few funerals for their own colleagues — and saw the selfsame French still sluicing away and looking more joyously fit than ever. We’ve all met more old drunks than old doctors, haven’t we?

Well, that surely couldn’t be right, what is about the French that prolongs their merriment?  But an unsmiling and forensic look at the statistics confirmed that there was less heart disease in France, and meticulous scientific investigation then isolated red-wine consumption as the key variable.

The relationship between the odd tipple and mental well-being is much more oblique, and even more fraught.  But methinks there is a connection. The Ancient Greeks hit upon fermentation and employed it to lubricate their symposium. They would then review their decisions in a sober light, if the intoxicated and sober mind matched, the decision was a good one. In moderation, yes of course, if you insist . . . but how was ‘moderation’ established except by transcending itself just a bit?  John Keats expressed this point with a beautiful deftness of touch in his ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ which is actually not all that much about birdsong:

‘O for a draught of vintage!  that hath been / Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth, / Tasting of Flora and the country-green, / Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth! / O for a beaker full of the warm South! / Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, / With beaded bubbles winking at the brim…’

These are, indeed, matters of the heart as well as of the mind.  For me alcohol has prolonged conversation, made me more vivacious and sometimes, most importantly, made experiences less boring. But something in the Puritan soul is committed to keeping people/themselves on the ‘straight’ road, even when it may not necessarily be for their own good.

I pretty much subscribe to the Christian position on alcohol which condones ‘the fruit of the vine’ and holds that alcohol is a gift from God to make life more joyous, but of course warns against the sin and vice of over indulgence. Common sense and conscience play their role.

One of my favourite things about alcohol is the sheer number of terms us Britons have for getting drunk, it actually esteems my patriotism more than . . . the Olympics did. Here is a few: sozzled, three sheets to the wind, sloshed, wasted, hammered, inebriated, blotto, steaming, lashed, Brahms and Liszt, bladdered, hammered, off your face, merry, squiffy. The list goes on. I urge people to comment below other terms for drunk which they have heard, it would be interesting to see how many there is.

In conclusion, make no mistake, this is not an ode to getting wasted, I am highly critical of the binge drinking culture which pervades this country, I’d like to see a tightening on opening times and higher duty placed on alcohol. Little and often is my modus operandi. I am just committed to happiness in the pursuit as well as the pursuit of happiness.

By Matthew Page

[Image Credit: Kyle Sullivan]