Why I wouldn’t do my 3 years as a black student at the University of Kent again06/24/2019
A recent graduate from the University of Kent has told of her difficult experiences as a black student.
Jessica Mayne completed a religious studies degree at the university's Canterbury campus but has now opened up about the challenges of leaving home, enduring racial slurs and an awful experience in her first month of studying, Kent Live reports.
They say the first year of university is the best. I couldn't relate.
The University of Kent in Canterbury was my number one choice. While attending an applicant day, I was immediately put at ease.
The campus was beautiful, my desired course— religious studies — was being taught by world class scholars, and it was not too far from my home in Bromley. I instantly knew it was meant to be.
It is, however, an understatement to say that in September 2016 I was nervous. I dreamt and imagined what this new phase of my life would entail but had no idea what to expect.
The numerous Netflix films I watched, exhibiting the American college experience would never prepare me for the journey I was about to embark on.
“We hate you you f****** n*****” was the racial abuse directed at me by my housemate in my halls of residence. My housemates took personal offence to the fact that I did not want to drink and go out with them.
I was friendly but reserved because I was still acclimatising to life away from home.
Additionally, getting drunk every night and being asked to clean up vomit was not my idea of fun. It was only the first couple of months of university, I wanted to take my time. I had worked so hard to get into university.
It goes without saying that I quickly became the least favourite person in the house.
Living in the most aesthetically pleasing accommodation, Turing College, on campus — jokingly referred to by some as Beverly Hills — could not compensate for living with people I did not get on with.
My bedroom not only became the place where I had to store my kitchenware, it became my sanctuary. However, even my room couldn't shield me from the unedifying sight of strangers using my shared toilet with the door wide open!
It is a notorious attitude that because the first year does not contribute to your final degree, you do not have to work as hard. Whilst many of my first year counterparts were partying nightly, I was determined to excel academically from the outset.
Consequently, I was a first year student stressing out like a final year one.
Carrying the weight of isolation that the first year brought, I feared that my bedroom, my place of refuge, had become a cage, locking me away from all of the enjoyable experiences that the University of Kent had to offer.
I did not regret working hard in my first year because that is what I set out to do.
I did, however, feel that consuming myself solely with my degree was unhealthy and not conducive to forming meaningful relationships and enjoying my university experience outside of academia.
As a British-Jamaican person, I noticed that a wider isolation existed among students of caribbean heritage at university.
In response to this, I co-founded a society, with Louise Mayne, where such students could be represented and elevated. This society, Kent Caribbean Union (KCU), aims to rewrite the narrative by educating, raising aspirations and inspiring all students to fulfill their potential. It was, therefore, to my dismay that KCU had to fight for the right to exist.
Even the backdrop of the 70th anniversary year of Windrush and the infamous Windrush scandal would not motivate some members of the student body to acknowledge our right to be represented.
Second year was the year where I really had to strengthen my time management skills.
In addition to my responsibilities to the society, I devoted time to being an academic mentor and outreach ambassador. By this stage I no longer lived on campus, but privately rented of off campus (closer to Canterbury city centre) with my sister and two other friends — whom I had met during the previous year.
The courses we studied were religious studies, maths and law. The novelty of not living under your parent’s roof soon wears off as you become burdened with the responsibilities that come with independent living.
Luckily, I moved to Canterbury from Bromley and so was never too far away to return to home comforts.
With Canterbury Cathedral within a stone's throw of my house, I was ashamed that by my final year I still I had not managed to visit it. I began to explore the beauty of the city.
Walking down the quaint cobbled streets served as a constant reminder of the rich heritage of this city. The contrast between the lively and progressive student city with the historic sights and buildings never ceases to fascinate me.
This amazement, however, quickly dwindled when I noticed the visible homelessness, something I did not see as often in Bromley.
Canterbury is home to three different universities, accommodating thousands of UK and international students. It is evident that much of the diversity present in the city can largely be attributed to the substantial student population.
I always wonder what Canterbury would look like without such student residents?
This year was the most rewarding as the society soared to new heights. At the Kent Student Awards 2019, KCU, was awarded ‘Group of the Year’ and ‘Outstanding International/Multicultural Initiative of the Year.’
We were also shortlisted for Outstanding Contribution to Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity, being the only group to be shortlisted in more than one category.
The awards ceremony celebrated other inspiring students who are contributing to changes in government policy, campaigning against social injustices and raising awareness of illnesses.
Considering this, not only is there evidently hope for my generation, but I am proud to have unapologetically fought for something I believe in.
Whilst my three years in Canterbury have been physically, mentally and emotionally draining, they have built my character,confidence and inner strength. So would I do it again? No.
Am I happy that I did it? 100% yes. I have left Canterbury, not just with a 1st class degree, but with a better sense of self.
University of Kent statement
A spokesman for the university said: "We do not tolerate any form of racism or racist abuse. We are committed to the promotion of diversity and inclusivity within the University community, and this commitment is underpinned in our Institutional Strategic Plan.
"Through the Student Charter that we developed with Kent Union, the University has also committed to the fair and equal treatment of every person, and to diversity and inclusivity in its student and staff community.
"Our students are also committed to treating fellow students, University staff, visitors, neighbours and all people equally and respectfully, regardless of gender, religion, community background, nationality, race/ethnic origin, disability, marital or other status, responsibilities, sexual orientation or age.
"In order to ensure all students are fully informed when it comes to treating everyone with dignity and respect we created the 'Expect Respect @ Kent’ e-learning module which all students must complete within six months of arriving at Kent."
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