Updated: Feb 19
Dani is a 3rd year Geography undergraduate at the University of Exeter and has been involved in Legion Dance Society and now, BIPOC society as Events officer for 2020/2021. In this post, read about her experience as a young black woman in and out of Exeter, how she showcases her creativity and history through dance and spoken word, as well as what changes she would like to see at the university in the future for BIPOC students.
'Although the university is not very diverse, coming from majority-white school, growing up in all-white neighbours, being the only black girl in my year group, at first glance I thought Exeter was an extremely diverse place. But as time went on, I started to realise that diversity isn’t about the number of different races and cultures, but about the representation of these races and cultures, of which there is minimal. As such, although I have met many BIPOC students who I’ve become close friends with and completely changed my experiences living as a Black girl in Britain, there have been many times at the university where I have felt like an outsider like I did not belong. For one, on my BA Geography course, there are no black students, no black lecturers, and as a human geographer discuss frequently ideas surrounding racial geographies and colonialism, and the way white lecturers have approached learning about these ideas, I have found on occasion to be problematic. For example, when talking about slavery, it is evident that my lecturers make a point to look at me, when they’re teaching, when asking a question, as if I myself were a slave and all black people are slaves. Further, it is problematic to me to be learning about racial geographies, colonialism and slavery purely from the perspective and positionality of white lecturers. One lecturer once actually highlighted the lack of black geographers at university that has one of the biggest geography departments in the country in a lecture, but then swiftly moved on. This is not only an academic issue, when it comes to society representation, the university pushes and promotes typically white-dominated societies more than others. It seems to me the only time they even consider or think about non-white society events is during Diwali and Black History Month, and even then the university often shows a difficult and disinterested attitude.'
‘An event that I participated in both first and second year and hope to participate in third year is FemSoc’s Women of Colour Arts Night. In my personal life I have often found myself using creative outlets to express frustration with racist experiences. The outlets I use are dance, as mentioned but also drawing and spoken word poetry. These Women of Colour Arts Night allowed me to have a platform where I could express myself through the creative outlet of spoken word poetry and feel like I’ll really be heard. In first year, I was really battling with my identity of being a Black British woman and how both White people and Black people would ridicule me for not being “black enough” or being “too white” and how this made me feel like I was not enough. Through spoken word I could let out this struggle I was going through, and then go on to perform it. This was such a positive experience for me met with overwhelmingly supportive feedback which encouraged me to express myself through spoken word more. Spoken word is what helps me make sense of the way I’m feeling and provide clarity on how to tackle the challenges I was facing. In second year, when I performed at the Arts Night, I spoke about both the beauty and struggle of being black and how society loves to love everything about black people except their blackness. I also performed a contemporary routine to rap artist Dave’s song “Black”, a song that I connect with on an emotional level due to the way he confronts and interconnects racist societal imagery and ideas of black people with the beauty and uniqueness of black people. The impact of this song is greatly owed to the musicality of it and this what I love about expressing myself through Spoken Word, how tone, dictation, the general use of sound can provoke a visceral reaction in those listening so they not only hear what I’m saying, but they feel it too.’
In my first and second year of university I was part of @legiondanceexeter ,previously named URBN. This society gave me a space where I could be expressive without being judged. I love all styles of dance, but a style I particularly love is contemporary. Growing up I was always too loud, too dark, too big to do more elegant styles of dance and Legion allowed me to express myself through contemporary dance without worrying about being judged. In addition, Legion’s, now-discontinued-style, or Afro-Caribbean dancing gave me a way to express the Nigerian part of my identity and share this part of my identity with others. Especially in my second year, Afro-Caribbean dance classes were full of colour and joy and happiness and culture and we created a community of people who showed an appreciation and love for Afro-Caribbean dancing, we were like a family. And this family would not have been possible if it weren’t for Gabbie Nkom for bringing this style to Legion and Nonye Nwuke and Kelma Jean for turning it into a multicultural family sharing the love for expressing themselves through Afro-Caribbean dancing. Although Legion does have its flaws, like any other society it is learning to be more inclusive and a better ally of black lives. In my third year, I am currently a committee member of the new BIPOC society, and my experience so far has been so amazing and I’m so excited to be able to use my creativity to help circumvent change for the BIPOC community at Exeter university.
Generally, my experience at university as a BIPOC has been challenging, a challenge that is only eased by being able to confide in other black students who are feeling the same way.
I would like to see the university and societies actually show a care for their black and BIPOC students, not only when it’s convenient for them and/or when it’s trending in a genuine, a not performative way. To have events that recognise the different experiences of BIPOC at a “white” campus, throughout the year, that they take time to create and put effort into promoting so that BIPOC actually see it, know about it, are aware of it and feel like their voices matter and WANT to be heard.'
Her BIPOC creative role model is Gemma Chan, a British Asian actress, model, activist, and feminist. Click on the images below to find out more.
Photography by Hanife H Photos @hanifehphotos and Graphics by Andrea de Jong.