Marion Ojua is a final year Law undergraduate at the University of Exeter. She has been on the committee for the Nooma Project, which is a Christian and Jesus-focused society, Exeter African-Caribbean society, and the BIPOC society. In this post, read about her experience at the university, her ventures into theatre and dance, the anti-racism projects she's been a part of, and her future hopes for the University's commitment to their BIPOC students.
"The lack of diversity in Exeter was not that much of a shock to me. Both my primary and secondary school/sixth form were not very diverse, especially with black pupils, so I grew up being used to that environment thinking it was the norm. However, I wanted to attend a diverse institution for once and thought University would be a time to do so. Yet I picked Exeter (lol). I remember when I sat down in a lecture theatre for the 'Introduction to Law' talk at an Open Day, and I was at the front and curious to see who my potential classmates could be so I turned around. Instantly I noticed I was the only black person in the room which filled close to 100 people. Nevertheless, I assured myself I wouldn't be the only black person in my year and I really liked everything else about the University, so why not put it as my firm choice? Since being here I haven't regretted my decision at all! I have joined and been in the committee for amazing societies including @noomaproject , @exeteruniacs and @exeterbipocsociety . I have also made great friendships here and I enjoy the Campus and City.
It is a shame however that Exeter will be known as the place where I experienced my first ever racist hate crime (from a local, not a student). I have also unfortunately encountered numerous racial microaggressions whilst being here. Despite this, I have had and maintained a positive outlook of my time here and these experiences have made me stronger. I will never not be proud to be a black girl."
"I have always loved theatre, acting and performing. I studied GCSE and A Level Drama, as well as performing in the West End outside of school. I definitely wanted to seek out drama/theatre societies at University but when I knew I was coming to Exeter I was unsure if I would find a place I would feel comfortable in. In my 1st year I attempted to attend a taster session for one of the theatre societies but the lack of diversity and general vibe put me off, and I ended up just forgetting about joining any altogether (sad mistake).
This year, I finally decided to put myself out there and audition for the lead role in @theatrewteeth play called 'Hair' (written by @leila_lockley), and I was fortunate to get the role. I was surprised and happy to see a play with a Black female lead that I also connected with, so I feel very humbled to be able to take this role on. I am super excited to be acting and performing again, especially with a brilliant society and fabulous cast and team! I honestly would encourage BIPOC students who are interested in the creative field to not give up at the first hurdle because I am confident you will find an opportunity and a place for you, and it will be worth it!
In my 2nd year I was lucky enough to be introduced to @legiondanceexeter (formerly URBN). I initially attended classes just to support a friend on the committee because although I sing and act, I have never been a dancer. Not at all. I am so glad I stayed because I had such an amazing experience and got to challenge and improve my dancing abilities.
I loved that I was able to explore my Nigerian dance culture and other African and Caribbean dance styles through the Afro-Caribbean Fusion element of Legion, (led by the lovely @nonyenwuke_ and @kelmajean). Even though it was hard work trekking to St Luke's and back in the evenings for rehearsals and learning different dance styles, the society gave me unforgettable memories and I got to meet and befriend the loveliest girls.
The diversity in Legion was encouraging to see in the people, but also the dance styles. This is such a great and important thing that can make BIPOC students welcome and at ease."
"Since entering in 2018, I can say that the University has attempted to improve in the way it addresses diversity and inclusion issues and support for its BIPOC students. The funding for Race Equality and Inclusion projects through the Education Incubator, and approval for a counselling system for BAME students are positive developments this academic year. There have been numerous occasions where the University's actions have not matched with their words, however (especially during Black History Month): it is not enough to just 'talk the talk.' BIPOC students must feel safe and acknowledged on campus and by the University, and there are still areas of improvement when it comes to going beyond being performative.
Students and societies have created great initiatives to address diversity issues at Exeter (like @openingupexeter), and/or to amplify BIPOC voices. I got involved in the @exeterfemsoc #sharethemicnow campaign last year and it was such a great campaign that elevated black female voices. I got to take over the @universityofexeterlaw page for the week, speaking and educating on topics including Cultural Appropriation, Racial Microaggressions, Race and the Law, and more. The Law Society were really great to work with! I also had the pleasure to work with @legiondanceexeter in their IGTV BLM Discourse series, which also gave black students the platform to speak on BLM and anti-blackness. It is great to see students stepping up in parts where the University has not and I would really love to see more of this in the upcoming years."
Photography by @hanifehphotos