In May 2019, Cambridge’s pro-vice chancellor Professor Graham Virgo claimed that black students were wary of applying to Cambridge due to the lack of Afro-Caribbean hairdressers. This was amongst other worries including issues about fitting in and affordability. Nevertheless, on paper it would appear that Cambridge had improved on some of these issues leading to a 50% increase in their intake of black students in October 2019. Some have labelled this the “Stormzy effect”, accrediting the press and popularity surrounding Stormzy’s Cambridge scholarship launched in 2018. This, along with the university’s association with Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi, Cambridge graduates and authors of Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change, and YouTuber Courtney Daniella, imply a change in attitude at Cambridge towards black students.
But two current black students at Cambridge are refusing to be silenced any longer. What they have to say demonstrates that while there may or may not be one more Afro-Caribbean hairdresser in Cambridge, the institutional racism and bias that runs through its university has not been dealt with. My first interviewee is Nia-Cerise. Nia-Cerise is a post-graduate student who claims that her experience of Cambridge has been frosty from the start. She says she received a “dismissive welcome from college staff” and struggled to get information on the free bus service offered to off-site students. In a college, where she feels like she is the 1% amongst approximately 700 members, this was a further isolating experience.