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Celebrating 70 Years Of Black Women At Cambridge

I’ve long been aware that my place in Cambridge as a black woman is inevitably politicised. Here I am, a minority within a minority, attending an age-old institution which was not only built upon the oppression of my ancestors, but remains a bastion of imperialism and empire. 

For many of us at Cambridge, navigating life at one of the world’s best universities is made infinitely more complicated by our blackness. College staff refer to you by the name of that one other black girl in the year above who looks nothing like you. Peers engage in ‘intellectual debates’ with you about the so called benefits of colonialism, whilst others touch your hair without permission, baffled by its ‘exotic’ nature. 

It’s not all bad though, surrounding me is a strong and illustrious community of highly successful black women, ranging from medical students to those undertaking masters in African studies. If Cambridge has shown me one thing, it is that Black women are and will continue to be intelligent, dynamic and creative – on our own terms. 

A recent example of the communal attitude fostered amongst the black women of Cambridge University was when we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the first black woman ever to attend Cambridge university – Gloria Claire Carpenter. Gloria was from Jamaica and studied Law at Girton College. After studying at Cambridge, Carpenter returned home to Jamaica and worked as a social reformer. Furthermore, she played a crucial role in founding the Faculty of Law at the University of West Indies in Jamacia. 

Outside the neo–classical architecture of the senate house, the university’s central building, where Gloria would have officially received her degree, stood over 50 black female students of Cambridge University. From freshers to PHD students, we stood proudly in a display of unity, holding hands as hundreds of tourists looked on in bemusement taking their own photos of us.