One of the things that surprised me about Durham when I first arrived here was that I immediately felt so welcomed. I mean, I hardly expected not to be embraced by the existing college community, but coming from London – where so many people at my school shared my ethnicity, cultural experiences, and religious upbringing, and the city is diverse in almost every way imaginable – to Durham, where hardly any of my fellow students could relate to these things, definitely made me question how well I would fit in. What I’ve come to realise, though, is that by embracing this, and using this as an opportunity to share my own culture while learning about the backgrounds of others, I’ve gained a whole range of opportunities that I never would have had if I’d just stayed at home. What’s more, I’ve found that events like Castle’s ‘Unique Week’ demonstrate a collective effort from students to better understand, learn from, and appreciate each other – and as Welfare Officer for People of Colour in my college this year, it’s been really exciting to have a say in what we can do to keep celebrating our diversity.
The Welfare Team at University College (a.k.a. Castle) run campaign weeks once or twice a term, with themes ranging from housing advice, alcohol awareness, to sexual health and guidance (or SHAG week, as it’s hilariously known). On this week’s agenda, it’s all about celebrating what makes each and every member of our college ‘Unique’ – with each of the minorities welfare officers hosting a takeover day to promote inclusivity and highlight issues facing disabled, LGBT+, international, and BAME communities at Castle. This year’s packed schedule featured a screening of the film ‘Pride’ by Matthew Warchus, followed by the ‘Express Yourself’ disco, inviting students to don whatever weird and wonderful attire showcases our individuality. The classic ‘Tea and Toast’ obviously made an appearance (see my post about this here), as well as a drop-in session hosted by our International Committee, and a presentation in the hall during mealtimes to raise awareness about disabilities.
When I was brainstorming ideas for my takeover day, I was looking for something light-hearted and fun, which would allow Castle students to engage with the cultures of our BAME community. As I mentioned, I’ve always felt welcomed at university, but equally, it’s been a shock to find out that some of my friends didn’t know anything about Diwali before I invited them to celebrate it with me, or that they’d never even heard of some languages that are spoken in my family all the time. So after collecting suggestions of songs by BAME artists from students in college, I generated a playlist which was then blasted out during mealtimes over the weekend so that everyone could engage with a whole range of different cultures, and hopefully discover some fantastic new music!
Lucy, our Disabilities Officer, highlighted the importance of campaigns like this, stating: ‘Disabilities awareness forms a major part of our Unique Week, particularly within Durham where information and access to support networks differs on a manner of levels from college, to the wider university. Ableist language and the topic of visibility for conditions of invisibility frequently crop up as some of the key issues faced within a University setting wherein the majority of disabilities – whether declared or undiagnosed – are often entirely invisible (such as anxiety or chronic migraines for example). Drawing more awareness to this, directly signposting the range of support available and demonstrating disabilities as dimensions of difference rather than conditions of incapacity is at the core of what we celebrate in our college community!’
Our LGBT+ Officer Skeena seconded this: ‘Unique Week is a great opportunity to highlight issues that the LGBT+ community face as well as put on an event to celebrate us. I raised awareness about the consequences of misgendering and the importance of respecting identities. But I also put on a movie night in order to have a fun event for everyone in college and to share a good LGBT+ movie that many people may have not known about.’
I’ve already heard great feedback about the various elements of Unique Week, and as well as being a week of fun events in college, I’m hoping it will encourage everyone to keep sharing experiences and celebrating our individuality within our college community.
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