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A Class Act

Three women at Trinity talk about Class Act, a group set up to support and represent students from backgrounds underrepresented at Cambridge.

Terri-Leigh Riley
Terri-Leigh Riley

Terri-Leigh Riley, Schools Liaison Officer 

Since 2014, I’ve been working on greater representation at Cambridge for students from working class and other underrepresented backgrounds, and set up our first online campaign group. We faced a lot of criticism at first, but lots of working class students at Cambridge and those from other similar backgrounds were equally passionate about the cause.

Professor Catherine Barnard, Senior Tutor of Trinity and a first-generation academic, was one of the first people to really get on board with the idea. This really gave me and other students the confidence to go ahead with organising events and discussion groups.

We set up two sister groups, Cambridge Social Diversity and Cambridge Working Class students, running a joint mentoring scheme and social events.

The current group is Class Act, which CUSU’s Access & Funding Officer, Éireann Attridge, established. It supports and represents students who are one or more of the following: working class, first generation to go to university, state comprehensive educated, low income, care-leaver and estranged from their families. We have a committee of eight and I’m the Campaigns Officer. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved so far and very excited about our future events.

Ellie Wood, Schools Liaison Officer 

We wanted to develop a community of students from working class and non-traditional Cambridge backgrounds who could meet other students with shared or similar experiences.

Terri-Leigh and I work closely together on the Class Act committee; currently I am General Secretary. We’re trying to get Class Act recognised as an official campaign under CUSU, which would allow us to access funding and greater organisational support.

Over the year or so since Class Act was set up, we have organised a range of events to bring the community of students it aims to represent together. These have ranged from laid-back meet-ups and formal dinners to collaborative events with the likes of FLY and the BME Campaign.

We’ve been very grateful for the (particularly financial) support of Trinity in the last year, without which we would never have been able to run some of the events, particularly two formal dinners, the first of which had 50 attendees, and the second over 120, from almost every College in Cambridge.

We also ran a ‘meet the students’ session with tea and cake every week of the CUSU Shadowing Scheme – this scheme enables talented Year 12 students from schools with little tradition of sending students to universities like Cambridge to gain an insight into life here. Over three days, participants accompany student to their classes, try out societies and go to a formal hall.

Professor Catherine Barnard, Senior Tutor 

When Terri-Leigh raised the idea of a group for and by working class students it struck a chord. Cambridge works hard to attract the brightest students from all walks of life. Achieving the grades and getting here is one thing – fulfilling your potential and enjoying all that Cambridge has to offer is another.

That’s why I welcomed Terri-Leigh’s initiative which, by giving voice and providing support and opportunities to students from a range of backgrounds underrepresented here, will empower them – and show school pupils wondering if Cambridge is for them that, yes, it really is.

Things have changed since I was a student. I think Cambridge is more open and inclusive now, but there is plenty more to do!

Colleges like Trinity may look grand and with our long history we have many traditions, but we are determined to be open to the best regardless of background, and to ensuring as broad a range of students as possible feel at home here.

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