Serena Cole, President of Trinity College Students’ Union
Black History Month is about reflection, celebration and understanding and we aim with this exhibition to not only look to the past but also the future.
Last year, we had the first exhibition for Black History Month in Trinity College. We called it “Succession”, to illustrate: development, handing over and moving forward. At the end of ecological succession, an area can reach a climax community. In Trinity, we are still on this journey and look forward to the future of a stable and supported community through succession.
Trinity College is a community. Within this larger community, the presence of the black community must be collectively recognised. The celebration of Black History Month 2020 proved pivotal in bringing together the black community for the first time. This experience has heightened a sense of camaraderie when moving through Cambridge.
Each person’s experience is unique. The portrait series celebrates the individual’s relationship to the community and values them as an integral member. We have added the newcomers into the exhibition this year to welcome them to Trinity. This will help, we hope, to reflect a part of a student’s identity back at them and contribute towards a more congenial environment.
At a much larger level, the aim of this exhibition hopes to convey the message that society – and the premier educational institutions within it – must understand, accept and make space for the black community.
Black History Month is about understanding, reflection and celebration. We aim with this exhibition to facilitate all three and to move towards a better future. We hope that you enjoy it and use it to reflect on yourself, celebrate the achievements of the black community and understand some of the black experience.
Gates Cambridge Scholar, MPhil in Social Anthropology
To be a member of Trinity College is a surreal experience. My family descends from the victims of US slavery, and I am proud of my heritage. Yet, I am standing in Cambridge, where Trinity, in particular, reminds me of fairy tales I heard growing up. It is hard to reconcile those two realities. Beyond the genuinely shocking beauty of the physical place, I have found it increasingly strange to be a member of one of the largest colleges on campus and be one of a handful of people that look like me.
While I have worked extremely hard to be here, many other Black students are equally qualified to be in this space. To be a member of Trinity is an honour and a privilege, but it’s also a call to action for me. Black students are worthy of intentional support and space in institutions of learning like Trinity College. During my time here, I am eager to work to leave Trinity as a space where Black students can thrive.
Malachi Kikiopeoluwa Ajayi
First-year undergraduate, Human, Social and Political Sciences
While my hard work has played a part in me getting here, it’s mostly attributable to factors outside my control, and a lot of luck. Two good parents, a good group of friends, growing up in a first world country, and access to good schools through bursaries and scholarships. These opportunities are not afforded to most people.
When I applied to Cambridge I didn’t even know that there was a college system, I just clicked Trinity when choosing a college because it was the only one I’d heard of. I guess things just have a way of working themselves out. All I can do is try to grab the opportunities that come my way with both hands, make the most of them, and pave a way for those after me to pursue their goals also.
First-year undergraduate, Engineering
When I shared the details of my application to Trinity with my peers and mentor, I was met with a shocked silence and even asked “why would you pick the private school one?” A knock to my confidence that almost confirmed my own doubts.
I am still finding my place in this new community and remind myself that after how hard I have worked to get here and the many prayers, I am just as deserving of my spot as anyone else. As I learn to take every interaction at face value and shed the ideas I’ve been fed about how my experience “should” look, I am excited to learn more about myself.
It’s been a great consolation to have my mum and younger brother persistently cheering me on and I look forward to accomplishing great things in this new chapter of my life.
Gates Cambridge Scholar, PhD in Education
At Trinity, it’s difficult to talk about Black community in a place where evidence of intentional efforts to ensure Black students have a sense of belonging is lacking. As the College with the largest endowment and one of the largest student populations, to find myself as one of four Black postgraduate Freshers is frustrating. My anticipation is that Trinity reckons with its own practices that have systematically excluded Black scholars and makes palpable progress toward actively integrating us.
In the meantime, it’s fulfilling to see the communities I’ve created for myself and other Black folks like me at Cambridge thrive organically. As a Black woman whose family history includes chattel slavery in the United States, navigating where within the larger Black community I fit has been a journey. As I continue to find and curate community for myself, I am grateful to the Black students who continue to be in community with me.
Second-year undergraduate, Modern and Medieval Languages
I don’t really know what to say about my journey as a black student at Trinity.
For my parents and family, it’s nothing less than a dream come true. To hear my parents talking to friends and family in Nigeria about how their last born now goes to Cambridge, never fails to bring me joy. My time here so far has been marked by developing an overwhelming sense of self. Feeling so seen yet so unseen at the same time. However, the amazing people I’ve encountered on my journey thus far are a sure highlight.
I am an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. I am one of seven black students in my cohort all of whom are so incredibly talented and intelligent; however we are not just ‘the black students.’ We are Cambridge students. We did not get here because we are black but rather because we are brilliant.
‘Black students’ experiences move us, cause concern, frustrate and, yes, challenge us’
Dame Sally Davies, Master of Trinity
I was installed as Master in 2019. It is a tremendous honour to be the first woman elected Master of this prestigious College. It is also a challenge.
Often, change does not come easily to establishments that have been around a long time; the admittance of women in the late 1970s is one such example in Trinity’s 475-year history.
Throughout my career I have often found myself the only woman in the room. While there are more female academics at Trinity, and women heading staff departments, the College has more work to do to attract bright women students, staff and Fellows.
Recently Cambridge has made great strides in enabling more black students to attend this great University and I am proud that Trinity is playing its part in that. Serena Cole, who led the Black History Month Steering Group 2021, is our first black female President of Trinity College Students’ Union. A third-year medical student, she came near the top of her cohort in last summer’s exams.
Still, as the student testimonies in this exhibition make clear, there is work to do. Their experiences move us, cause concern, frustrate and, yes, challenge us.
This student-led initiative, galvanised by the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter in 2020, is designed to invoke debate about what we want our community at Trinity to be and what it can offer students from all backgrounds.
Trinity can live up to students’ expectations and be that extraordinary place of learning and opportunity, firm friendships and new interests, where they can thrive and go on to achievements great and small throughout their lives, if we accept that challenge.
‘Trinity’s students are both our strongest advocates and our sternest critics’
Dr Glen Rangwala, Admissions Tutor and Fellow for Ethnic Diversity at Trinity
It would be easy in an institution such as Trinity to sit back and think the College, which has survived wars, plague and political upheaval across the centuries, will always attract the best and brightest students and academics. What’s there to worry about?
As Admissions Tutor at Trinity and Fellow for Ethnic Diversity I would say ‘plenty.’
There are always many more students with high grades than can be accommodated here. But which students with those grades don’t apply and why? Research shows it is students from less advantaged groups, students who can’t see enough people who look like them, students who feel Cambridge would not welcome them, students who don’t feel this is a place for them.
Cambridge has substantially increased the number of UK black students in recent years, through a combination of targeted outreach, partnerships with organisations such as Target Oxbridge, the Stormzy Scholarships, the Get In Cambridge campaign, and access work by students including through the African Caribbean Society.
All credit to those who gave up their time, effort and money to take part in this work. Trinity, like the rest of the University, is changing – even if the pace of change is slower than many of us would like.
Trinity’s students are both our strongest advocates and our sternest critics. I know from working with our student ambassadors who are committed to enabling students like themselves to apply to and get into Cambridge that they think carefully and cleverly about the purpose of education. They appreciate all that is on offer at Cambridge, while also considering seriously how to improve it – and their role in bringing about that change.
The Black History Month exhibition 2021 underlines that – and it challenges us to do better.