The Black Undergraduates Studying ‘Unconventional’ Degrees

The arts and humanities have a diversity problem. We asked some students what it feels like to be one of the few Black people on their course.

The Black Lives Matter movement didn’t just lead people out onto the streets, it also sparked conversations around the inclusion of Black voices in academia, and decolonisation of the curriculum.

The underrepresentation of Black students at higher educational institutions is nothing new. In 2019, the number of Black students entering university dropped for the first time in a decade, and only 5 percent of British students from Black Caribbean families successfully gained a place at more prestigious institutions, like Oxbridge.

Students doing a degree outside of the stereotypical or traditional scope of people from Black communities are even less visible in higher education. When Black people make it into university, they are broadly thought to study degrees such as Law, Medicine and other popular STEM-related subjects, often associated with the phrase “Black Excellence”, because of the connection to obvious career trajectories and the positive perceptions associated with them.

These achievements should rightly receive praise – no one’s saying people can’t tweet “Black Excellence” to celebrate someone getting a First in Engineering – but Black people aren’t a monolith, and neither is the spectrum of academic interests or abilities in our communities. The overwhelming focus on more traditional subjects can mean that conversations about Black students navigating university are centred around this majority, excluding those studying the arts, humanities and social sciences.

I spoke to five Black undergraduates who are currently studying these “unconventional” subjects.

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