By Nina Hanz
On the 24th of this month, the FXU’s Voices Project hosted its first official launch party. On display: Voices Volume one, Black History Month.
Taking inspiration from blogs like Humans of New York and independent magazines, this liberation campaign chose to spotlight the stories of individual students, both from the University of Exeter, Cornwall and Falmouth University. By focusing on the voices that aren’t always heard, a new platform was given to discuss the topics often overlooked on campus. Coinciding with Black History Month, the first volume shared the individual experiences of black students on the Penryn Campus.
And to think this all started over pancakes…
This collaborative project has been the combined efforts of Harry Bishop, the FXU President of Community & Welfare, and the Anchor’s very own Sarah Redman. One day, sat over a stack of pancakes, Bishop and Redman drafted the idea and it grew and grew. From simply sharing photos and captions, an idea of creating a bespoke magazine erupted and soon everyone was willing to help make the plan succeed. And did it.
Besides making these otherwise forgotten tales cemented into the campus’ history, it also allows the idea of liberation campaigns to evolve into a new form for people to interact, both in person and over social media. Such a platform delivers the concept of a liberation movement in a new and inventive way. It is no longer “people the streets and holding placard,” but people hearing someone else’s personal experience in a more tangible form and actually learning from it, as explained by Harry Bishop:
“My mum always told me that experience is the only truth worth knowing. You can read things in texts over and over again, but it doesn’t have any impact. You don’t the reality and the pains behind that.”
The best part comes from when you are flipping through the pages of this magazine, looking at familiar and unfamiliar faces, when you forget that you are accessing liberation movements. I think this is when the real learning experience takes place. Your initial curiosity gets you reading and from there the principals of the liberation movement keeps you reading. And this fosters learning. For example, many people on campus didn’t know the repercussions touching, or rather “petting” a black person’s hair might mean. When I sat down with Bishop before the event, he shared these wise words with me: “My mum always told me that experience is the only truth worth knowing. You can read things in texts over and over again, but it doesn’t have any impact. You don’t the reality and the pains behind that.” I also believe that these voices will echo farther than just the seminar rooms and lunch hall—I think they will be heard by the administrator of our universities, the larger community of Cornwall, and plenty more.
However, such a feat could not be done without the support of the university and the students. Besides the students who volunteered their time to share their stories, other students and staff contributed in the making of this project. Reports from Her Campus (https://www.hercampus.com/school/exeter-cornwall ) and the Falmouth Anchor set out to best tell these stories. Towards the end of the event, I chatted to a few of the student voices, and I had a long discussion with Kirsten Perkins and Joe Ward. As I am a reporter myself, I was interested to hear about what they thought of the interviewing process. To this, Perkins immediately responded, “As daunting at it may seem, it really is a safe space. When I was first being interviewed, I only saw white people and I wondered where the black people interviewing us where and taking out pictures, but genuinely, the FXU have created a safe space.” Besides the student reporting, Kacey Gaylor’s efforts coordinating the whole project, and Nellie Hughes’ talented photographs, many other members of the staff helped craft the finished product. For instance, Matt Taylor and Enrico Artuso worked behind the scenes to create a tailored magazine design.
Black History Month
To be candid, I was a bit intimidated to cover the topic of Black History Month because it didn’t feel like my place as comment on another culture—someone else’s heritage. But, in hindsight, that very thinking might be part of the problems about race we have on our campus, other campuses, and in the larger society. After experiencing people celebrating and sharing their experiences, I now realize that I have been too busy focusing on being politically correct to hear the stories from my peers. But this magazine broke right through that. A dear friend of my confided to me that at her university, she often felt as if her race affected how students and professors judged her intelligence. She bravely shared her experiences as a black student on a Facebook page for the students after another student claimed that the predominantly white university “had no problems with race” on an organized racism awareness campaign post. It was met with backlash and ignorance. What my friend’s own experience and what some of the stories from this magazine share brings to light is that institutionalized racism is very much still a thing. Luckily, it seems to me that this platform has become a safer and more formal way to combat the topic of racism and being a black student in an unfamiliar place. In fact, Kirsten Perkins uses this platform effectively to directly reflects on this on page 49, where she expresses her concerns for local and global institutional racisms. Sometimes you have to start the uncomfortable conversations to grow, but it is not non-black people who can learn from the individual anecdotes told in the first volume of Voices.
“I opened the volume to a random page and I read a quote and I thought, ‘whoa.’ And it changed my perspective on everything”.
When talking to Joe Ward about any immediate transformations he had noticed after raising his voice, he stated, “I think what has kind of changed for me is that people have come up to me and said, ‘Wow, I really had no idea.’ And I responded, ‘well of course you didn’t because it’s not something I really talk about.’ So it’s been really great to speak openly and give people a reason to. Often I feel like people don’t speak because they think they have no reason to and they think it’s about suppressing it and holding it inside and I don’t think that’s going to lead to any progress. And I don’t think that going to help anyone.” However, even Ward, as a contributor, admitted he had a ‘wow-moment’ reading the final product: “I opened the volume to a random page and I read a quote and I thought, ‘whoa.’ And it changed my perspective on everything. I didn’t know who said it, yet it completely changed my thinking. If you can open your mind, if you can change the way you think, and how you engage on a whole new level then you are epitomising what university is all about. This is the best way to engage in liberation groups and I really, really, really hope people will give this a chance.” It’s a learning experience for everyone who simply opens up the magazine and reads a page.
In the larger scheme of any liberation movement, the idea of progress and moving forward is key. By hearing the brutally honest truths about being part of the black minority on our campus, a discursive space has been created for the students to debate and hopefully grow from. At the event I also got to speak to Ruth Ochugboju shortly before she shared a poem she wrote about racism called ‘Coffee Breaks.’ She stressed the importance of instigating a discussion you can be proud of. “I actually changed what I said. I remember when I had the interview, I said normal things, but I didn’t really think about what I said until a day or two later. Then I actually messaged them and asked them to include something else I wrote. I had originally said something vague, but I wanted to use this as a chance to share something that is personal to me.” And it is only with voices like Ruth’s, Kerstin’s, and Joe’s that progress within the student community and hopefully society at large can be changed. But without the voices, there is no change.
The next volumes to be published this academic year will focus on Faith, Pride, Disability, and Women. To take part in the movement, please contact: Harry Bishop or Sarah Redman at the FXU office.
For the free digital version of volume one, please click here. (https://www.fxu.org.uk/voices/ )