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Home from home: an intern’s view of the University of Brighton (long read)

I’m Aderonke Ademola, and I study Sociology and Criminology at Warwick University. This summer I took part in the 10,000 Black Interns programme.

Before my internship, visiting Brighton has always been a long coach journey to the beach only to remain there for the day with a seemingly compulsory meal of fish and chips. It was only in June 2022 that I realised that it had so much more to offer.


Part 1: All about my internship

Part 2: Interviewing Neesha and Alessandra

Part 3: My conclusions


Part 1: All about my internship

The 10,000 Black Interns programme runs annually and it aims to establish links within the professional and academic world for the benefit of young Black people in higher education and those who have recently graduated. It offers paid internships in various sectors and the opportunity for networking and diversifying the workforce in the UK and abroad. Without the programme I would not have had the experience that I have had working in the Marketing and Communications department, meeting the other interns and, most importantly, working at an institution as progressive as the University of Brighton.

For eight weeks I worked with the Marketing and Communications team at the University of Brighton. I was given both creative and research-based tasks and found a way to deliver content in engaging visual ways. I was able to further explore the way to combine the two during this internship in the last few weeks by taking on an independent project. This project was split into two parts; conducting prospectus-use research and understanding the university as a home from home by interviewing two students who do work for the Inclusive Practice Partnership (IPP) Scheme.

I wanted to hear Brighton student stories

Part of my work as an intern was to work on an independent project and I decided to interview two Brighton students who also worked as interns this summer. Their involvement with the university, along with the aims of their internship and various projects, is one of the many reasons why I thought it would be best to hear their stories and showcase Brighton as a home from home. A lot of people have what I call Londonitis: The overwhelming urge to go to London. The city is advertised as the networking hub and place of opportunities and is subsequently perceived to be a superior city where your career can be elevated to the highest of levels just by studying, residing or working there. From my time at Brighton, I’ve quickly come to learn that going from coast to capital might not be as necessary as people think. Smaller cities can offer the London effect with serious advantages too, such as reduced living expenses, more sense of community, interconnectivity, etc. Through my interviews I managed to hear firsthand from students about Brighton’s standing, the opportunities it has and the changes it’s made to combat Londonitis.

For most people, London isn’t just this networking hub and place of opportunities. It is the most diverse city in the UK and for a lot of people, it is about seeing representation. For a lot of immigrant and ethnic families, for the last few decades, it has become their home from home. The year 2020 highlighted uncomfortable truths about race and identity, stemming from the murder of George Floyd during the summer and ongoing global anti-blackness, and the treatment of the Asian community during the pandemic that resulted in multiple attacks and the promotion of dangerous ideologies and rhetoric. It’s safe to say that as I was about to start my first year of university at Warwick, I was not only nervous about studying during a pandemic but also being a Black person studying Sociology and Criminology. Was I going to be triggered? Offended? Enlightened? A lot of this uncertainty and nervousness was definitely due to not knowing what to really expect on my course and being unsure of how socially progressive Warwick was as an institution.

It’s only natural for anyone to wonder about the effects of change. Moving away from a city of familiarity as a Black person meant that I was curious about what university life would look like from an ethnic and cultural viewpoint. Moving to Coventry for university wasn’t my first time away from home so I wasn’t nervous about that, I was more scared about possible changes to my diet. Would I be able to get my daily fix of Puff Puff and Meat Pie? Would I have to go through the process of people getting my name wrong (again)?

I discovered Brighton is an inclusive place to study

Over the course of my internship, I’ve come to know that Brighton has done many things to ensure that their institution remains a safe space and a home for their students alongside being as up to date and cultured as possible, to mitigate the circumstances of those from typically underrepresented backgrounds so they can feel as comfortable as can be. For example, on my first day I noticed the accessibility of the buildings and the gender-neutral and disabled toilets. In this day and age of debate around accommodating and respecting peoples’ gender identity and the lacklustre response from most institutions about making things accessible, it was so refreshing to see Brighton tackle one of the main problems, the toilet, head on.

My project focused on the Inclusive Practice Partnership scheme

As a Black woman, I was most interested in Brighton’s Inclusive Practice Partnership (IPP) scheme. IPP has been created to ensure that undergraduate modules remain inclusive by diversifying and decolonising their content and assessing module delivery. IPP students go through an interview process to take part in the scheme, they work in partnership with academic staff and are paid for their role.

After speaking with Brighton students, Neesha Sivaratnam and Alessandra Duse, about the IPP scheme I am convinced that it should be in every higher education institution and professional workspace if they are serious about implementing change, accommodating the needs of all that they are responsible for, and affirming anti-racist policies and behaviours in their spaces.


Part 2: The interview

I was curious to know why both Neesha (Biomedical Sciences) and Alessandra (Creative Writing) applied to study at Brighton. Neesha mentioned that “…Brighton as a place is very culturally diverse, also in terms of personality, in terms of gender. So it was really important for me to go somewhere where I could get to meet a range of different people”, and Alessandra mentioned that she was experiencing a difficult time in her life and writing is what helped her through the process. She discussed with us about her move to Brighton in 2017 and how she had the idea “to study creative writing” and when she discovered that there was a course at Brighton she saw it as a sign to apply. She also mentioned how before even starting at Brighton, course leaders were there to encourage her and convince her to apply even when she didn’t particularly believe in herself. She recounted her experience at an open day, where she expressed concern about her ability to do the course being an international student and how the course leader told her that she was needed and that “my perspective and my experience as an international student was valuable”. For Alessandra this experience is what made her certain that Brighton was the place for her, she said “when I felt this support, I knew immediately that I was going to apply”.

Brighton as a place is very culturally diverse, also in terms of personality, in terms of gender.

Neesha also said her educational background and aspiration to become a medical doctor were reasons why she applied to Brighton. She mentioned how “it was important for me to go to a university that is using inclusivity and can uplift their students”. She also spoke about the culture and environment at Brighton and why it was such a big factor in her decision to apply, saying  “one of my personal ethics is based around inclusivity and widening participation, particularly for STEM subjects, so coming to Brighton and seeing that actually students are not only supported throughout their studies but they are also given the right platform to flourish. This is really important to me coming to university not only to study for my degree but also to improve myself.”

I think Brighton really supports those from underprivileged backgrounds, so if you’re coming from a state school or you are a BTEC student then you are still considered at the same level.

Neesha

Brighton supports students who face challenges

Both of them mentioned challenges when starting their course, with Neesha citing her experience with education (she dropped out in the January of Year 13) and how this was her first time moving away from home. Alessandra still felt as if she would never “keep up” despite so much encouragement because she was an international student with English not being her first language. I could empathise with both of their stories as one of the main year groups directly affected by the pandemic – having school shut down in March and then not sitting A-levels meant that my last exam experience had been GCSE period, leaving me uneasy and overwhelmed with starting university that September. Also, as a state school-educated student, attending a top 10 university also meant that, like Alessandra, I was in a similar situation of doubting myself and my abilities.

We then talked about how they overcame the challenges experienced, regarding academics and wellbeing. Neesha mentioned her department and lecturers having an open-door policy where all concerns were welcomed and lecturers did their best to accommodate everyone’s needs. She mentioned that at Brighton University “they listen” and that it has made her feel seen, comfortable and heard.

The conversation then moved to the opportunities at Brighton, and how applying for the IPP Scheme was important to them. Both went through vigorous processes and interviews to ensure that they were committed and aware of the purpose of the scheme and prepared to undergo training. Neesha started working for the scheme from its inception and noted the differences in how modules were reviewed in comparison to the last year. She noted that during her first year with the scheme some recommendations were met with resistance from those not as informed about the purpose of the scheme and the implications of the scheme’s conclusions about their modules. When asked about how they dealt with resistance, Alessandra mentioned having conversations with lecturers to explain their reasonings and offering to collaborate on how to diversify module content and modify its delivery. Both expressed their wish that all modules could be reviewed to “ensure that modules are decolonised.”


Part 3: Brighton prides itself on inclusivity and partnership

Brighton is an institution that prides itself on its key values. Two of those in particular – inclusivity and partnership – are the driving forces behind the IPP Scheme. Alessandra explained how the IPP Scheme encourages partnership by “treating us like staff and letting us work on an equal basis”. Neesha mentioned that the partnership aspect of the scheme was “empowering” and that from the start it was clear that her ideas were valued and that everyone was learning from each other. Neesha was also part of the Athena Swan Charter group where gender and race were discussed, and she felt that this really embodied the university’s commitment to their key values. Being able to speak freely about the use of BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic), and to educate and inform others about other language used to refer to those belonging to ethnic communities ensured inclusivity and it being championed through such charters and conversations.

Both reiterated the necessity of the IPP Scheme and emphasised the importance of upholding inclusivity and diversity practices, especially in this day and age.

Their sense of pride in their university has only been strengthened through their participation in the IPP Scheme and other inclusion practices. However, Alessandra mentioned that the IPP Scheme is “one face” of feeling comfortable at Brighton and that she has felt supported by staff “for being a European student and non-native speaker.” She also discussed the large LGBTQIA+ community at the university and in the wider Brighton area. She mentioned that in the past she has “felt alienated in both heteronormative and LGBTQIA+ environments”; she didn’t expect to feel included within the university and was positively surprised as to how the university experience spoke to her personality so well. She mentioned the openly queer academics who were also passionate about teaching queer theory and studies which meant the inclusion of those who were not heterosexual and also those who were interested in studying and experiencing academia from a view that wasn’t heteronormative. As part of Alessandra’s dissertation topic, she chose to write a piece with two queer protagonists and felt comfortable doing so because of the culture at Brighton. As it was such an emotional process for her, she felt comfortable knowing that she could rely on her lecturers who had worked on creating a safe space for students.

Brighton is their home from home

The final parts of the interview focused on Brighton being a home from home for both Neesha and Alessandra. Neesha said “for the first time in my life I’ve felt like university has let be me seen just as me. Not just my skin colour. It’s nice to be seen for my face value and academic ability for example, since biomedical sciences can be dominated by certain genders and ethnicities”. She also mentioned that coming to Brighton has made her feel as if she has a family, further strengthening her association of home with the university.

Alessandra also mentioned feeling welcomed and accepted from the start of her studies.

She talked about a module she took during lockdown titled Queer Writings where she had the chance to explore queer writings and theory and that on the first day of the module everyone introduced themselves and their pronouns. She also said that people had the opportunity, if they felt comfortable enough, to come out and how that experience created a “special atmosphere that at that time was difficult to experience in a pandemic”. She mentioned the creation of a safe space to be understood and that lecturers took into account the special circumstances that LGBTQIA+ students could have experienced during lockdown, such as living with people who were not accepting of their identity. Alessandra also discussed her fear of possibly never seeing her family in Italy again, due to how hard the country was hit by the pandemic and also because of travel restrictions. The attitude of her lecturers and the environment fostered in her course allowed her to truly embrace the university as her home from home.

In conclusion…

As previously mentioned, Brighton for me has always been a one-day event so to learn about and experience the rich culture and history has been nothing short of enlightening. Since being here I’ve been able to visit multiple record stores, purchase my first vinyl (a collection of Hip Hop classics including Eric B & Rakim) and create my music page @themusiqarchives. I also discovered a Black bookstore, Afrori Books, and will admit that I didn’t expect to see something so Black in a place like Brighton. During this internship, I have been so surprised and grateful for my experience of meeting the staff at the university. Everyone is so lovely and kind. As a Londoner that has most definitely been a shock to the system, but it has been welcomed!

The creation of the IPP Scheme and the massive Pride culture here at the university is something that Brighton should be loud and proud about. It is such an achievement on their part and should instil a sense of pride for both students and staff. I think the UK would see and experience such a cultural reset if all institutions were to adopt Brighton’s key values of inclusivity and partnership in all areas. Brighton champions diversity and inclusion and does it the right way by listening to what the students need. They listen to understand, not just to respond. Irrespective of whether you are a current or prospective student, just know that Brighton can and will be your home from home. As an ethnic minority or international student just know that you are welcomed and that there will always be a place for you at Brighton. If you are LGBTQIA+, differently abled, or from other protected communities you can also be guaranteed a university experience that will allow you to be yourself to the fullest.

My time at Brighton has been nothing short of incredible and I will be back because for me too, it has become a home from home.

Student looking at their phone

Word from the uni…

Read our other student blogs on the IPP

If you’re a Brighton student and thinking about applying for the IPP, find out how on their blog.

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Ade Ademola • 20th September 2022


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