By Katie Veloria
Growing up in the United States where there is a large emphasis on increasing diversity in schools, particularly in the top ranked universities, it didn’t even cross my mind that there wouldn’t be a similar effort in the UK. It wasn’t until after I applied to Oxford that I realized the potential lack of diversity that I would experience if I decided to attend. While it is true that Oxford definitely has a long way to go in terms of diversity, it has also made significant progress. At my college, Somerville, we have seen major increases in the number of BAME students especially in the past two years. Somerville’s JCR president - Talisha - the first female president in Somerville in around 5 years also served as our BAME officer. As BAME officer, Talisha made it her goal to hold a BAME Formal at Somerville College.
The event was a massive success. The theme was Vibrance and the formal dinner was preceded by a talk by hosted by Professor Patricia Kingori about “meaningful diversity”. At the dinner, Oxford graduate Femi Nylander performed his spoken word poem “Dreaming Spires” (which you should look up on youtube!). It was an incredible event and honestly seeing everyone wearing cultural wear or if not, vibrant formal wear and looking around Somerville College hall and only seeing BAME faces was INCREDIBLY moving.
I had the opportunity to interview Talisha about her thought process behind the event.
'Much of the impetus behind the BAME formal was about bringing together and celebrating the vibrant and talented BAME community here at Oxford; celebrating all of the work we do with societies, access and striving for change in what can often be unreceptive environment.'The evening also sought to be a celebration of the variety of cultures the community has with ethnic food and cultural dress being featured. Organising a 200+ guest university wide formal was no small feat, but it was entirely worth all of the stress and tears. It was important to me to make sure that dietary requirements were met and everyone could partake fully in the evening. Small but significant touches were added and the product was a very special and poignant evening.
Being from a BAME background at Oxford can be a difficult and lonely experience. I was lucky enough to meet and make wonderful friends but still craved a community where I could share my experiences as a woman of colour and have others relate. I found that in this community and to see so many of us in one room, expressing and sharing our cultures and being proud of the community we have built is a sight I won’t ever forget. I hope we grow as a community and inspire others to join.
Previously, there may have been an Oxford type - someone who spoke and looked a particular way and came from a particular background. The formal gave me and everyone in that room hope that one day, that idea will be a distant memory and we will keep pushing until it is.”