My journey to Oxford was largely unconventional. I did well at school, and once the time came to start thinking about universities, the term ‘Oxbridge’ entered my consciousness. I was fortunate to be surrounded by teachers, family, and friends who encouraged me to aim high and reach my full potential. Thanks to my older sister, I learned about Target Oxbridge, a pioneering scheme founded by Rare Recruitment to mentor high-achieving black students to make competitive applications to Oxford and Cambridge. As part of the programme, I and the other participants had the chance to stay for a few days at King’s College, Cambridge,  attending a range of lectures and workshops from academics, admissions tutors, and black students already studying at the University. From roaming the historic city with hoards of fellow black teenagers, and the fact that all the students I interacted with personally were also black, it’s safe to say my sense and perception of the diversity of these institutions was somewhat skewed.

A year later, when I arrived at University College for the offer holders’ day, the rose, or rather, brown tint of my glasses deepened. Upon entering the Hall, I was greeted by the then-JCR President donning a royal blue durag, addressing an audience of parents and hopeful Univites. With three other black freshers in my cohort, it was pretty much on par with my year at sixth form,  where although there was a slight white majority, there were only a handful of black students, so I was accustomed to being ‘the only one’ in academic spaces. Thus far, Oxford was doing well, or at least not badly in comparison to what I had experienced.

Now, contrast this with what I saw in the media. News stories about incidents ranging from racism in Christ Church JCR to the profiling of a Black student at Harris Manchester College. The honest writings and advice of black students who came before me (to which I am indebted). The warnings that followed the congratulations. I felt that they instilled a keen awareness that this place is not for you. Of course, this all seems annoyingly naïve. Who would have thought the institution that celebrates slave-owners with statues would be racist? It isn’t always as patent as this though; in my day-to-day life, it looks more like the fact that I am the first black friend of many people I interact with, or looking on in awe as myself and others code-switch with impressive ease as we transition between spaces. Not all of these realities are inherently bad but rather are useful things to keep in mind as you navigate life here. And in comes OACS. OACS – or the Oxford African and Caribbean Society for those not acquainted – truly embodies its motto, that we are more than a society. Like many of my peers, I voraciously consumed the YouTube videos posted online by past Committees and members. From College tags and Q&As to vlogs of events, they offered a balanced perspective that broached the two somewhat polarised views I had of Oxford, with students demonstrating that yes, there aren’t many of us, but those of us who are here can thrive and retain our identity and culture. Seeing this was vital and enabled me to overcome the mental block I often felt I tried to picture what my life would be like at Oxford. Although at the end of my year as Junior PR officer, I am glad to say that with the help of others on the Committee and some members, the YouTube channel is back to posting. This is just one small part of what we do, what with the Access Officers working tirelessly to arrange the Annual Access Conference, Visions Conference, and Offer Holder Days, and the Events Officers bringing us together for our annual Handover Ball, one thing that unites us is that we all want to give back to a society that has given us so much.

So what is the purpose of this article then, when thus far I haven’t said anything we didn’t already know? Before making my point, it was important to state the facts: TLDR- there aren’t many of us here, and it is instinctive to gravitate towards people you typically feel comfortable around. But I think what has perhaps been lacking is the importance of nuance. I have always been sceptical of catch-all acronyms like BAME or POC– to me they are misleading and suggest that everyone who isn’t white shares some sort of unwavering solidarity. The reality is that at this institution, many so-called BAME or POC students have spent their lives in boarding schools, or at least schools with similar demographics or levels of prestige that Oxford boasts. Some of the most out-of-touch or otherwise problematic things I have heard and witnessed have been at the hands of people with whom I should supposedly be united in our war against the oppressor. Now this isn’t to minimise the essential work done by initiatives like the SU’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE), or the presence of BAME officers in many JCRs, or to deny that many minority students may have shared experiences as a result of being the ‘other’. My point is just to be wary of sweeping generalisations that rob us of our individuality. Furthermore, whilst it is understandable to want to retreat into familiar spaces, relying on this can be a disservice to yourself and others. Some of your best friends will be completely different to you. University is a unique time in your life where you will be living among people from every location, socio-economic status, and cultural background you can imagine. So make the most of it. Equally, spaces which may on the surface seem welcoming can also feel exclusive in unforeseen ways. Almost half (47.6% between 2020 and 2022) of Oxford undergraduates come from London, and this figure seems to rise when looking only at black students. Having lived in Manchester myself, I felt behind upon realising that most people in ACS already knew each other from school or home. This is not at all to say I didn’t feel welcome, but the point is that everyone has a unique set of circumstances and characteristics which mean it isn’t always straightforward to predict who you will get on with. Some of the best times I’ve had have been in the places I’d least expect.