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Taking up Space: An Interview with Chelsea Kwakye

During Black History Month we wanted to highlight the outstanding contributions people of African and Caribbean descent are making in our community. Cambridge graduate Chelsea Kwakye is currently studying the GDL at our Moorgate Campus, but it’s not just Chelsea’s education that makes her future so bright. As the only black girl in her history cohort, she fought imposter syndrome to become Vice President of the African-Caribbean Society, Captain of Homerton Ladies Football team and the BME Officer for Homerton Union of Students.

By Cara Fielder. Published 15 October 2020. Last updated 8 June 2023.

Now Chelsea is studying law, has a training contract confirmed and is writing her first book under Stormzy’s #Merky publishing imprint. With so much to talk about let’s dive right in…

What inspired you to study Law after taking History at Cambridge? After completing a campus ambassador role for my firm, Ashurst, I was fortunate enough to receive a vacation scheme offer. During my vacation scheme, I was impressed at the level of detail and hard work that solicitors put into every project. Everyone was extremely intelligent and valued those who could think on their feet.

How have you found your first term at the University of Law? My first term has been a welcome shock. It’s interesting to be learning something new and trying to apply my skills differently. The overall atmosphere is very friendly as well.

What is your favourite class at the University of Law and why? Public Law. So far it’s been very interactive and well taught. It is also quite similar to the British Political module I did in my undergraduate degree.

While studying you were Vice President of the African-Caribbean Society, Captain of Homerton Ladies Football team and the BME Officer for Homerton Union of Students, how did these extra-curricular activities impact your time at university? I found that the extra-curricular activities helped with my academic studies. I was able to divide my time up into sections, so when I was studying it was more efficient because I knew I would have to run to an ACS meeting at 4:30 pm and then have training at 6:00 pm.

Looking back, I am glad I did so many activities because now that I’ve graduated from university I have a lot to show for it – not just my degree.

You’ve done a lot to raise awareness around the subjects of diversity and inclusion, how did this begin and what has been the highlight of your campaigning? Whilst at Cambridge I was the only black girl in the 2015 history cohort. It was isolating, and I developed a serious case of imposter syndrome. I shrunk back a lot, and this affected my first two years at university because I was surrounded by people who didn’t look like me – students and staff alike.

However, times are changing. There has been a huge drive to get more black students into spaces such as Cambridge. But what is diversity without inclusion? Ore and I, along with many other BME students at Cambridge, have always been active in trying to create inclusive spaces and structures for all students of colour. Whether that is through activism and liberation projects or simply mentoring one-to-one with other students, we have been active throughout our whole degrees. Sadly, this often means that we don’t enjoy the luxury of just being students when we must constantly fight our corner.

My highlight of campaigning would have to be the BlackMenofCambridgeUniversity campaign, run by the African Caribbean Society (ACS) committee, which highlighted, visually, just how bad the diversity was at Cambridge. We were featured in BBC, Teen Vogue, Elle, Financial Times, Buzzfeed and many, many more.

How did you become involved with Stormzy’s #Merky Books? Ore Ogunbiyi and I had written the proposal a while back detailing what the book would be about, what would be included, and our expectations for the overall project. When we heard #Merky Books was going to be an imprint under Penguin, we knew that this would be the perfect platform to share this perspective.

Your forthcoming book, Taking up Space with Ore Ogunbiyi, is described as aiming “to tackle issues of access, university life and discrimination within the classroom.” How did the idea for the book come about and why do you think this is the perfect time to publish it?

Ore wrote an article in 2017 titled ‘A Letter to My Fresher Self: Surviving Cambridge as a Black Girl’ and it received a lot of attention and people were interested in what she had to say. Even before the article, we’d both been passionate about mentoring students and doing our bit to support the black community wherever we can. Coming from a state school I saw first-hand how easy it was to slip off the radar and for teachers to give up on you.

For a while now a lot of the conversations on diversity and inclusion have been samey and outdated. This book will offer a critical and more importantly, a fresh perspective on this conversation – one that centre’s the voices of those it seeks to help.

Now that you’ve moved into studying law, what are your future career aspirations? I aim to finish the LPC in 2020 and then become a trainee at Ashurst.

Who or what has inspired you the most during your time in education and why? My brother and sister have always encouraged me, from secondary school up until today. They have always given me that extra nudge to truly believe in myself and to know that I’m not ‘just lucky’, but that I have worked hard for everything I have.

 

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