The Stormzy university effect: ‘I feel more represented’

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Cambridge ACS

Stormzy has been credited with changing the intake at one of Britain’s top universities.

Cambridge University says the “Stormzy effect” means that more black students are applying and being admitted than ever before.

It says the rapper’s scholarship has been part of the change in culture.

According to new figures, for the first time, black students make up more than 3% of new undergraduates.

But how much has Cambridge University life changed for those students? Two years ago Radio 1’s Newsbeat spoke with some of the “Cambridge 14”.

They’re a group of black, male students who uploaded several photos on Facebook, in a bid to encourage more ethnic minority students to apply there.

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Cambridge ACS

Joseph Adiwku was one of them. He’s now in his fourth year at Cambridge University studying Medicine.

He tells Radio 1’s Newsbeat, he’s seen an increase in diversity on campus: “Each year we’ve seen a steady rise in the community, so we’re on the right tracks.”

Joseph says although it remains a predominantly white university, he doesn’t feel it’s “divided”.

“I wouldn’t say Cambridge is cliquey. I really think people make an effort to be aware of diversity.”

The 21-year-old says he would like to see even more black students on campus.

“I’ve been feeling a lot more represented but there is progress still to be made. These things don’t happen overnight.”

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Stormzy with Cambridge University students

Peter Fashola, who was also in the Cambridge 14, graduated from the university last year. He now works in finance.

He reckons Stormzy’s made Cambridge cool: “People come to me and they’re like ‘wow’ you went to Cambridge – not the place where prime ministers go, but the place Stormzy is related too.”

Since 2018, the grime artist has funded the tuition fees and living costs of two students each year – currently four students in total.

Peter says the influence of Stormzy’s scholarships is noticeable. “By the time I was in third year there were a lot more black freshers starting.”

“I go on social media platforms now and see so many black people in a room in Cambridge, and I think ‘is that our Cambridge?’ It’s different now.”

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Jospeh Adikwu

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Joseph is on a placement year at Stevenage Hospital

Although Peter “loved his time at Cambridge”, he says it wasn’t always easy.

“At times I felt quite secluded because statistically there aren’t many people who came from the same background and have the same history [as me].”

“In my college, in my year, there were only two other black people and that made social aspects difficult but there are societies which help.”

Joseph and Peter are part of the The Cambridge University African Caribbean Society (CUACS).

Peter says society “needs more Stormzy’s”.

“Stormzy’s a chief, he’s realised there are barriers to entry for people who look like him and finance is a massive one.”

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Peter Fashola

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Peter Fashola studied Theology, Religion and Philosophy at Cambridge

Peter says CUACS and Stormzy share the same goal.

“We’re reshaping the perception of what a Cambridge student looks like.”

“I think a lot of people don’t apply, not because of their grades, but because they think they don’t belong.”

For Peter, it’s really important universities are diverse, because that has a knock-on effect on society.

“When you think of Cambridge, you don’t think of black men like me who were raised in a council estate in Hackney.”

“The reason why it’s important to have people like myself at these institutions is because we live in a society where positions of authority, are reliant on institutions like Cambridge.”

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