Graduation 2020: "I will always attribute my growth in confidence to the faculty in the School of English"

What do you do when the career path you’ve worked towards suddenly doesn’t seem like the right fit anymore? This was the problem facing Eleshea Williams in her final year at Sussex.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher but I found myself having second thoughts about whether it was the right career for me. Having learnt more about the historical representation of black people in Britain in the last year, I started to feel uncomfortable with the prospect of teaching the same curriculum that made my younger self believe that none of my ancestors had ever done something worthy of being included in a history book.”

Graduating with a First Class BA Hons in English Literature, Eleshea may be forgiven for spending a few months deliberating her next move. But she’s already landed a job in which she’ll be able to help advocate for the change she feels so passionately about.

“I began looking for educational consultancies dedicated to the inclusion of black histories in the curriculum. That’s when I found the social enterprise, The Black Curriculum.

“I’m now working as their Media and Communications Manager and in just a short space of time, and despite working remotely, I’ve already had some amazing opportunities including being interviewed on Sky and ITV news. But more importantly, it’s enabled me to play a part in an issue that is incredibly close to my heart.”

Eleshea’s passions come from a place of personal experience. She believes that educational institutions at every level can do more and she’s all too aware of how important it is for education to be fair and representative.

“Having grown up being one of the few black people in my school, I felt the brunt of racist ignorance throughout my school years. School years are the most formative experiences of your life, and the fact that black people are, for the most part, overlooked in the current curriculum teaches young people that black people’s histories are not valued or important. I certainly felt isolated, and not being reflected in the curriculum certainly contributed to the way I saw myself, and perceived British history.

“Slavery as the sole focus of any black history is damaging to both the self-esteem of young black students but also on the way non-black students perceive the world around them. Black people were certainly present in British history in capacities other than slavery, so why is this the sole focus?

“The Black Curriculum’s wider rhetoric follows the idea that black history and writing should be integrated into mainstream curriculums, not relegated to a different module or month of the year. Learning a fair and true representation of British history will help to facilitate productive conversations around race.

“But these efforts shouldn’t solely be restricted to the humanities. STEM subjects can also do more to be more diverse in their teaching.”

During her time at Sussex, Eleshea has worked as both a student speaker on open days and a student mentor within the Widening Participation department, a role which helped foster an already growing interest and passion for education equality.

In her final year, she won a School prize for the best contribution to student experience, and the Siobhan Kilfeather Prize for the best dissertation.

“I picked Sussex because I immediately recognised the tutors’ passion and enthusiasm for teaching. I loved the flexibility of the English curriculum, and how students were encouraged to tailor their own degrees according to their passions.

“Going in, I knew this was what I wanted out of a university - the freedom to study and read what it was that truly impassioned and excited me.

“I will always attribute my growth in confidence and drive to the faculty in the School of English, who go above and beyond to motivate students and celebrate originality.

“Now I’m graduating, I look forward to helping to make real, positive social change.”

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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Friday, 24 July 2020

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