Humans of Bristol University

Humans of Bristol: Elsie Aluko

Spotlight on ‘Supporting Risk’

Elsie Aluko is a second year Physics student, and founder of the AfroLit society. We meet to grab a coffee at the Hawthorn’s Café and are lucky enough to find one of the coveted window seats. We get the opportunity to reflect on the pitfalls of the ‘university bubble’, and discuss the risks and rewards of starting a new society.

So how has your experience been of Bristol so far? You’re allowed to say bad things but no swearing…

I wouldn’t dream of it! I think’s it been an interesting ride, initially I found it quite difficult, settling in to the city, and feeling like I belonged at the university took a while. I don’t know if I’m even really there yet. It’s a very different experience to my time at school, I think the university is quite disjointed to the city, initially that made me feel quite confused. Now I feel like I’m at home here, I’ve made friends, I’ve made connections with people that get me and I feel settled in my department at university. I feel like I have a community here and I love it. Sorry I’m not sure that was very cohesive!

No that was a lovely answer! You said the university feels quite disjointed from the city, why did you feel that way initially? Do you still feel that way now?

I definitely do still feel that way. I think it’s symptomatic of the city as a whole, I think Clifton, Redland, the city centre, I think the parts of the city that the university buildings are in are disjointed from the city. It’s really easy to feel like the triangle, Clifton and Eat-a-Pita, are the only things that exist in Bristol. No shade I promise! But there’s so much more to the city, there’s so much history, there’s so much culture and there’s so much going on. It’s so easy to get stuck in the uni bubble, and although it’s not a campus uni, it feels like a campus. You have to actively break out of that bubble or you’re going to spend your whole time here not knowing even ten percent of the story. So I didn’t feel like I had a place within that uni bubble initially, finding that there were other spaces outside of that bubble really helped.

How did you find those other spaces?

I think to some extent I just stumbled upon things. I think every now and then they’ll be opportunities that crop up in university that kind of draw you out and bring you to see that there are other things. Yeah, I think also through the community I also had at my place of worship. That made me feel I had a connection to the city, because it was a community completely outside of the university.

So this year you started AfroLit society, what does that stand for and why did you decide to start it?

So AfroLit is the African Literature society, the idea is that it’s a place that you can learn about, engage with and talk about literature produced by people of African descent. It’s essentially a book club. But I also want it to be a portal through which people can find opportunities, events and things to do with arts and culture produced by black people in this city. I started it because I always loved reading, but I’d not always read books by African authors, I’d just not done it. It’s not really something that is encouraged in school when you do English literature, the books I was presented with were all very specific white European authors, I wanted to widen my scope. Literary palate is the word I’m trying to avoid, it’s low-key pretentious! But yeah, that’s what I want to say. I think it’s important because I’d like to consider myself well-read but if you don’t read widely then you can’t be well-read.

This is particularly close to my heart because I’m Nigerian, so reading books by people that I can relate to more directly helps a lot with learning about myself. Literature is a great way to learn about yourself, to learn about others. That’s also kind of the point, you don’t have to be Nigerian to read Nigerian literature, you don’t have to be from the places that these authors are from or have been through the same experiences to appreciate it. In the same way that I didn’t live in Victorian Britain, but I can still read Dickens and appreciate it, because it speaks to something deeper than who we are on the surface, I think it’s about who we are as people. I wanted it to be just a chance for people to learn more about something I’m passionate about.

Do you feel like starting up a literature society was a risk?

Yeah, definitely! I do. I first had the idea for it in 2017 when I read ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‎ and I wanted to start this, but I was way too scared to do it. I didn’t think I was up for it. I didn’t know if anyone else would want to have me, or if anyone would care or anyone would want to be involved. I don’t like doing things that fail. I’m ‘allergic’ to failure, unfortunately for me, even though I do fail a lot. It’s really funny, I was at an assessment centre for a TeachFirst internship and two people I met there asked if I was involved in any societies. I told them I about the societies I was already involved in, but I had an idea for a society and they told me that I had to go for it. I just felt like these two people who don’t go to my uni, who don’t know anything about me are telling me to go for it. What is the worst thing that can happen? The worst thing is that it fails and that’s okay. So, I’m glad, because I was so close to not doing it.

Do you feel like the university encourages or supports you to take those kinds of risks?

I think to an extent yes, the whole point of university is learning and discovery, of yourself, of your subject, of politics, of arts. I feel like it does foster an environment where you are allowed to and encouraged to try new things. So far, I do feel like I’ve had a lot of support. I guess it depends on what kind of risks you’re taking, in AfroLit people have supported me way more than I thought they would, people have shown way more interest than I thought they would. I wouldn’t be here without the support of people. I think people appreciate it when you take risks at university and they want things to work for you, especially if they care. So yeah, I think you are supported in taking risks here.

That’s actually really encouraging to here, it’s interesting talking to people, when it comes to academia some of the students I’ve spoken to felt really nervous about taking risks. They feel such intense pressure to do well. So, taking any sort of risk becomes a big dangerous deal, but it’s nice to know that there are areas where students feel really supported. What are your aspirations this year for yourself and the society?

I want to be able to balance it alongside my degree, I don’t want to let it overrun my studies. For the society my only aspiration is that people who are involved in it enjoy it and feel like it’s worthwhile. Because I started it for myself because I wanted to join a society like this, but it’s not about me. I want to create a space where people can come and learn, no judgement, you don’t have to know anything. I don’t know that much, so you can know literally nothing, you don’t even have to have read a book in the last three years but I want the people that come to our events to feel like their opinions are still valued and feel like they’ve learnt something or enjoyed something. In that sense that’s my only real aspiration for the society. But I’d love to be able to pass it on, that I’ve created something that can be sustainable.

Marnie Woodmeade, BILT Student Fellow, November 2019

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Corrie Macleod

We asked our Student Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT role. The following blog is from Corrie Macleod, who has been a BILT Student Fellow since December 2018.

My name is Corrie Macleod and I am a new Student Fellow working with BILT! I am a final year Masters of Liberal Arts student majoring in Anthropology. After my degree, I hope to pursue an interdisciplinary research project examining the representation of transcultural identity and race in contemporary fiction. I first wanted to get involved with BILT to feel more engaged with my university community and to learn bout about the pedagogical structure of tertiary education.

During my time at Bristol, I found that my most memorable learning experiences in the classroom always involved a dynamic relationship between my peers and my lecturers. The perfect recipe for an enriching learning experience would strike a balance between sharing and absorbing new knowledge of disciplines and subjects, and having dynamic and engaging conversations with students who shared the same academic curiosity and interests that I do.

As a student fellow, I will be working on Project 3- ‘Empowering Students to Impact their Teaching and Learning’ – with my colleague (and friend) Phoebe Graham. Having just come back from our year abroad, we hope to bring fresh, new and international (!) perspectives on education. Through our project, we would like to learn and understand: i) How we can help students gain more authorship over their degrees and ii) How can we enhance their university experience to make it an enriching academic experience?

From inter-faculty film nights, to cross-disciplinary lecture series and to interactive social media postings, we hope to get students to feel more engaged with their community and to encourage them to learn beyond the scope of their degree in an innovative and entertaining manner. We hope to investigate the intricacies of tertiary education to finally understand: what part can students play in shaping the future of academia?

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Phoebe Graham

We asked our Student Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT role. The following blog is from Phoebe Graham, who has been a BILT Student Fellow since December 2018.

My name’s Phoebe (or Phoebs, or any form of creative variation) and I am one of BILT’s wonderful student fellows for this academic year. I am a final year Liberal Arts student majoring in English Literature, and I have recently returned from a year abroad at McGill University in the freezing but heart-warming landscapes of Montréal, Canada.

I will be working on Project Three: Empowering Students to Impact their Teaching and Learning alongside fellow #LiberalArtist Corrie Macleod, under the wise guidance of Professor Tansy Jessop. In this role, I hope to be a part of the amazing effort that BILT is undertaking to improve both student and staff experience at the University, helping to make a space which can facilitate academic curiosity as well as emotional empowerment.

When I first came to the University as a very young, wide-eyed and terrified 18-year-old, I found the emotional transition from Secondary School to Higher Education a tricky track to tread. I felt like the comforting rug of home life had been pulled from underneath me, and I was free-falling for a good few months before I started to find my feet again. I found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that, even in a space filled with so many students, I could feel so lonely. I couldn’t develop a sense of pride or attachment to the University, because I didn’t feel like a valued or empowered member of its community. Rather than coming out of a shell, I found myself building one up for myself *emotional string quartet plays.*

But in my third year studying abroad, I was able to use the environmental change to critically engage with my time in Higher Education up until this point. Now I return to the vibrant city and University of Bristol both reinvigorated and hoping to commit my voice to the academic and pastoral development of the University through combining theoretical and practical research methods. I am also just a large lover of people and learning of, and from, other people’s perspectives. I am ready to use my well-developed skills of combined coffee-drinking and communication to engage with the wider student body and an array of staff in order to create a vibrant and cohesive academic community.

In my spare time, I can be found listening to Leonard Cohen, writing about theatre, thinking about the overlaps of the arts and activism, reading stories, preaching the value of interdisciplinary education, attempting to sing while playing the piano at the same time and, of course, dancing like a dad.