A FLY Girl’s Guide to University is a collection of memoirs, essays, poetry and prose from four women of colour who studied at the University of Cambridge. It is a multifaceted calling out of the wrongness underpinning their shared experience at Cambridge, and the experiences of others in similar institutions throughout the UK. But they describe it best: ‘The purpose of our book is simple: we believe that our lives, our experiences, and our voices matter, especially in a place of power, pervasive whiteness and exclusivity. Our voices not only deserve to be heard but must be because the ‘Cambridge experience’ of a middle-class, white, cisgendered, able-bodied man is not the only one. Ours cannot be silenced.
We came together through FLY, a network specifically by and for women and non-binary people of colour at Cambridge. As members of FLY, we were all vocal and active in feminist and anti-racist politics, as well as adamant about intersectionality – whether in education, research, creating spaces on campus or in our campaigning. Through meeting there, hearing one another and experiencing our absences elsewhere, we decided to write this book. Writing gave us a language and space that we were not often afforded and a chance to live beyond the niches carved out for us by others. This book exists as a testament to our existences in a place we were often made invisible, and stands as a demonstration of the fact that we have the power to validate ourselves.
We believe our book itself to be a form of activism in its fearless sharing of our experiences and in contributing to the provision of previously silenced truths. In some ways, the importance of what we say is almost as important as the fact we say it at all because the power of this book is borne from the desire to continue a legacy of recording lived experiences of those whose stories often go unpublished. We want our work to act as a disruption, a hope, and a symbol that though marginalised in many ways and many spaces, we are very much alive, evolving and powerful.’
This wonderful book needs to be read, discussed and understood, in Universities, but also in government offices, businesses and anywhere that people are made to feel excluded, estranged and exposed because of their heritage, their religion or their appearance.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is a writer, spoken-word poet, and educator invested in unlearning the modalities of knowledge she has internalised, disrupting power relations, and asking questions around narratives to do with race, gender, Islamophobia, state violence and decoloniality. She did her BA in History at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and MA in Postcolonial Studies at SOAS. Alongside a wider education from the epistemology of Islam and work of women of colour and anti-systemic thinkers from across the world, Suhaiymah regularly speaks and workshops on racism, Islamophobia, feminism and poetry across the UK as well as writing about those topics at her website, www.thebrownhijabi.com. Her work has been featured in The Independent, The Guardian, Al-Jazeera, BBC, The Islam Channel, ITV, Sky TV, TEDx conferences, music festivals, US slams and British Universities. She is trying her best to destabilise accepted narratives and disrupt the tendency to fall into binary explanations, insha’Allah.
Waithera Sebatindira is a Law graduate from Trinity Hall and recently completed her MPhil in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies at the same College. While facilitator of FLY, and with the indispensable support of its founders and a group of committed women of colour, she expanded the group’s membership and reach. During this time, Waithera developed a black feminist ethic that continues to be informed by the work of inspirational women she reads and meets – especially this book’s co-authors. She went on to become the first woman of colour to hold the position of full-time Women’s Officer on the Cambridge University Students’ Union and, during her tenure, campaigned on behalf of woman and non-binary students on campus while coordinating decolonial efforts across campus.
Lola Olufemi is a black feminist and organiser from London. She graduated from Cambridge with a degree in English Literature in 2016. She facilitated FLY, the group for women and non-binary people of colour at Cambridge from 2015-16 and held roles on the BME and Women’s Campaign. She was the Cambridge University Students Union Women’s Officer from 2017-18. During her time at university she was heavily involved in student activism, working on, amongst others: the establishment of support for survivors of sexual violence, decolonising the curriculum and opposing the marketisation of higher education. She is currently the NUS Second Place on the NUS Women’s Campaign & sits on the National Executive Council. She is a masters student in Gender Studies who is interested in black feminist thought as a vehicle for thinking about the self and others and disrupting systems of power. She is currently writing a book on reclaiming feminism for young people which will be published by Pluto Press in 2020.
Odelia Younge is an educator and writer based in Oakland, California. In her life and work, she centers discussions about blackness and resistance. Odelia earned a B.A. in history and literature from Harvard and an MPhil in politics, development and democratic education from Cambridge. Her research has focused on black women collectives, historical memory, transgressions and resistance, and black male youth identity within spatial theory, critical youth studies, and radical black feminist theory. Odelia also has a background in peace education and children’s rights, developing programs in places such as Miami, Florida and the Greater Accra region of Ghana. She has led work across the United States on transforming education, decolonising systems, and building out spaces for black writers, while also organizing spaces for creative expression. Odelia is driven by her faith, radical black love, and the concept of creating yourself to freedom — forgetting what your oppressors have told you is the truth, and building anew. Odelia is the co-founder of Novalia Collective, which focuses on storytelling, community building, and cultivating spaces that vanquish fear of uncertainty and the unknown. She takes immense pride in being the editor and compiler of A FLY Girl’s Guide to University.