Marco Marcelline noticed a problem within the University of St Andrews coming from an inner-London, diverse school: St Andrews is not diverse. 90 per cent of the student body is white, and according to Mr Marcelline, “that is the most out of any other UK university”. So far, nothing major or public has been done to change this. Enter Mr Marcelline, a current fourth year studying International Relations, and the new campaign to show that ‘We Are St Andrews’ does not just mean barbour jackets and red chinos.
His idea for ‘We Are St Andrews’ has been growing since his first year, when he realised “there weren’t very many people like me”.
Mr Marcelline will attempt to “raise awareness of the fact that St Andrews has a diversity problem that has gone unchecked and unresolved for many years”, and highlight issues surrounding racial and socio-economic diversity with the help from anyone who has felt alienated, harassed, or just different from the stereotypical St Andrews student. The campaign, which will begin with a focus on race and minorities, can be seen as an outlet for people frustrated with their stories of harassment and racism. It will “showcase the students who are here [at the University], who don’t fit the stereotype”, in a place that can be “hostile” when it comes to certain political, racial, and social issues.
Marco’s aim is to not only raise awareness, but hopefully create change. His discussions with minority lecturers on “the challenges they have encountered” will allow for this issue to be demonstrated to the student body.
Luckily “the University is actively aware of the problem”, he said, which should be a step in the right direction. Although Professor Sally Mapstone, the principal, is conscious of the issue, Mr Marcelline points out that “the University is very distant from us [the students]”. As the campaign so far has been driven by social media, it may be more difficult to reach the attention of the staff body. The inclusion of stories from professors and teachers within the University should hopefully help to push forward this need for change, and he is confident that the student and staff body can work together to achieve that.
“The University would benefit greatly from this campaign, as it will encourage people who are doubtful of their place in the town to apply,” Mr Marcelline claims. He continues: “There is a need for wealth of diversity in the University, so peoples’ opinions do not go unchallenged”. For the majority of students and staff here, Mr Marcelline believes that “change is not attractive to them” as it is not relevant or does not affect their lives. But, this does not mean nothing should happen.
According to Mr Marcelline, St Andrews has a “toxic reputation for elitism”, which may explain why so many racial and socio-economic minorities feel the school and surrounding social life is “harsh and alienating”. Although many Scottish universities have a problem with diversity, he feels this should not mean that diversity is “unattainable”.
In the current societal climate, social media is as important as a personal presence, something that the campaign obviously understands.
I, like many others, was first alerted to the campaign via Facebook, where I was invited to like a page described as ‘a radical campaign highlighting the diversity problem at the University’. At the time, I liked it out of curiosity and excitement of a new movement coming out of the student body, but with no knowledge of the idea. Gradually, more posts with statistics on diversity within the University of St Andrews were put up and I understood the scale of what ‘We Are St Andrews’ is hoping to address. I was totally ignorant to the statistics surrounding racial diversity in St Andrews and, although I assumed they were shockingly poor, I was surprised at how stark they were. This first step to awareness within the student body was the first I had witnessed on the matter and made me realise how much more I needed to know on the subject, and how overdue such awareness was.
Alongside their Facebook page, the striking Instagram account not only spells out their message, but shares stories accompanied by images of people involved, allowing ‘We Are St Andrews’ to cover all platforms. The ability to connect people in the town to this message will resonate with students who either know the people featured or who are interested in the campaign itself, or both. With 3x as many followers as following and over 100 likes on pictures, the campaign’s presence on the platform is clearly attracting interest.
This week, the campaign posted the first few in a presumably long series in the style of the ‘Humans of New York’ social media accounts. Accompanied by a photo, Nana Ama shared her experiences of being a Black British Ghanian student in St Andrews, including stories of harassment and alienation. She also touches on feeling like the spokesperson for all racial issues in University of St Andrews, as she mentions usually being the only minority in her lectures and tutorials. She describes the feeling of “consciously made to feel other” by lecturers who would single her out based on her race. Zoë Ruki, the second person to be featured, mentions the intersection between gender and race that can make it difficult to stand up for her opinions in fear of being labelled an “angry black woman”. Her involvement in the campaign is driven by the desire to show that “nothing defines what a St Andrews student is”.
In the past few years, the ‘Humans of New York’ page has been used to raise awareness of immigrants in America, refugees in Calais and, most recently, how life is in Lagos, Nigeria. The use of social media, powerful photos and direct quotes from people telling their stories allows for a human element in an otherwise distant format. ‘We Are St Andrews’ appears to be attempting to replicate this. Mr Marcelline has tapped into the success of many online campaigns to highlight issues and raise awareness within the social media generation.
More social campaigns are turning to art mediums in order to attract awareness in an interesting way. A trip to Edinburgh reveals a campaign focussed on stopping hate through the use of messages coined as ‘Letters from Scotland’. Each one beings with ‘Dear transphobes’ or ‘Dear homophobes’ and goes on to chide people who engage in hate behaviour, signed ‘from Scotland’. This use of art on the streets to push a serious message has been recognised as effective by the highest levels in Scotland and gives hope to the campaign in St Andrews to raise awareness.
Diversity in universities around Scotland and the UK is an issue that many are trying to tackle. The British musician Stormzy recently set up a scholarship to encourage black British students to attend the University of Cambridge. His hopes are to encourage more people to invest in minority groups going to university to increase representation. The University of Cambridge is increasing funding for programmes that support black and minority students in the hopes that, in combination with the options of a scholarship, more people than ever feel the confidence to apply. The University of St Andrews can learn from this approach, and Mr Marcelline seems to be the person taking charge of bringing it to their attention.
The future of the campaign relies on the involvement of the students and staff in St Andrews who are a racial or socio-economic minority, as well as the support of people who are not. The hope is that people will tell their stories and share their experiences on this platform in order to allow their voices to be heard. To begin with, Mr Marcelline and the team will focus on race, mainly from the perspective of UK citizens, although everyone is welcome to share their stories. Looking forward, he mentions that there are artistic shoots planned to further the connection between awareness and art, as well as a student and staff led discussion panel on the lack of diversity.
For three years at University of St Andrews, Mr Marcelline has felt like his “presence [was] questioned, and you need to justify why you are even here.”. ‘We Are St Andrews’ may be about to change that.