“Marriage or Career?”: The Times and Tribulations of Dr. Turnadge

Dr Isabel Turnadge,née Soar was a Birkbeck alumni who championed women’s right to vote and work after marriage in the 1920s. As part of the College’s 200th-anniversary celebrations Ciarán O’Donohue, PhD candidate in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology recalls the origins and trajectory of Dr Turnadge’s activism. 

Dr Isabel Turnadge

Dr. Isabel Turnadge, née Soar, with her son, Charles James. Becoming a parent will be a turning point for anyone, but perhaps for none more so than Isabel.

Only five PhDs in the sciences were awarded by the University of London in 1921. These were the first people ever to hold the distinction. Among them was botanist Isabel Soar, who had toiled tirelessly every weekday evening after work for five years at Birkbeck College.

Soar was in many ways the archetypal Birkbeckian, engaged as she was in full-time work and part-time study. The daughter of a stationer and a book-seller, Soar was a bright child: a ‘keen student of science, and particularly fond of botany’. After her own schooling, she pursued a career in teaching, taking up her first post as a science teacher in Ipswich in 1907.

Within six short years, she found herself in the daunting position of lecturing to trainee teachers in London at Stockwell Training College: an impressive achievement for one so young. Yet, Soar was not satisfied. Perhaps inspired by the experience of teaching others, Soar was determined to deepen her own knowledge. So, working full-time in the week, Soar began evening classes in botany at Birkbeck.

All her work was crammed into long weekdays. She made ‘it a point never to study on Saturdays, Sundays or other holidays’ and was a fervent believer that there was ‘a time for work and a time for play.’ In 1916, after three years of intense study, dedication and sacrifice, Soar achieved her Bachelor of Science in Botany, with first-class honours. The Middlesex County Times highlighted Soar as ‘an outstanding example of the rewards which await industry and determination.’

Still, Soar’s thirst for knowledge remained unquenched. Immediately after the completion of her bachelor’s she began to pursue original botanical research. Her trademark abundance of determination and its seemingly inexhaustible wellspring ensured she persevered for five long years. In June 1921, Soar’s Ph.D. thesis was approved, and she became the second Birkbeck student to achieve the title of Doctor. Bearing the title, The Structure and Function of the Endodermis in the Leaves of the Abietineae, it was of substantial interest to contemporary botanists. Before the end of 1922, an abridgement was published in The New Phytologist and she was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society.

Meanwhile, her professional life was also reaching new heights. In this same year, she was appointed headmistress of Twickenham County School for Girls by Middlesex County Council. For her work, she was to be awarded an extremely generous commencing salary of £600 per annum. And her run of good fortune was not over yet.

On Saturday 4 August 1923, Soar married Charles James Turnadge. Turnadge was a member of the Aristotelian Society, and was sometime editor of South Place Magazine, the organ of the South Place Ethical Society. Soar took her husband’s name, and they soon departed on their ‘ostentatious’ honeymoon: a six-week motor tour of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, and Wales.

Life seemed to be going well for Isabel Soar: academically, professionally, and personally. Unfortunately, it was not to last. In November 1926, in what should have been a happy time in her life, Soar, now Dr. Turnadge, was in the newspapers again.

In May 1926, she gave birth to Peter James Turnadge. As a result, she was fired. The Twickenham Higher Education Committee beseeched the Middlesex Education Committee to terminate her employment. They argued that ‘the responsibilities of motherhood are incompatible with her school duties.’

The Chair, and Twickenham’s Mayor, Dr. J. Leeson, defended his actions to the press: ‘with characteristic male impertinence,’ according to the feminist weekly Vote. He asserted that he had warned her, spluttering that it ‘was against my advice that Dr. Turnadge, holding the position she did, ever married… We pay her a good salary, and we want her undivided interests.’

Turnadge’s argument that her being a mother would be an asset to her work was given short shrift. In an interview with the Middlesex County Times, she explained that she was ‘even bold enough to hold the view that, as a mother, I might be better qualified to teach. May not maternal sympathy… be something of a help in training the young?’ She even later argued that ‘single women are not normal, they are emotionally starved.’ Accordingly, large numbers of single women teachers posed ‘a grave menace to the pupils.’  She made the further point that it was ‘absurd to pretend that it would be impossible for me to make adequate arrangements for Peter’ during the day, given her salary. This, similarly, did nothing to move the Committee from its position either.

Her arguments fell on deaf ears. Charles’s birth was the pretence they had been searching for since the wedding. Middlesex Education Committee had a policy that the marriage of an elementary school teacher would void their contract and terminate their employment. At the time of Soar’s wedding, however, this did not cover the marriage of secondary school teachers. The loophole was promptly closed afterwards, and although they could not act retrospectively, Soar became an exception in a fragile position, with a hostile employer.

Turnadge’s case added fuel to a debate which was already raging about the state’s employment of married women. Clearly, not everyone was in favour. Upon hearing of Turnadge’s dismissal, author James Money Kyrle Lupton sent his opinions into the West London Observer. ‘This position ought to be held in all cases by a single woman, who can devote all their time to the position,’ Lupton opined, continuing that besides a ‘married woman with any family cannot do her duty to the school and her home at the same time – this is self-evident.’

Others were appalled by the decision. Bernard Shaw quipped that ‘Twickenham is not very far from the river, and the sooner the people of Twickenham put their Higher Education Committee in the river, the better.’ Vote declared the incident ‘sufficient indication of the necessity for further vindication of the important principle of the freedom of the married woman.’

As for Dr. Turnadge herself, the bar imposed on married women teachers became the next target of her fiery determination and indefatigable work ethic. On 7 February 1927, Turnadge delivered a lecture entitled “Marriage or Career?” to the Six Point Group, a feminist organisation founded by Lady Rhondda in 1921. In Turnadge’s lecture, she decried the ‘present position of women’ as ‘most unsatisfactory, because we are not chattels, yet we are not regarded as responsible individuals who should be allowed to choose our own paths in life.’ For her, this was an issue of state interference in private life, and along undeniably unequal lines. Some women wanted ‘to continue their work after marriage, and I do not see why anyone should interfere with them,’ she asserted. It was not the work of education authorities to regulate household economies. If they were economically minded, she stressed, they would realise the folly of expending public money on teaching scholarships, only then to dismiss married women outright.

By March, she was honoured at Vote’s annual spring sale, by giving the opening address whilst rubbing shoulders with veteran campaigners such as the president, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. Her focus had crystallised on equal suffrage, for both married and single women.

Her points were direct, brimming with a scientist’s rationality. A woman and her life must no more be interfered with than a man. Anything less than equality would rob the nation of talent. Women should be given the same rights of individual determination.  Her conviction was that possessing the vote at 21 was of the highest importance. This is when women were entering their professions, she determined, and so most needed the power to influence policy. Evidently, her experiences had left their mark on her, and she was determined no other woman should suffer the same fate.

When the Equal Franchise Act was passed a few months later in July 1928, the achievement of policy change through the exercise of the vote was in sight. For many women, their objectives had been achieved, their battles over. Lady Rhondda, a suffragette and life-long feminist, recalled some years later ‘that when, in 1928, the vote came on equal terms, one felt free to drop the business.’ For her at least, it ‘was a blessed relief to feel that one had not got to trouble with things of that sort anymore.’

As indomitable as ever, Turnadge’s years of campaigning were only just beginning. As the international organiser for the Six Point Group, we last catch a glimpse of her busy organising a conference in Geneva to lobby for an Equal Rights Treaty. With the confidence equality was well on the way in Britain, her sights were set on the League of Nations.

Today, Birkbeck awards over 100 PhDs a year; quite the difference to a century ago. Yet, it seems that Birkbeck’s students retain the same qualities. Isabel worked consistently, with perseverance and dedication, to follow her passion. She took her fate into her own hands, sacrificing her evenings to better her prospects. And although she faced it in spades, adversity never triumphed over her. She cannot help but remind us of our peers and colleagues in these current days of difficulty, and thankfully Isabel’s virtues seem set to live on in Birkbeckians for another hundred years.

 

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“Without the Compass Project, I would never have seen myself as a university student”

The Compass Project has been successfully supporting students from forced migrant backgrounds into higher education since 2016; read what two Compass scholars have to say about the impact it has had on their lives.

Hana* joined Birkbeck in 2020 to start an LLB Law degree:
“My passion for human rights and immigration law has grown and I know I want to be a human rights lawyer in the future. For me, the Compass Project hasn’t just been an opportunity to study, it’s been an opportunity to change my life.

People coming from forced migrant backgrounds know what it means to have nothing and know how challenging life can get. Now we have the opportunity to work hard and achieve our potential. I don’t have all the words to say thank you. My advice for future Compass students is to make sure you are clear about your passions and what you want to achieve. Find the courage within yourself as you will only have regrets if you don’t. It doesn’t matter about where you come from, just about where you go. I am now at Birkbeck, studying a great course and meeting amazing people.”

Two people reading a book together to represent Compass students

Grace* joined Birkbeck in 2018 and recently completed a CertHE in Psychodynamic Counselling and Skills in a Psychosocial Framework:

“Psychodynamic Counselling was of particular interest to me because I have always wanted to help others and the theory and practical skills I gained in class also helped me with my own personal trauma. I am glad that I have now been able to turn the helping aspect of my personality into a qualification. Without the Compass Project, I would never have seen myself as a university student. Even with everything I have been through, one of the biggest barriers I faced prior to studying was my own self-doubt. However, the support I received from those on the Compass Project team and other Birkbeck staff took that self-doubt away.”

* Names have been changed

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Coronation salmon curry – a fusion dish that can be cooked and served in 30 minutes

As part of a new initiative to enhance international students’ experience at Birkbeck, our students and staff will be sharing their favourite recipes over the next few months in a series of blogs. In this blog, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry shares the secret to making his home-made fish curry.

Background: Being a Bengali and a foodie, I have always gravitated towards foods like fish curry and our traditional sweets! I spent the first 25 years of my life adjacent to the Bay of Bengal and lived around the river Ganges, where there were a number of natural resources to supply sweet-water fish. Hence, when I came to the UK, a challenge for me was to get the taste of my home-made fish curry; moving from Kolkata to Oxford.

As a Wellcome Trust funded International Fellow living in my College accommodation on the Old Marston Road, I first tried the following recipe. It was a delightful triumph! Without any reservations, I can say that home-cooking has always been a stress-busting experience for me. When a recipe can connect you with your motherland, help you to make new friends, saves money, assist you with healthy living and brings joy to your life, then why not?

Let me know how your trial goes after you transform the following recipe into your evening/weekend meal…

Ingredients:

Essentials:
4 salmon* fillets (500g)
Cooking oil (~30ml)
Natural bio live set yoghurt (1 tablespoon/ tbsp)
Mayonnaise (200g)
Spicy ‘korma’ curry paste (1 tbsp)
Mustard paste (smooth) (1 teaspoon/ tsp)
Mango chutney (2 tbsps)
Juice of 1 lemon
Almond powder (2 tbsp)
Salt (1 tsp/adjust per preference)

(*salmon can be replaced by monk fish, seabass or any other white fish fillet, descaled but skin on)

Optional: Almond flakes, raisins, coriander/ thyme for garnishing.

Cooking method: Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas 4. Marinate salmon fillets with a little salt, lemon juice and cooking oil for 5 minutes. Put them in the oven for 12-15 minutes, skin side up. While the fish is in the oven, lightly mix the mayonnaise, yoghurt, curry paste, almond powder, mango chutney, mustard paste and salt in a bowl. Add a little water to help making the paste smoother if needed.

Drizzle some cooking oil on a pan. When heated, pour the sauce and a cup of water into the pan. When it starts bubbling, put the fish in the sauce, wait for 2-3 minutes and keep the heat on high to boil. After 2-3 minutes of boiling put a cover on the pan and switch off the hob.

Presentation: Garnish the dish with chopped coriander/thyme and almond flakes. Enjoy the dish with rice (basmati/jasmine)/naan/pitta/flat bread.

Further Information

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Introducing our Chevening students: Part three

In this last instalment of our 2020 Chevening scholars series we introduce six more future leaders who have joined Birkbeck from Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Georgia, Namibia and Syria. 

Nesrin Morad, Syria/Turkey, MSc Education, Power and Social Change

Nesrin Morad

Nesrin Morad

Nesrin, a Syrian and Turkish leader and activist, has around seven years of experience working in the humanitarian and development sector. In her role, she was responding to the Syrians’ needs in various countries through working with different entities and projects in education, protection, capacity development and partnership.  She believes that learning and collaboration are key to reaching the intended positive change in society. Nesrin has always been a social activist in the community, involved in voluntary and social initiatives. She was a member of the Red Crescent, JCI for youth development, an activist in the university leading different youth initiatives and a volunteer leading awareness campaigns for Syrians in Turkey. She also has a great passion for travelling to learn about different cultures and countries and learning new dances.

Birkbeck’s MSC  Education, power and social Change will complement her practical experiences, allowing her to play a leading role in organising local initiatives to empower Syrian leaders and lead the change.

Within the Chevening Community Nesrin aims to be a Syrian woman leader, share the unique experiences and stories from Syria and gain from the experiences of others.

Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia, MSc Management with Corporate Governance and Business Ethics

Menessia Diergaardt

Menessia Diergaardt

Menessia currently works as a Taxation Officer at the Ministry of Finance in Namibia. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and an MSc in Banking and Finance from Moi University (Kenya).

Menessia believes that her aspirations meet her country’s economic growth ambitions and Chevening will help her to become more specialists in her field, allowing her to contribute towards the management and development of the country’s economic and social resources.

Menessia was attracted by Chevening because of its track-record for producing and developing many of the world’s finest scholars, leaders and presidents and the unique opportunity it offers to transform future leaders. “Chevening will create a platform for me to connect and network with a diverse and talented community, not only will I be exposed to and experience the UK education system, but I will also develop a diplomacy relationship that will equally benefit Namibia, the UK and the world at large.”

Sami Mehiaoui, Algeria, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Sami Mehiaoui

Sami Mehiaoui

Passionate about management consultancy & entrepreneurship, Sami holds a Master’s degree from the National High School of Management. During his, Masters Sami was elected president of the Scientist Club of Future Manager. He began his career as business analyst consultant supporting the development of more than 20 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in a programme funded by the UK government.

Sami is an entrepreneur and has co-founded several innovative businesses such as the Makelti mobile app or Forward development. An active member in the social entrepreneurship network, Sami was selected by Chevening in order to pursue his research in business innovation with entrepreneurship at Birkbeck. With the skills in strategic management, he will acquire Sami achieve his goals of strategic development with sustainability and social impact.

Adriana Borja-Enriquez, Ecuador, MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture

Adriana Borja-Enriquez

Adriana Borja-Enriquez, Ecuador

I got a degree in Clinical Psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. I’m interested in human rights advocacy and psychoanalysis. Since 2014,  I have collaborated in psychosocial projects at non-governmental organizations that support survivors of gender-based violence, refugees, and asylum seekers in Ecuador. I aim to promote safe spaces and inclusive mental health care for women and the LGBTQI+ community.

I also hold a Postgraduate Certificate in Writing: Human Creativity and Communication from FLACSO Argentina. In 2018, The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US. Department of State sponsored my participation in The International Writing Program at The University of Iowa. I attended this literary residency alongside other authors that promote dialogue through literature and cultural diplomacy. My writing has been published in magazines and short-story collections in Spanish, English, and Italian.

Thanks to the Chevening Secretariat and The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, I will study an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture at Birkbeck, University of London. It is a great honour for me to be part of a community that promotes social change while celebrating diversity.

Kristina Arakelova, Georgia, MSc in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict

Kristina Arakelova

Kristina Arakelova

Kristina Arakelova is a member of the Core Group of Experts for the OSCE “Perspective 20-30” and a former Fellow in the UN OHCHR Minority Fellowship program 2018. She is a founder and President of the “Youth for Diplomatic Engagement” non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on youth involvement in the conflict, security, and ethnic minority integration issues in Georgia. As the President of the organization, she provides consultancy for state and civil society organizations working in these fields. Passionate about empowering or helping minorities/marginalized people, Kristina is an international trainer on conflict resolution and mediation.

“I applied for Chevening to contribute to bringing about much-needed peace, tolerance, and prosperity in my home country, Georgia, and beyond.”

Randolphe Severin N’Guessan, Cote d’Ivoire, MA TESOL

Randolphe Severin

Randolphe Severin

“I’ve been teaching English in Côte d’Ivoire (my country) for years, and I am also preparing a PhD in English, with the option of linguistics and didactics of languages in continuing training. This year, I am studying an MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Birkbeck, University of London.

The need for modern and standardised education systems is evident in my country, which is a French-speaking one, but English is taught at school.  From my little experience, the teaching of English brings up many challenges and gaps to be bridged.  Thus, it will be interesting to attend a world-class university like Birkbeck, meet native speakers, share experiences with many others from all over the world. This will help me to be more proficient upon my return home.

I am very interested in Applied Linguistics and Intercultural Communication; and also willing to move to a more specialised position, such as teacher-trainer or language consultant and a teaching materials designer. Consequently, the MA TESOL is the relevant course that enables this.

Chevening is making my dreams come true.  Great, no!  NO NO, I CAN’T KEEP CALM!!!”

Find out more about:

 

 

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Top tips and benefits for using video in lectures and seminars

Jenna Davies, Birkbeck’s Enterprise and Employability Consultant, encourages students to keep their cameras on whilst attending online lectures or seminars by outlining the benefits and addressing the most common barriers.

Among the various changes that 2020 has brought – our ways of working, studying, even socialising – there is one piece of equipment that has enabled us to retain our connection to others: our cameras.

While we have been unable to physically meet and see our colleagues and peers, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to maintain a level of connection through our screens, be it our phones, iPads, laptops or computers. In our online lectures and seminars, we can replicate the classroom as best as possible through the technology that we are able to access, providing a unique experience in a challenging environment where everyone can benefit from the virtual teaching space.

However, there are a number of barriers that may prevent us from fully embracing the online learning environment; to switch our cameras on, use our microphones to speak up, and be as present as possible, as we would in person. We may not feel comfortable being on video in front of our tutors and peers, we may have distractions in the background that we don’t want to risk interrupting the sessions, or we may feel we can still get the same from the session by not being on video. To overcome these challenges and reap the benefits of having our videos on in our online lectures and seminars, there are things we can do to make sure that we maximise our learning.

“I’m not comfortable being on video in front of my tutors and peers”

The transition to remote studying and working this year has meant that our home and work/study life are much more intertwined. Our homes are our study spaces – and although it’s only our head and shoulders in shot, we may feel more exposed on video compared to in-person.

Consider how you feel when you see someone on video in an online lecture, or meeting for example. Often, we’ll feel more of a connection to that person because we can see them. If we’re in an online meeting with three other people, two of whom have their videos on and one doesn’t, we feel less of a rapport with the person we can’t see.

If we have our videos off, we may be impacting the connection that others have with us and their experience in the virtual learning space as well. Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager, Mark Pimm, recently reflected on his experience in virtual meetings: “I’m blind, and I have become so conscious of how much I miss out on being able to see everyone in the virtual meeting. This has made me wonder if when you leave the camera turned off in your online lectures and seminars, whether your fellow students are missing out on you.”

If everyone in our online lectures embraces the virtual space and switches their videos on, we’ll feel more connected to our peers and tutors. We’ll be more engaged and avoid potential distractions because we will be more present in that space. This will positively impact our experience and the goals we may have set when we enrolled onto our courses – to learn, to meet new people, to progress our careers, to graduate.

“I have distractions in the background that could interrupt the sessions”

There will often be occasions when we can’t avoid interruptions while we’re online – we may have children to look after, someone might be at the door, we might not want to show the space around us on video. The resistance to be on screen can come from a number of reasons.

If we consider how we feel when we have seen someone else on-screen experience interruptions during a lesson or a meeting, often there isn’t an impact on the session for others. We have all become far more understanding of what it means to study and work from home, and this comes with the acceptance that people will be in different spaces and have things going on in their homes that they can’t control.

If a distracting background is the difference between turning our videos on in lectures and making the most of the lesson, having a screen behind you may be a useful option. This could be a room divider or something in the home that you can use as your background.

“I’m not sure how I should position my camera”

Whichever device you use for your online sessions, try to have your head and shoulders in the shot. This will ensure that you fill the ‘frame’ without being too close or too far away from the camera.

Aim to have your device’s camera at the same height as your head, which will help to avoid looking down at the camera lens and it will also ensure that your posture is in a good position.

There are some useful tips in this video about setting up your cameras and making more impact on video.

“I’m still getting the same level of teaching with my video off”

There are numerous benefits of being part of a group and studying alongside peers who share the same interest in the topic you’re studying. While we have transitioned from physical classrooms to virtual classrooms, this doesn’t mean that those connections with your peers should disappear.

Being able to learn from your tutors as well as your fellow students is hugely beneficial and enhances your learning experience. The more engaged and present you are in your online sessions, with your videos on and speaking up to contribute to discussions, the more you will benefit from the session.

As we continue into the academic year, embrace the virtual learning environment and the opportunity to connect with your peers and tutors by making use of the technology we have, to benefit your studies as well as your peers’.

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The Disability Discrimination Act – what’s changed?

This November we celebrate 25 years since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act. In this blog, Mark Pimm, Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager who is blind, shares his experiences as a university student and how the world has changed since the passing of the Act.

Mark Pimm with his guide dog, Sonny

Twenty-five years ago, on 8 November 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was passed and it got me thinking about how student life has changed in a quarter of a century.  There were no tuition fee loans and a pint of beer in the Student Union bar cost a pound, but life was a lot more challenging for disabled students.  There were no disability officers, universities weren’t required to make provision for disabled students – in fact, before the Act, we had no legal rights.

There was a Disabled Students’ Allowance, but at that time it was so small I couldn’t afford a computer; all I had was a writing machine with 32 megabytes of ram.

Because I did not have a computer and could not read Braille, I did everything on tape.  I recruited a team of volunteers to read my textbooks onto tape. I drafted my notes for essays onto cassette tapes and listened back to the notes when I came to write the essay.  All my exam notes were put onto tape, and I listened to these to revise. To give an idea of the scale, I had over 500 tapes containing over 2,000 hours of recording. Even though I was organised, it often took me an hour to find the right point on the right tape.

In those days, being blind I knew I would never get a non-graduate job. If I wanted to work, I had to get a degree. I had no choice but to carry on despite extraordinary odds because if I didn’t, I would never work.

What would be the difference today? If I was coming to Birkbeck now, the Disabled Students’ Allowance would pay for a computer with specialist software and training to ensure I could use it to access our online learning. It would fund an electronic notetaker, who would provide me with notes from all my lectures by email.

The university’s virtual learning environment would be accessible to me and I’d have access to the teaching materials in advance of our lectures, enabling me to read, as well as understand the structure of the lectures, prior to attending them. I could use the platform SensusAccess to make the electronic documents accessible to me and access the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s audible book service.

The number of additional things I’d need to do for myself would be reduced. I’d have the time to think about my future career and with support like the Ability Programme would be able to develop the transferrable skills that might mean that I could progress straight from graduation to employment, as my non-disabled peers can do.

It’s truly remarkable and inspiring to see how far we’ve come, thanks to those campaigners in the 90s.

Further Information:

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Community development: fostering dialogue and connections

The Community Leadership Programme for Newham Residents is run by the Access and Engagement Department and the Community Development and Public Policy BSc in the Department of Geography.

Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, the project aims to bring learning to community spaces and is part of the Access and Engagement department’s aim to bring education and learning opportunities to groups underrepresented in higher education.

In this blog, David Tross, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Geography, talks more about the course and the Newham citizens it’s worked with over the last 13 months.

Community is strength on a billboard

Community is strength on a billboard

One extraordinary aspect of this extraordinary year was what has been called the ‘largest peacetime mobilisation in UK history’, the 1 million-plus individuals who volunteered as part of the community response to COVID-19. These included NHS responders, volunteers for local charities, the 4000 mutual aid groups that sprung up in neighbourhoods across the country and those who spent lockdown making PPE equipment for key workers. Not only this, a demonstrable upsurge in community spirit was observed during the first wave of the pandemic, with large increases in the numbers of people agreeing that their neighbourhood was a place where residents looked out for each other and over half of those polled indicating that they had checked in on their neighbours in the past week.

The Birkbeck Community Development programme has now worked with over 100 active citizens in Newham over the last 13 months. We call the course Community Leadership, not because the participants necessarily have any formal leadership role, but because they all, in various ways and through various roles, are making a contribution to their local area, demonstrating how local people can instigate change because they have a passion or will to do so.

David Tross adding ideas to a board

We have worked with a resident who works for a local community organisation providing foodbanks and delivering youth projects. He’s so good at using digital platforms and social media to market and fundraise that he’s now helping us deliver the learning and resources on this aspect of Community Development. Then we have the resident who starts conservations and spreads awareness about mental health by taking a sofa to public places and chatting to local people about their experiences, signposting to agencies who can help. One of our last cohort was working with Muslim groups to alleviate a particular local consequence of the crisis — international students whose part-time jobs, often in the hospitality industries, disappeared overnight and were then unable to access public funds, leaving them destitute and without enough food to eat

The four-week course is structured around particular themes: leadership approaches, project management, community engagement and wellbeing. We bring in ideas and resources from the degree course we run at Birkbeck, while also calling upon the local resources and contacts developed through Senior Access Officer Hester Gartrell’s work in east London with the Access and Engagement Department.

Unlike other London boroughs, Newham has no Council for Voluntary Service, local infrastructure organisations dedicated to help local community groups access funding, resources and training, and there is a need for community projects to access this support. However, the key success of the course is what participants share and learn from each other. In this sense, our job is to facilitate dialogue and connections which will sustain and strengthen the projects people are doing, often in relative isolation, and to get great ideas off the ground.

A key activity of every course is the ‘Resource Exchange’, where we simply let participants meet and share resources and information, ask each other for help and provide advice and support. These mutual connections are a part of developing the social capital- networks of mutual support and trust- that are key to Community Development activity in a locality.

Further information:

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Introducing our Chevening students 2020 part two

In this second instalment of our Chevening series, and ahead of the application deadline for the 2021 Chevening scholarship, we meet scholars from Albania, Brazil, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda, Brazil, MSc International Security and Global Governance

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda’s academic background comprises of undergraduate degrees in Geology and in Law, postgraduate degrees in Management of Electric Sector Companies, International Executive and Technology, Management and Sustainability. Rogerio has just retired as a Security Manager and Director Chief of Staff in Itaipu Power Plant (the largest producer of clean and renewable energy in the planet) where he worked for 30 years, and where he designed important corporative programs such as the company innovation award.

After his Masters at Birkbeck Rogerio plans to become a college lecturer.

Mbiwan Eyere Takor, Cameroon, MSc Education, Power and Social Change

Eyere Takor

Mbiwan Eyere Takor

“Over the last 45 years I went from being just me to a wife and mother of four daughters and a son, to a teacher, mentor, educational administrator and founder of several social organisations as I explored a passion for social justice and empowerment.

In this time, even though the world has gone through many changes with targeted policies to improve access to education and opportunities for growth, women and girls are still at a big disadvantage as compared to their male counterparts.

I applied to Chevening because it has a reputation for being fair, inclusive and high achieving. Here I am at almost 69 with a Chevening scholarship to study at the prestigious 200-year-old Birkbeck, University of London. Again, Chevening alumni include formidable talents that are great resources to their countries around the world.”

Eva Shimaj, Albania, MSc Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability

Eva Shimaj

Eva Shimaj

“Working in an international business organisation made me realise the potential resources that companies can put into communities is immense and what is most needed is a change of vision, going towards ethical, environmentally-oriented and sustainable business practices. This motivated me to start this new journey and study Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. This would have not been possible without the support of the Chevening Scholarship program, which I thank for giving me this opportunity. It is a proud moment for me to be part of this network of excellent scholars and future change-makers.”

Freemen Pasurai, Zimbabwe, MSc Human Resource Development and Consultancy

Freeman Pasurai

Freeman Pasurai

“My life story glides on the back of a fractured past and not even in my formative years did I ever imagine studying in the UK. Nothing less but my faith assured me that the things which I had never dreamt of can become a reality.

In high school I was fascinated by poetry and it’s a passion I’m still pursuing as a poet.

My breakthrough years came when I went to Midlands State University to study for a Degree in Human Resource Management. I became the Student Representative Council President and graduated with a Book Prize Award. Thereafter, I joined Econet Wireless Zimbabwe where I gained experience in customer experience, training and development and human capital management. I also assumed the role of President for the company’s Toastmasters Club which perfected my public speaking skills and leadership abilities.

I was enthralled by the reputation of the Chevening Scholarship and how much it has developed leaders across the world. I chose to apply with an understanding that in the UK ideas come alive and the ultimate Chevening experience provides a platform for leadership growth and professional networks that last a lifetime.”

Carolina del Carmen Pichardo Hernandez, Dominican Republic, MA Investigative

Reporting

Carolina Pichardo

Carolina Pichardo

“Since 2017 I have worked as a reporter for the oldest and most important newspaper in the Dominican Republic “Listín Diario”, where I write features about different topics such as Government, Education, Health and daily news.

But my main passion is investigating. For that reason, I have written features about the adoption system in the Dominican Republic and the orphans of murdered women. With these articles, I have won multiple journalistic prizes in my country.

I applied for Chevening because studying in the UK on a one-year scholarship will give me the bravery and independence I need to reach all my personal and professional goals. And of course, Chevening is the best way to study in a prestigious British university while meeting future leaders from all over the globe. “

Mariam Camara, Guinea, MSc Public Policy and Management

Mariam has ten years of experience in management, capacity building and skills development programmes. Currently, she is the Human Resources Manager of the Guinean State Mining Company, where she promotes skills development for employees.

In 2017, Mariam was selected by the US Department of State as a Young African Leader for the Mandela Washington Fellowship programme.

Her professional goal is to take a leadership role in the social and economic development of her country by promoting education, local content development, women’s empowerment, good governance and transparency.

Elif Harmanci, Turkey, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Elif Harmanci

Elif Harmanci

Elif’s passion for social entrepreneurship can be traced back to her college years. Whether as a full-time volunteer for four years in an award-winning NGO working in innovation and technology, or a regional finalist in Hult Prize Challenge in London, Elif has been on social innovation journey from the start, collaborating with students from diverse areas including visually-impaired peers, refugees and the pupils under legal protection.

As a person who is committed to developing an impactful social enterprise in the future, Elif is honoured to be a Chevener. She sees the UK is the centre of innovation and Chevening offers her the opportunity to meet and work together with innovators and leaders from diverse backgrounds who all wish to make the world a better place.

Sarah Busingye, Rwanda, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Sarah Busingye

Sarah Busingye

Sarah Busingye, a digital catalyser consultant, is an experienced face-to-face and online trainer with 10 years’ experience in the financial sector. She has delivered training on technical skills (e.g. banking, microfinance, digital finance, credit management) as well as soft skills (e.g.Leadership, Project management, Human resource management, Communication, Staff training, Client training, Customer service, Transformation). She is also an expert in trainers’ training and in systems for staff performance management.

Having served in different capacities on both the formal and informal sectors Sarah is passionate about tackling issues that impact the development of informal businesses, such as the lack of skills and education.

She is intent on using the professional and academic skills she will gain at Birkbeck to improve her community.

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Widening access to postgraduate courses

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department have been working with the local community in the London borough of Newham for many years. In this blog, Hester Gartrell, Senior Outreach Officer at Birkbeck discusses what widening access to postgraduate courses looks like in the Birkbeck context.

A post-it with a lightbulb

There is a lot of buzz around ‘Widening Participation (WP)’ or ‘access’ to Higher Education. In fact, the Government, through the Office for Students, requires universities to prove that they are actively engaged in activities that will support students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds into undergraduate study. At most universities Widening Participation activities focus on supporting secondary school pupils into university. Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department challenges this model, supporting BTEC and Further Education College students alongside prospective mature students from a variety of backgrounds including Trade Union members and people who are Forced Migrants.

At Birkbeck, we also want to challenge approaches to access that only focus on undergraduate students. We have a fantastically diverse undergraduate cohort, but this diversity is not reflected to the same extent in our postgraduate student body. As our postgraduate student numbers grow and a Master’s degree becomes increasingly important for gaining a professional job we have pioneered new approaches which reach out to potential postgraduate students.

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department have worked in the east London borough of Newham for many years and in 2018, the department received funding from the London Legacy Development Corporation enabling them to expand their work in Newham and began trialling advice and guidance for potential postgraduate applicants. While there has been substantial economic development in the borough since the 2012 Olympics, many local graduates still find themselves underemployed or unemployed.  For graduates looking to move on from zero-hours contracts, take the next step after poor attainment in their first degree or stepping back into a career after taking time to care for family, postgraduate study can be just as life-changing as undergraduate.

Working with potential postgraduate students through the lens of access enabled us to explore the many unanswered questions around ‘what actually is non-traditional’ and what is defined as ‘widening access’ at postgraduate level. Across a sector dominated by 18-year olds, the traditional widening access criteria and interventions for undergraduate can’t simply be transferred wholesale to postgraduate applicants. This is especially relevant for Birkbeck, where our undergraduate access work already looks very different from the rest of the HE sector, leading to the question, if our access work at undergraduate aims to reach those left behind by traditional widening access work, what does postgraduate widening access look like in the Birkbeck context?

Our postgraduate Information, Advice and Guidance pilot enabled us to begin exploring this question alongside a wider strategic project going on across the College to improve access to Masters programmes for a diverse range of students.

To find out more about our learnings from the east London widening access at postgraduate programme, watch our webinar. We also have a range of open-access videos for potential postgraduate students that can be used in student communications.

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A moving celebration of Black History Month

Carmen Fracchia, Professor of Hispanic Art History, Cultures & Languages, School of Arts, reflects on her recent book tour and the emotive nature of the response to her book in considering the experience of Black people in Spain.

Flemish painter, Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch. Book of Hours of Charles V, do l. 82r. Brussels or Malines, c. 1519, Österreichische, Nationalbibliothek

On 2 October, I was invited to present my new book ‘Black but Human: Slavery and Visual Art in Hapsburg Spain, 1480-1700’ (Oxford: OUP, 2019) at the University of Lincoln (UK) to celebrate Black History Month, together with two poets, one visual artist, and an art historian. I found this event, UT PICTURA POESIS: An Evening of Poetry, Art and Art History, deeply emotional.

Organised by Dr Laura Fernández-González (School of History and Heritage), the title emerged from her belief in the power of images, following the steps of Horace’s maxime, ‘as is painting, so is poetry.’ Her aim, however, was to show new work produced as a case study on how to construct a ‘new anti-racist Art and Architectural History’. Her brief was followed by the presentation of the three artists by the art historian Michael Ohajuru, a TV personality and director of The John Blanke Project.

In my view, the most unexpected feature of the evening, was the poem ‘Negro pero humano’ (‘Black but Human’) by the literary activist, editor, publisher, and, award-winning poet, Kadija Sesay MBE. It was one of her two extremely powerful poems, written specifically for this event as a response to my book, to its title, and to two images of her choice, The Miracle of the Black Leg and The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

The first part of the title of my book, ‘Black but Human’, was an Afro-Hispanic proverb and the prism from which I tried to foreground the forgotten presence of Africans and their descendants in the visual form in early modern Spain. This proverb also allowed me to explore the emergence of the ‘enslaved subject’ and the ‘emancipated subject’ in Spanish portraiture.

This saying, that was circulated in the Afro-Spanish oral tradition and appropriated by well-known Hispanic poets, such as Luis de Góngora in Spain and Juana Inés de la Cruz in Mexico, was also written by enslaved and liberated Africans, as the findings of anonymous black carols, in 2004, testify.

‘Black but Human’ encodes the paradoxical nature of what it meant to be a ‘black’ person in ‘white’ Spain, between 1480-1700. To be ‘black’, as I have recently written in my blog, ‘How long do we need to wait to acknowledge that black people are no longer our slaves?, ‘meant to be a chattel, a piece of property, to be hired, bought and sold as a precious commodity at auctions; to become objects of material exchange: traded to save the donor’s soul, gifts, dowry, and, heritage; money to pay debts, to settle accounts in lieu of mortgages, and rents.

To be a black person meant to be owned by a slave master and to suffer punishment at any sign of rebellion against this complete dehumanization in a society where the word ‘black’ and the physical appearance of blackness were signifiers of the specific social condition of slavery. Besides, to be a black person also meant to become a strategic resource for the colonization of the New World.’ Africans were also considered ‘children of God’ as they had a soul that was whitened by the transformative powers of baptism. Christianity made them equal to Spaniards, but only in the spiritual realm.

Kadija’s beautiful poems encapsulated the ideological, painful, and contradictory position of Africans in the Spanish empire that I explored in my book, perfectly. Her poems set up the emotional barometer of the Lincoln event that was strengthened by the topical work made by the visual artist Victoria Burgher. In her presentation, she showed ten temporary works made with ‘colonial commodities’, like sugar and cotton to ‘re-examine white-washed narratives of empire’ and as a critique to the British Transatlantic Slavery in the Caribbean and in the UK. This strong visual presentation was complemented by the speed and cascade of words by international media activist and poet-educator Mark Thompson’s brilliant performance of his personal and historical poems, that brought the energy and anger of the young.

The last half of the evening was followed by the conversation between Michael and I about my book. We discussed the historical amnesia of the African presence in today’s Spain; the title of my book; the visual representation of the Miracle of the Black Leg, as the metaphor of the violence of slavery and the roots of contemporary racism in the Hispanic world; the portraits of the enslaved Juan de Pareja (c.1606, Antequera, Málaga–c.1670, Madrid) by his owner, the court painter Diego Velázquez; Pareja’s self-portrait, as a freedman, in his painting The Calling of Saint Matthew, and, the urgent need to recover the Afro-Hispanic contribution to the Hispanic culture.

This event was attended by approximately 80 people and generated so many questions from the numerous national and international attendees (students, academics, museums curators, filmmakers, artists, writers, among many others) that time was not enough to address all of them.

Read Kadija Sesay’s poem, Negro pero Humano

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