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“I’m capable of much more than I ever imagined”

Despite struggling with education due to illness, Chantelle Ewen had a dream of getting a degree in Criminology. She came to Birkbeck to study BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice in order to fulfill that dream. This is her story.  

Since the age of 16, I’ve struggled with education because of my illness – a condition called Conversion Disorder – which causes neurological systems in my body to shut down, resulting in bouts of prolonged mobility issues, blindness, deafness and speech impairment. I constantly had to miss classes and struggled to do the assigned work. Some of my teachers told me to give up while I could, to just accept that I probably wouldn’t be able to handle further education, let alone higher education, and I almost believed them.  

But then I discovered my passion for criminology. I remember being fascinated by the forensic science module in my BTEC science class. We had this presentation to do, and I went completely above and beyond for it. It awakened a burning interest within me – to know about the criminal mind, to understand the processes of investigation and more. I had this dream of getting a criminology degree, and I said to myself: you need to conquer every little thing, every obstacle in your way to do this.  

It was someone from the admissions team of a different university who put me onto Birkbeck. They explained it was a unique university, which lets people work or parent during the day (I do both!), and study at night. That very same day I was told about it, I went to Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus to look around, and fell in love with it.  

I came to Birkbeck and had a heart to heart with the very first lecturer I met. I explained my disability, my educational struggles, and my dream.  They told me that I’d get the support I needed to make sure I could achieve my dream, and that they could already see me graduating. It had been so long since a teacher had words of encouragement for me; it was really emotional. Those words became a source of inspiration for me over the three years that I studied. Even when I had to miss a significant amounts of lectures, due to being bed-ridden or not being able to speak, I knew I would keep studying. 

My lecturers helped me in every way they could to make sure I didn’t fall behind, and the Disability Support and Study Skills services for students at Birkbeck were excellent. I had access to special software that helped me write essays when I couldn’t move my hands, curated study sessions that helped improve my writing skills, and people willing to help me whenever I needed it. 

I’m so grateful to the entire department for their efforts over my three years of studying. Unlike other tutors I’d encountered, they never turned their backs on me, and never allowed me to give up, even when the odds were stacked against me. I can now proudly say that I’m graduating with a degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, which, back when I was 16 was something I never thought I’d say.  

I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m eager to use my degree to get into probation work, working in courts and prisons, and eventually rehabilitation. I know it might be challenging, but why not? My time at Birkbeck taught me not to overthink things, and taught me that I’m capable of much more than I ever imagined.   

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Bringing staff, students and internationally acclaimed artists together to celebrate Diwali

The event, hosted by Birkbeck School of Science in collaboration with local Indian community Adda, attracted students and staff eager to celebrate Diwali and learn more about the folk culture and rural artistry of Bengal.  

Group picture with Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo (School of Arts); visiting artists Prasenjit Bhattacharjee, Esha Chakravarty, Babu Fakir, Subho Karmakar; and Professor Sanjib Bhakta

As part of this year’s celebration of Diwali, Birkbeck was delighted to support an international community-based project between the Government of West Bengal, India and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project, called Rural Craft and Cultural Hubs (RCCH), is a collaboration between the Government of West Bengal, UNESCO and selected ambassadors to promote folk culture and rural artistry of Bengal. 

Three internationally acclaimed artists, Subho Karmakar, Babu Fakir and Saurav Moni, attended Birkbeck’s 2022 Diwali on Campus event on Monday, 24 October, performing and exhibiting a selection of arts and crafts to Birkbeck students and staff.  

Professor Sanjib Bhakta, based at Birkbeck’s School of Science, and ambassador for the project was one of the event’s organisers. He explained: “Diwali follows the epic story of ancient India, ‘Ramayana’, to represent the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The symbolism of Diwali is appropriately summarised in the simple act of lighting a lamp or ‘diya’. This is said to ward off evil and welcome the Goddess Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity) into the house. The positive vibe that comes with the Diwali festival continues to be highly needed in the current challenging environment around the world.” 

An example of the traditional bites served during the event

Brought up in West Bengal, Professor Bhakta was excited to welcome the artists to the event and share with students and fellow staff more of his culture.  The artists played Baul music of Bengal and wore traditional clothing. The Baul are a group of mystics from the Bengal region who mix elements of Sufism and Vaishnavism. Considered to be both a religious sect and a musical tradition, Bauls are a very diverse group with many sub-sects but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims. They are often identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments, which the artists at the Diwali event also wore.  

The event was well attended, and some Indian students dressed in traditional clothing for the occasion. To reflect the importance of food in Indian culture, and particularly during Diwali celebrations, traditional sweet bites, fresh fruit and drinks were served alongside the entertainment.  

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The Compass Project: a quick activity roundup

Isabelle Habib, Access Manager for Birkbeck’s Compass Project, reflects on a busy and fruitful year for the students involved 

The Compass Project is a flagship Birkbeck programme which supports sanctuary seekers into higher education. Each year, the Compass Project Sanctuary Scholarship  sponsors students from refugee and forced migrant backgrounds to do a degree programme at Birkbeck. As we come to the end of another successful year for the programme and its scholars, it’s a pleasure to look back and reflect on the various activities the students were involved in.  

Social trips  

Everyone deserves a break from their studies occasionally, so in the autumn and spring, Compass students attended a number of specially arranged social activities that ranged from visits to the British Museum to a trip to London’s famous Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, just around the corner from Birkbeck. Here, some of the students had their first ever experience of bowling!  

 

End of year celebration on the Birkbeck terrace  

To celebrate the students’ achievements this year, Compass scholars and their mentors gathered in June for an end of year celebration. Meeting at the Terrace 5 restaurant, based at the top of Birkbeck’s Malet Street building, the group enjoyed food and drinks and were all congratulated with a certificate for their hard work this year. It was really inspiring to see all the students together in one place with their academic mentors, and to hear about their rich experiences at Birkbeck over the year.  

STAR activism and education 

Birkbeck’s Student Action for Refugees (STAR) group, which is made up of students on the Compass Project who volunteer their time to campaign for refugee rights to education, rounded off the year with a day of positive action during Refugee Week. Then, together with other STAR groups around the country, Birkbeck’s students met on 25 June in Torrington Square to raise awareness. Even in the face of rail disruptions, the event had a great turn out from engaged STAR activists. Students and volunteers gathered for a delicious picnic and shared their experiences of university.  

The group then created a banner featuring slogans such as ‘refugees are welcome’, which they walked from Bloomsbury down to the Home Office in Westminster. Along the way, they discussed and learnt more about the significance of London’s central buildings, their connection and relationship to colonialism, and the lasting impacts that this history has had on the attitude towards refugees and migrants in the UK today.  

As the Access Manager for the Compass Project at Birkbeck, which works so closely with refugees and migrants, it was a delight to see Birkbeck host this STAR event, and we look forward to seeing more from the student group this coming academic year. If any other student’s wish to get involved, contact the group through the SU website.  

Well done! 

Finally, the whole Compass Project team want to say well done to all the students on the compass scholarship, who have come to the end of their scholarship with us, and we wish them the best of luck in their future endeavours.  

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Birkbeck School of Science Celebrated World Refugee Week 2022

A recount of an important and community focused event held for World Refugee Week.  

A group of people in a conference room chatting animatedly

World Refugee Week honours the strength and courage of refugees and is held to cultivate compassion for others. This week, Birkbeck School of Science hosted an interactive event exploring the theme of ‘Healing,’ to celebrate global community, mutual care, resilience, and the human ability to rise above. 

The event enjoyed a full-house audience and started with a couple of short presentations to highlight some of the work going on to support refugees and forced migrants at Birkbeck. 

Stories and Supper is a refugee and migrant supper club project based in Walthamstow, East London which seeks to challenge the myths surrounding the migration ‘crisis’ and provide a welcome space for refugees living in London. Helen Taylor and Olivia Sheringham shared the journey of their project in an engaging presentation. 

Isabelle Habib then presented an outstanding success of Birkbeck’s very own Compass Project, while some students from the School of Science shared their learning journey and experiences. Staff from the School of Science attended the event and interacted with the students too. After the presentations, the community spirit continued over refreshments, where good food and stories were shared. 

Co-organisers of the event, Katherine Thompson and Sanjib Bhakta commented:  

“It was great to hear the success ‘Stories and Supper’ and ‘Compass’ projects and appreciate the enormous contribution that they are making to our diverse international community. We really hope the event leads to more support for refugees and hopefully new links at Birkbeck for such collaborative initiatives.”  

Hosts:
Katherine Thompson (AD Equalities, Diversities, and Inclusion) 
Sanjib Bhakta (AD Internationalisation and Partnerships)
School of Science 

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