“Age is just a number – but studying keeps the mind active”

Ghana born Anthony Mensah is graduating with an LLM Human Rights aged 78, and plans to devote his time and energy to fighting Female Genital Mutiliation (FGM) in sub-Saharan Africa.

Anthony with Professor Bill Bowring

I am originally from Ghana but came to the UK in 1966 as a trainee accountant, and am now a British citizen.

Sometime in 2011, I saw a newspaper advert for Birkbeck for a two year diploma course in Law. I applied, and was sent a problem question in the post to answer. I answered it to the best of my ability, and was invited to interview at the School of Law by the Dean at the time, Professor Patricia Tuitt. She was impressed with my performance, and I was thrilled when she invited me to enrol on the LLB course instead of the diploma.

My first and second years were a bit of a struggle, and a stark contrast between my professional accountancy course. Patricia Costall, an Academic Support Tutor, helped me understand how to write an academic essay and properly reference my work – I am very grateful for her help during my course and I know a lot of other students will agree with me that she was very helpful. I really enjoyed the lectures from most of my tutors; Fred Cowell, Piyel Halder, Adam Gearey, Leslie Moran and Patricia Tuitt, to name a few; and I had good relationships with my classmates.

My wife, Emma, was very excited for me throughout my studies. She gave me lots of good advice and encouragement.  I owe her an immeasurable debt of gratitude for the support and encouragement she has given me. Without her, I don’t think I would have got the marks in my LLB that I needed to proceed onto my LLM in Human Rights.

I decided to enrol on the LLM because I am passionate about tackling the complex Human Rights issues in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I am from. In particular, in the future I intend to lead a crusade against Female Genital Mutilation which is common practice in almost all countries on the continent.

I didn’t think about my age when I was applying. Age is just a number. However studying later in life is good for exercising the brain. So I would advise anyone thinking about starting a degree to start looking into it and making enquiries. You will feel so confident in yourself when you complete it.

Share
. 1 comment . Category: Law . Tags: , , ,

“The more I learn, the more I want to learn” – from ‘left behind’ to law degree

Firhana wasn’t sent to school as a child and only learnt to read and write at 15. With years of hard work, persistence and dedication, she’s achieved the extraordinary feat of gaining a master’s degree in Law – and now has plans for a PhD.

Growing up, the idea of studying for a degree wasn’t even on Firhana’s radar. She was raised in Oxford with her parents and five siblings but was never enrolled in school – something that only came to light when a doctor made a home visit and found that at 12 years old, Firhana wasn’t able to write a simple sentence. When asked why they didn’t send their daughter to school, her parents said, “in our culture, the daughters get married, have children, and run the household.”

She strongly believes her parents did their best for her within the cultural context that they knew, but going to school for the first time was very difficult. “I was quite severely bullied because I didn’t know how to read and write,” Firhana remembers. “A lot of the children at school obviously thought that if I was born in England, why couldn’t I read or write? Eventually I had a one-to-one tutor who went through letters and phonics with me. I mastered my alphabet at the age of 15, and slowly learnt how to read and write.”

“To be honest with you, I didn’t really understand what I was reading at first. I used to look at the pictures and try to make out the story as I was going along. I didn’t really try to help myself because I had missed so much so I thought there was no point. Eventually, when I was about 19, I finished the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That was my favourite book.”

After she had her own daughters in her twenties, she knew she wanted to get a proper education to help her children get ahead in life. Today, after years of hard work and close, careful guidance from dedicated teachers, she is graduating with a master’s degree in Law from Birkbeck, University of London with merit, after gaining a 2.1 in her bachelor’s degree in 2012. Next, she plans to apply for a PhD looking into sexual violence in Asian communities. “Who would have thought there was going to be degree after degree for a typical Pakistani housewife who missed out on most of her primary and secondary education?!” she laughed.

Firhana is a passionate advocate for women and girls in Asian communities, and wrote her master’s dissertation on the grooming gangs in Cowley, Oxford where she grew up. “If I had any power,” she says, “I would ask the government to look at legislation which deals with violence towards women, especially women of colour. I feel like there’s not enough said or done because people are culture sensitive. I think the government should also aim to get women over 30 or 40 back into education. I think a lot of women in my era missed out and they feel like they don’t have the opportunities.”

Birkbeck’s evening study model suited Firhana, who was able to combine her studies with working and family life. Her daughter, Aisha, was starting her A levels at the same time as Firhana started university – “we were study buddies!” she said. “Today my daughter is an A level teacher in a really good school, and she’s also doing her master’s at Birkbeck. My other daughter is studying English Literature and Creative Writing, and my son’s at grammar school preparing for his GCSEs. He plans to go on and study Medicine.”

“Birkbeck has changed my life and my family’s life for the better. It has just had such a massive impact. What we show our children is what they will follow. I showed mine love for books and education because my teachers showed me their love for books. Now I feel like I have been empowered with the gift of knowledge. I am on a journey of learning more and more every day, because the more I learn the more I want to learn.”

Share
. Reply . Category: Law . Tags: , ,

Reflections on hospitality, the hostile environment and the law

Netty Yasin, second-year part-time LLM student, and Patrick Page, Senior Caseworker, Duncan Lewis Public Law discuss the Birkbeck School of Law’s recent residential weekend at Cumberland Lodge, where they took part in discussions and workshops with eminent legal scholars.

Each year the School of Law at Birkbeck hosts a residential weekend at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, giving staff and students the opportunity to participate in discussions, workshops and lectures with internationally renowned researchers. This year the discussions centred around the themes of Hospitality, the Hostile Environment, and the Law. Two of those who attended reflect on the weekend’s events:

Netty Yasin, second-year part-time LLM Qualifying Law Degree student
The presentations covered a broad range of topics, including the creation of the ‘bad immigrant’, racist narratives in the sentencing of migrants, as well as detention and deportation policies and practices. Speakers included a former barrister, PhD students, a solicitor who shared some harrowing case studies from his experience of representing clients with medical needs in detention centres and even a personal perspective from a former detainee. Although there was a full schedule of seminars, there was also plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful environment of Cumberland Lodge and its surroundings. It was also a great opportunity to network and have informal discussions with the speakers over dinner or drinks at the bar. It was a hugely interesting, informative and enjoyable weekend in a wonderful setting and I hope to return next year. Thanks to the School of Law for organising such a fantastic event.

Patrick Page, Senior Caseworker, Duncan Lewis Public Law
‘You don’t need permission to be anti-establishment.’ This was a response to a question by one of the speakers at the Cumberland Lodge conference on Hospitality, the Hostile Environment, and the Law. The speaker in question had been detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, and has since been shining a light on the injustice of immigration detention – what she calls ‘the hostile environment on steroids.’ For me, the answer encapsulated the spirit of the weekend. With its range of lawyers, academics and activists (many, indeed, wearing a number of these hats at once), the programme thoroughly exposed the hostile environment in all its manifestations. We were taken through the way in which the UK government has conscripted civil society in its racialised system of immigration control, how the ‘good migrant/bad migrant’ narratives dominate the legal system, and how executive powers to detain and remove have steadily expanded. Frances Webber, a barrister who has been working in this area for decades, put it simply: ‘it was never good, but it was never this bad.’ But this sombre tone was lightened by a cautious optimism that change is possible, that resistance isn’t always futile. As we saw with the Windrush scandal, those targeted by the hostile environment, like the speaker mentioned above, are increasingly mobilised to expose injustice. In the last talk of the weekend, we were reminded of the words of James Baldwin: “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”

Read more of Patrick’s thoughts on the Cumberland Lodge weekend at the No Walls blog

Share
. Reply . Category: Law

9 year old tells mum “You’re going to be amazing” as she graduates with a first class degree in Law from Birkbeck

Chloe Livingston, 29, took the meaning of multi-tasking to the extreme when she decided to enrol for a law degree whilst working full time and raising her son as a single parent. On 6 November 2018, she graduated with a first class honours in Law from Birkbeck.

Growing up, Chloe had always dreamed of being a lawyer or a doctor, but fell into a career in banking on leaving school. Although successful, she never lost the desire to return to study. “People always told me I was smart, but I had nothing to back it up,” she explains. “When I first began looking into university, it was really so I could tell people that I had a degree.”

Discussing returning to study with a friend, Chloe was reluctant to become a student again. “I didn’t want to go back to being a student with no money,” she says, “It wouldn’t have been fair to subject my son to that lifestyle.” That’s when Chloe’s friend suggested Birkbeck – the evening study model meant that she wouldn’t have to give up her job and could continue supporting her son while getting the education she’d always wanted.

Chloe knew that it wouldn’t be easy to give up so much time to study, but was lucky to have a support network of friends and family close by to help with childcare. Despite being only five years old when his mum started her course, Chloe’s son was really supportive. “Some days I would be locked in my room or glued to the dining room table working and he’d come in and say ‘are you ok mummy? Do you need anything?’” she remembers.

As well as her responsibilities as a parent, Chloe took on the additional challenge of full-time study while working. “I took part in a Birkbeck alumni mentoring scheme before starting my course, and my mentor asked if I was sure I could take on the workload,” she remembers. As a relationships manager for a bank, Chloe’s day job is no nine-to-five and she would frequently be required to stay late, even completing an additional banking course at one point during her studies. “I thought that because lots of Birkbeck students also work during the day, the lecturers might go easy on us, but that definitely wasn’t the case!” she laughs. Thankfully, Chloe’s employers were very supportive, especially as they could see the impact of her studies in the workplace, as she became a voice for key issues like diversity.

Just as she was hitting her stride though, a terrible accident almost changed everything. A near fatal head-on collision towards the end of second year threatened to stop Chloe’s progress in its tracks. “Thankfully I was okay,” she remembers, “Birkbeck were really supportive and gave me the adjustments I needed to complete my assignments. Second year nearly broke me, but I had too much to lose to not pull through. I couldn’t let the sacrifices my friends, family and most of all my son had made for me be for nothing.”

There’s no doubt that taking on further study alongside other commitments is tough. Chloe’s advice is to be realistic about what will be expected of you in terms of time and effort – “They’re not going to spoon feed you anything,” she warns. Having heard of the non-traditional routes that students take to Birkbeck, Chloe wasn’t expecting to make good friends on the course. She says, “People told me that I wouldn’t meet like-minded people at Birkbeck, but you get out what you put in and I’ve come away with some brilliant friends.”

Having begun her degree to prove herself, Chloe was surprised to find how much she enjoyed studying Law. On her course, she learned skills that she could put to use straight away – an in-depth knowledge of contract law proved particularly useful during a booking dispute for a family holiday!  Now, Chloe is looking to leverage her experience in finance with a career in corporate or commercial law and will be applying for a masters in Law next year.

Graduating with a first class University of London degree, Chloe is proud to be a role model for her son. “At first, I think he thought that university looked too much like hard work!” she remembers, “But when we were walking home from school the other day he turned to me and said ‘I’m so proud of you mum, you’re going to be amazing.’” Chloe, who has taken her son to both her siblings’ graduations, is looking forward to celebrating her own graduation with her family.

“The way I got my degree worked best for me,” she says. “If I’d gone to university at eighteen, I don’t know if I would have completed my course, or got a first. Now I’m wondering what to do with my evenings!”

Share
. Read all 8 comments . Category: College, Law