Diversity Week, 16-21 March, is a chance for the campus to come together and celebrate our diverse community but what happens when you can’t see that diversity at face value? How do we recognise an individual’s background and experience if we don’t know what it is? Hannah Livingston, 27, a second year student, talks about her experience.
Before I began studying at UC, I thought uni was a place for young, wealthy, smart kids. I thought of students who live in cold damp houses in Riccarton and live off noodles and cheap beer. If they do show up for lectures they’re hungover and scrolling through their Facebook feeds tagging (or untagging!) photos taken at yesterday’s BBQ on Ilam fields. This, I thought, was the typical student. And to look at me, you might think I fit this mould. I’m tall, blonde, have a decent fashion sense and I’m told, I don’t look my 27 years.
However, have a conversation with me and you’ll realise you judged this book by its cover. I went to a public school, I didn’t get University Entrance or even pass NCEA Level 3 and I grew up in Mairehau. I’m also the only person in both sides of my extended family to stay until the end Year 13 to eat my lunch, let alone contemplate ever becoming a university student when I’m ‘old’. I’ve spent years living abroad working for successful multi-national companies but at 25, I broke up with my boyfriend and moved back into my Mum’s house in Christchurch, where she does the groceries and even has double glazing. I treat University like it’s my job. I come in at 9am and stay till 4pm, regardless of the lecture times I have that day. I’m consistently focused on doing well because I have no option to fail. I have no option because on my way home, I pick up my 3 year old son.
I tell you this, because I think there is no typical student. My normal routine might be different to yours but at the end of the day we share the same lecture theatre. While my social circles may not revolve around one of the many clubs on campus, that doesn’t mean I do not participate in campus life. The gym, the library, the common areas and cafes are all places you could find me. Just because I might not look, speak or act the same as you doesn’t mean we won’t have anything in common (and for the record, I was also carving up the D-floor at Tea Party last year). One of the awesome things about UC is that we have a multicultural and colourful community and it is up to individuals to embrace that by having an open mind to meet and engage with people who don’t fit their own mould of ‘normal.’
I encourage you to have a conversation this week with someone whom you might otherwise not. Be it, the girl in the wheelchair in the library, the Asian guy in the student kitchens, the Muslim girl quietly waiting outside the lecture hall or the white kid you’ve already have labelled as a ‘typical’ student. After all, we are all UC.
Thanks Hannah! Let’s rise to that challenge. Look forward to seeing you at Diversity Week starting next Monday.