Fitz JCR BME Officers, Leona Renard Kouame (HSPS 2019) and Tolu Mustapha (Law 2019) launched Black at Fitz in October, Black History Month, to highlight the experiences of Black students at Fitzwilliam College. Black at Fitz is available on YouTube and Instagram, and we spoke to Tolu and Leona about their interviews with alumni and current students.
Q: The trailer explains the series, but what was your inspiration behind Black at Fitz, and why specifically did you want to make it about Fitz and the Black experience at Fitz?
Leona: Both Tolu and I had the idea, but from different perspectives. From my perspective, I’m involved in a society called FUSE, which is for queer people of colour. And we’d just done an event where we invited alumni back, and we talked to them about the spaces that they’d set-up. That was mostly focused on the queer community in Cambridge. I told Tolu about that, and she had a similar experience, and we thought it would be a great way to hear about the experiences of Black students. We thought, since we go to Fitz, we thought it would be nice to hear from people who went through the same spaces that we did, so we could compare and meet new people.
Tolu: I definitely think the Black Cantabs (Research Society) inspired me as well, because they’re from a broader University standpoint and the history there. I think it would be nice to see what the history of Fitz is. It’s all about our history as Black students at Fitzwilliam College. It will be nice to hear about people’s different experiences.
Q: Can you explain to readers why it’s a uniquely Black topic?
Tolu: I think, for me, coming to Fitz, I didn’t know about Black alumni at Fitz, or at least many Black alumni at Fitz, and then when you Google ‘notable Fitz alumni’ you couldn’t really find any Black Fitz alumni there. It’s definitely a case of knowing that these people exist and they actually did amazing things at Cambridge, and left a lot of amazing things when they graduated. It was definitely important to interview Black students, and we started it in Black History Month, so it’s about Fitzwilliam College’s history of Black students.
Leona: I think we were actually quite surprised by how many notable Black figures went to Fitz. It was really inspiring to feel like they’d literally passed through some of the same corridors and same places that we have. It gave us hope and also inspired us to keep going, because Cambridge can be a really difficult place to be in. When you see people who have done so well and made great things happen, it’s really inspiring and motivating.
Tolu: During the interviews, all of them were giving us such great advice. Besides telling us their experiences, they were giving advice on how to manage the workload, and just get through Cambridge in general! It was really nice to hear their perspective.
Q: Why is it important people watch and engage with Black at Fitz?
Tolu: It’s important that it’s based on experience, because with the increasing numbers of Black students at Cambridge, representation is really important, and sometimes the statistics can take light away from the experiences of those people who make up the statistics. Getting a well-rounded experience – lots of good things, but also some things people didn’t enjoy going through in their time at Cambridge. I think it would be good to get that well-rounded experience.
Leona: We have a section on change in all of the interviews. The sad thing about it is that we noticed a lot of people wanted the same things to change at Cambridge. It’s important for people to watch that and see that some of the experiences people were having 20 years ago are still happening now to some extent. It shows we’ve definitely come a long way, because you can see how some of the spaces have evolved, but we’re also able to see how the issues are still there and that we should all work together to fix them.
Q: What reaction have you had about the series?
Leona: Everyone’s been very supportive, motivated us, and hyped us up a little bit about the things we’ve done! A lot of people have said it’s a good idea, and even some people at other colleges are looking at doing similar things, which I think would be really helpful in having that more broad Cambridge history.
Q: Can Black at Fitz help for access, encouraging people to come?
Leona: Definitely. We have a longer-term view of this. Our idea wasn’t necessarily to garner the most amount of views now, but also that it acts as a digital archive, so people can look back, so if you do type in ‘Black at Fitz’ or ‘Fitz, Black’ it will come up. I know when I was applying these were some of the questions I had: whether there was a history, or whether there are people who look like me.
Tolu: I remember when I was applying I typed into YouTube and all the videos were from six years ago! I imagine in six years’ time when people are looking for things about Fitzwilliam College or Cambridge in general they’ll see those videos and the history will still be there for people to listen to.