Saturday 6 January 2024

University: The Best and Worst Time of Your Life

Xaviera (Vee) describes their university experiences as a student from many marginalised backgrounds and gives advice to any students who need it.

- Xavieria

When I first came to university, my focus was on studying only. I care a lot about my academics and plan to stay in education as a researcher at some point. I spent my first year alone and isolated. I lived in a self contained studio, away from a lot of people, because of my Autism. I didn’t do too well mentally and physically, although I achieved an okay grade at the end of the year (considering my mental health issues), at least I tried my best. 

This blog is not a reflection of my first year however, it is a discussion of how my second year changed drastically. 

Since moving to my university, I felt very isolated due to my race. I was a black student on a course with nearly 400 students. However, every time I went to lectures, I would see maybe 10 black students amidst the crowds. I felt unwelcome from the very beginning. 

Flash forward to second year. This year, I wanted to ensure that I did better than my first year in grades, and I made sure to attend every lecture possible. This lasted for about 3 weeks. The course content (13 hours per week) was too overwhelming. Because of my ADHD, Irlen’s and Dyslexia, I didn’t understand a word that was said in lectures. In addition, I was taking on so many extracurriculars that I ended up becoming physically weaker. My brain thinks too fast, and my IQ is too high for my own good. I kept up with things mentally, but physically my body started shutting down. I can no longer walk long distances without mobility aids, and due to the environmental stresses faced at my university, I had to withdraw from my studies. 

I hope to return to a different university next September, but my advice to you is this: take it easy.  Sometimes you need to practice self discipline in order to succeed in life, and spending all your time trying to be a “typical” student may not be the way to do that. I learn better when I self-study, but I told myself that I had to attend all lectures if I wanted to gain the most out of my degree. I burned myself out to the point where my mental disorders simply worsened. Once I was at a point where I was physically and mentally unfit to do anything, my university turned their back on me, and I nearly gave up. I have so many needs and difficulties, but learning about how to cope with everything and how to manage these things is crucial. 

I may be going through a rough patch now, but if you put the work in, sometimes things will get better. Not always, but logically speaking, you cannot determine that things will never get better, so giving up straight away is not the answer. 

Get the help you need, and try to remember: you deserve a break sometimes. University is not a time constrained education, you can take years to do a bachelor’s, or a masters, but do it in your own time, not anyone else’s.

I hope to make some positive changes, especially with equality, diversity and inclusion across the UK. My experiences have told me that universities may try to incorporate EDI, but not because they listen to student voices, but because they feel they have to. I’m gay, transgender, black, disabled, and assigned female at birth. There are students facing anti-Semitism, students being stigmatised for their mental health issues, and many other students facing all sorts of low-level discrimination. 

I want to change that. Writing this blog is the first step. Gathering statistical data and conducting my own research is next. One day, I hope to make universities across England better at being more diverse, not just to a couple of marginalised groups, but to everyone. Because that is what equality, diversity and inclusion is truly about.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available 

Hi, my name is Xaviera but most people call me Vee! I'm 19, and wanted to enjoy university so badly, but found it difficult due to my disabilities and the internal racism I felt during my studies. I'm sharing my story so others who feel the same can hopefully feel less alone. I like to make productive changes, and the education system is a good place to start, especially from students themselves.

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