Cultivating your identity – knowing who you are

By: Roxanne Walters

London: 8th January 2015

The objective of our first African & Caribbean Diversity (ACD) and Vanguard Connect (VC) gathering on Saturday, 3rd January 2015 was for people to understand how to make university meaningful to them and to know they should seek out careers advice while studying at university and where to go.

But it was also to ask and understand a bigger question:

How can university contribute to cultivating your identity?

It might not seem relevant to a young person of ethnic or mixed heritage in the UK, but the ideas that our panellists introduced us to demonstrated that in this new era where all British students are expected to pay £9K a year in tuition fees, it is an urgent question that needs addressing.

The panel, consisting of Busayo Abidakun, founder of; Ivan Beckley, UCL student and Founder and CEO of Limitless; Elsie Cullen, Artist, Writer and ACD Alumnus; and Janat Kiwanuka, graduate of University of Sussex, University of California Berkeley, and ACD Alumnus, helped us think more boradly about how university is supposed to educate.

  • Is it possible that University can shape social values, the way you view yourself as a person and your social and career trajectory?
  • Does the value of a university education outweigh the [short-term] benefits provided by apprenticeships?
  • Can ethnic minority students and graduates improve their quality of life, career prospects, salaries, and career/professional opportunities by going to university?
  • Can university help you to understand better what it means to be ‘black’/ ‘black in the UK?’

Would be helpful if more professors were black or better reflective of the diverse as suggested by our keynote speaker Layo Olayiwola. Layo spent time at New York University. She said that having professors that understand your experience ,akes it easier to connect. New York University hasn’t had many black professors, she said, but more than British universities typically have.

Ultimately, however, it is good to know how to integrate and inter-relate successfully with mainstream cultures. It is firstmost a useful business skill in an ever increasing global marketplace. Above that, however,  it allows you to expand your knowledge, become acquainted with people from various backgrounds and opportunities to try different activities or ways of viewing the world.

Elsie encouraged us to commit to something before you understand who you are and why/how you’re committing to something. Her best careers advice – understand who she is and how she is.

So my advice to my fellow university students: take control of who you are. Challenge mindsets! Busayo found his time at university to be a useful opportunity to explore cultural identity.

What roles does careers advice at university have to play? Maybe you’ve had Janat’s experience where your teachers did not believe in you. You wanted a job to earn money. Consider Janat’s advice that university is an opportunity to develop your mind, expand the way you think, think independently, develop your own arguments. Careers advice while in university can help you to try things outside your comfort zone you may end up liking. Brenda King, Chief Executive of ACD said, “Take responsibility for your careers advice and being informed. Don’t be afraid to fail hundreds of times.”

It is good to manage your perceptions about what jobs/employment opportunities are available. You may not end up with a ‘traditional’ well-paying job.

But also, perhaps you’ll agree with Paul Bokel, one of ACD’s trustees, who said,“Do not limit your thoughts of getting a job to the UK only. Big corporations speak English abroad. Consider opening your own business/launching your own social enterprise.”

So what is so good about university to help form your identity? You can manage your career, expand your network, try new things, learn new things.


So how about affecting the world wherever you go?


Being the agent of change that helps any person in any country?


Understand yourself and your relationship with the world in a global context?


Try university!


Many thanks to all those who attended our event Saturday, 3rd January 2015.

Our thanks also to our panelists and ACD trustees for their lively and meaningful discussion!

We are extremely grateful to Vanguard Connect & Primer Inn for supporting us also.