We believe passionately that geography is for everyone and should be accessible to everyone. Yet at degree level, the subject still does not reflect the diversity of the world within its students - only 2% of undergraduate geography students are Black.
However, we know that just over 40% of 16 year olds now study geography, compared to about 27% in 2010 and that this increase has come predominantly from Black and ethnic minority pupils and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
So things are changing for the better, but how do we encourage the next generation of students from Black, Asian, ethnic minority, or disadvantaged backgrounds to study the subject? To begin with, we must make them visible.
Having grown up in East London with Nigerian parents, I am a product of place. This was the very first line of my UCAS personal statement that was submitted back in 2016 and for me describes perfectly what geography means to me: being able to appreciate and experience the world as a place of ever-expanding linkages between human interactions and the natural environment, both on a local and international scale.
As I enter my final year studying geography at the University of Cambridge, I can say that my studies have really brought this to life. On a local scale reflecting on my own journey to university is in fact geographical and highlights the importance of finding remedies to educational and geographical inequalities. I was the second person from my school to come to Cambridge; the first came to Cambridge to study geography too. When I was in school, I went on a Sutton Trust summer school to study geography at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and the Insight into Bristol Geography summer school at the University of Bristol. Both of these experiences consolidated my decision to study geography at university and coupled with my proactivity, I had a lot of exposure to people who went to Cambridge, all of whom encouraged me to apply. Through Into University I applied was paired with a mentor who was a geography graduate of St John’s College. I was also fortunate to meet another Cambridge geography graduate through a work experience programme I applied to with the charity Career Ready when I was in Year 12.
Over the last year, I mentored four students through their UCAS applications for geography, two of which have started their first year at Cambridge studying geography and the other two at the London School of Economics and Durham University. Earlier this year I featured on the Society’s Ask the Geographer podcast where I spoke about how growing up in inner-city London has informed my interests in cultural geography and finding remedies to social inequalities. There’s a great quote from Marian Wright Edelman, the African-American activist and writer, who says “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Seeing people from a similar background to you, whether that be geographically, culturally, or in any other way, makes you feel much more comfortable and able to achieve more.
This is why I am passionate about also helping others who do not readily have access to a network of people who can support them with applying to university.
Talking about her remarkable journey from Hackney to the University of Cambridge
Throughout my life, the definition of ‘geography’ has always crossed my mind. And, with each moment reflecting upon the discipline, my admiration and understanding for the subject grows. To me, geography is about life as we know it! It touches on themes that connect you, me, and the entire human race together. With such depth and a basis for reflection, I believe geography holds the key to making the world a better place – a dream I wish to be a part of.
So where did my passion for geography come from? Right now, I’m in my second year studying for a BSc Geography at The University of Sussex, but it all began with butterflies fluttering across a tent when I was on a school trip, aged 12. The butterflies were all so varied in shape, colour and size, and I began to wonder what else in nature is so different. Cue many hours of binge-watching of TV documentaries and reading about geography, and my curiosity about the natural world was cemented and I’m now on a journey to work within the environmental sector! Life couldn’t get better, right? Well, life as a Black geographer could.
With Black History Month being upon us, I thought I’d address an issue at hand which is that Black geographers are underrepresented in geography and the geosciences. Black geographers who want to take their passion to the next stage (from GCSE to A Level or from A Level to university) are put off by the lack of support shown to Black geographers in companies, schools and the media.
Rhyan Codrington, AKA ‘the Peckham Geographer’, is a staff writer for Black Geographers. If you’d like to read more about Rhyan, check out his blog post where he talks more about his early years and the nickname he gave to himself in Year 7.
Spreading awareness about the Black geographers of today and tomorrow through various outlets is pivotal in increasing diversity within the field. Achieving this however, starts with you, me, and everyone working within the discipline.
Thus, how about we showcase the excellence of Black geographers not only during Black History Month, but every month? Because if we do, Black geographers will feel appreciated and respected in the subject we all value so much! And, if we all remember, as geographers, it is our duty to aid in the future we wish to see. So, lets make this change happen… one step at a time!
I’m a BSc Geography student running a community interest organisation, called Black Geographers, with the aim of tackling the erasure of Black people in geography. Outside of this, I’m also an ambassador for 5050 Parliament, a campaign which tackles gender imbalance in Parliament and seeks to get more women elected. I work closely with the diversity team there to get more Black, Asian and minority ethnic women to stand.
I’m also a freelance writer and have a blog about lifestyle, travel and student-related content. My most recent piece was featured in EuroNews; I wrote about the hidden faces of geography and my hopes for the future of the discipline.
I loved geography at GCSE, but at A Level, I didn’t like it as much. I’m now really enjoying my degree so far, and constantly discovering new areas of geography, like the geographies of hair. Who knew the politics of hair could be related to geography?
My current module is biogeography - which I didn’t think was an area of geography I was interested in - but my lecturer (shout-out to Joe Bailey) is very passionate about his research, and I’m learning new ideas and concepts about biodiversity, ecology and wildlife conservation which I hadn’t previously explored and which is exciting.
I’m passionate about geography because everything you learn is applicable to the world you live in. It’s such a broad subject that you can find the area that you’re most interested in and, at degree level, you can focus on your existing interests, discover new interests and explore them with a wider range of resources available to you.
When I applied for university in 2017, I thought about all the things I was both passionate and interested in and geography stood out for me. The first paragraph of my personal statement was along the lines of "not only is geography relevant to current affairs but we are surrounded by characteristics of physical geography in our everyday lives, from the type of soil found in your local park to the drainage of your nearest river”. I went on to describe my GCSE coursework in flood management in Shoeburyness, Essex, and also my A Level project which expanded on my GCSE topic, but looked at flood management over 100 years in Brighton. I was proud of both pieces and have kept them to this day to remind myself of where I started and where I want to go with the discipline.
I hope to do a MSc in Disaster Management and Resilience or a MRES when I complete my undergrad, and focus my research on natural hazards, which is where my passion in geography lies. I would love to have a job where I work with a team to reduce the impacts of natural hazards in low or middle-income countries or something along those lines.
Geography combines or borrows different ideas and concepts from a range of humanity, social and physical sciences. Where geography can take you is so wide and it’s a subject that is under appreciated. How many subjects can say that they can apply their subject to any topic? It’s relevant and exciting.
Read an interview with Francisca conducted by the Society's Race, Culture and Equality Working Group
A community interest company working to tackle the erasure of black people in geography