By Izzy Harris
Last term, Olivia Bothamley-Dakin, a second-year History student from John Snow, set up a Her Campus chapter in Durham. Her Campus is a feminist journal that aims to give voice to female-identifying students in universities across the world. The initiative was founded by a group of Harvard Students in 2009 but has since spread to many universities internationally. Olivia was inspired to set up a Her Campus group in Durham after seeing her sister writing for the publication while at university in Bristol. Olivia explained, “I was thinking that would be a great thing to get involved with, I looked it up in Durham and it took me a couple of days to figure out that it was inactive, I then did some further research through the Her Campus website and thought – why not start up a branch in Durham?”
Olivia is not the first to attempt to set up a Her Campus chapter in Durham, in 2018 a group of students had the same intentions but it failed to maintain a presence and eventually the group fizzled out. However, this time round Olivia believes that they will establish themselves as a publication in the university. With women’s voices being increasingly heard on the issues of harassment, violence and femicide, especially following the murder of Sarah Everard, this publication has been set up in a timely moment. Since February, when Olivia first posted about setting up the group on Overheard at Durham, she has put together a team of 50 editors, exec members, contributors, and illustrators for the chapter. Olivia explained that she felt that the group will be able to last this time given the levels of interest and the significant numbers of women from a range of colleges including many freshers wanting to get involved.
Olivia went on to explain that the chapter is being supported by the central Her Campus branch who have assigned the Durham group a mentor. She described the headquarters saying “they super helpful and really responsive”. She stated that as well as supporting the group, Her Campus has standards that they expect to be maintained such as weekly, good quality content and the key aim of spreading women’s voices on campus. Olivia really believes that this opportunity will enable the promotion of voices of anyone who identifies as a woman in Durham, creating university and local-based content as well as comment on national and international issues.
Olivia explained how she believes that it is really important for women to speak out about their experiences and to have a platform in Durham, citing issues such as the freshers group chat last summer and referencing the Durham Survivors accounts. She also elaborated saying that the group wants to have a balance of hard hitting commentary and news addressing issues of gender on campus but, also light hearted content which she sees as having a real value. Olivia stated that “the balance between the light heartedness and the seriousness” is key to the Her Campus brand.
Olivia is aiming for the publication to have further reach by publishing a range of content and by engaging with campaign weeks such as Earth Week. For this, she is planning collaboration with sustainable Durham based businesses and made clear said that they are very willing to connect and work with other groups on campus. She stated that they have already linked with the Durham Women in Media society and some feminist groups and are open to work with groups across the university. This is linked to Olivia’s personal objective for the Her Campus group she said “I don’t want to just create a publication but, a community on campus”. She went on to explain that she wants to have events and socials in the future to create “a fun space to talk about important issues”.
I questioned Olivia on the issue of intersectionality, contributors to the publication will be students from Durham University where there is a lack of racial and ethnic diversity as well as underrepresentation of people from working class backgrounds compared to the population as a whole. Olivia recognised this issue and said that her aim is for Her Campus Durham is to be as inclusive as possible, giving a voice to all women students, especially those underrepresented in the university, saying that this is one of her key focuses moving forward.
I wondered if Olivia had any other concerns with the publication of Her Campus in Durham, especially surrounding student reactions to the group. Olivia said that so far she has had an overwhelmingly positive response although, notably, her original post about the group and one made by a friend were removed from Overheard, on which she is now banned from posting. This could suggest that students reported it on the platform. Despite this, Olivia is incredibly positive about the reception of the group in Durham and really feels that there is a space and a need for it in the university. She cited her experience so far setting up the group saying that she has already met new people with different things to contribute, students from a range of colleges and year groups. She stated that, especially for the freshers this year, she feels that it’s a great way to meet new people from across the university and that she is excited by the group so far.
Olivia made clear that she wants to create a really inclusive chapter where “everyone can get their voice heard”. If you are interested in reading more about Her Campus you can access their website https://www.hercampus.comhttps://www.hercampus.com or if you are interested in getting involved you can find the Her Campus Durham contributors group on Facebook and follow them on Instagram @hercampusdurham.
Image: Olivia Bothamley-Dakin