IWD 2019: Celebrating Durham’s women

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For International Women’s Day 2019, Palatinate spoke to alumni about life after Durham and what they gained from their time here. From athletes to journalists, they tell us what life after Durham has in store.

Shirin Gerami, St Chad’s, PPE

Iran’s first female triathlete


Durham’s biggest impact on me was its people: students, staff and residents alike. The understanding that there is a different wisdom and beauty present in all individuals, no matter how different they may seem at first or second glance. Connecting with people on a human level served (and still serves) as a challenge to break stereotypes I might hold against others, consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously. It also brings under question my own beliefs, values and conduct, helping me understand the barriers constructed within myself and the attempt to break them.

Since graduating, I have roamed the streets of London as a Rickshaw rider, have worked in international charities, and for now experimenting with being a triathlete. Each experience has connected me with more people and brought a deeper appreciation of the richness in diversity and individuality.

In terms of achievement, first, I hope to become a worthy human being. Second, I hope to be able to share some of the opportunities I have been privileged to have with others – and right now, that is defined as attempting to share the physical, psychological and social benefits of sports/triathlons with a more diverse group of women worldwide.

, Grey, Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity

Journalist at BBC Sport


My time at Durham completely shaped me into the person I am today, giving me the confidence and desire to achieve whatever I put my mind to. Prior to university, I was incredibly shy and lacking in self-confidence – 18-year-old Katie would never have imagined where I would be almost seven years later.
It was through my degree that I decided to become a sports journalist, something I had always considered but never thought would happen. Almost four years post-graduation, I work for BBC Sport in Manchester, having previously trained and worked in London and been named NCTJ Sports Journalist of the Year in 2017. My next goal is to travel worldwide with my job, covering the Olympic Games, World Championships and any other opportunities that come my way.

I always found Durham a very equal place to be as a woman – opportunities were not lacking and it was a place where everyone could be who they wanted to be. Perhaps to be expected given the nature of my degree, men outnumbered women in lecture halls and classrooms but that was never something I perceived as a negative. If anything, it drove my female classmates and I on!

, Van Mildert, English literature

Teacher

If I had to sum up all that Durham gave me in one word, I’d choose independence. Academically, the English degree allows you to pursue just what you want, while still ensuring we have an understanding of work across geographies and time periods. The ability to zero in on works you particularly enjoy while still being able to place them in the global context of literature fosters an independence and clarity of thought. The chance to rise to a position in the senior management team for this and other publications offers an independence of a different kind – an exciting creative freedom. The pastoral support you receive from your college empowers you to make independent, well-considered choices as you navigate the challenges of university.

This independence has been invaluable in the post-university world. The grim reality of job hunting is made more bearable and even insightful by the ability to hold your own while waiting to hear back about applications or defending your stance in interviews. As a school teacher, I am grateful for this independence everyday, because it enables me to ask the right questions while teaching, which in turn facilitates independent learning on part of my students. Being independent also means being able to define yourself as who you want, and at Durham, this ability is developed through the presence of hundreds of vibrant societies and clubs that represent all tastes, cultures, races and groups.

Durham lives on not just in our memories, but in the choices we make – intellectual or otherwise, in this time of misinformation and uncertainty. I had a challenging and exciting time at Durham, and miss it greatly!

Magdalena Garzon Fonseca, Ustinov

PhD student at University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Durham University was a great place for me in all senses. Coming from a different country and culture I could say that I always felt at home in Durham. The collegiate system of the University provides huge emotional support and a welcoming community for international students; I was, and still, consider myself a Ustinovian.

In Ustinov, I always felt included and supported by other fellow students and staff. Moreover, I could say that I never felt discriminated against for being a woman, neither for my nationality. In my opinion, men and women are treated equally at the University. However, I do think there was a lack of academic support for international students in the Department I was in.

Coming from a different educational system makes things challenging when arriving to Durham, and finding your way through could sometimes be difficult, therefore more support that could orientate students in academic matters, and mainly international students would be of great help.

Durham shaped me in many ways, not just academically but also personally. Thanks to Durham and to Ustinov I could say I consider myself a global citizen, someone that could appreciate and learn from diversity. Also, Durham brings the opportunity of having a complete education, the huge variety of events, clubs and societies help people to discover and exploit hidden skills and talents, as I did with the Ustinov choir and live events. Thanks to Durham I was able to identify a career path that suits me, in my case a research line to focus on, and last but not least I met great people with whom I am still in touch with, including my partner and some really close friends.

, St John’s, Geography

Social worker

It was all of the best things about Durham that gave me the confidence to run in an SU officer election: the opportunities it gave me to get involved in student support, the close-knit communities I was a part of and an exciting course in which I got to think about feminism and gender. Yet, a year later, sitting in University meetings, I often felt easily patronised or belittled, and as though the issues I was trying to fight for that I knew mattered deeply to women were all too easily simply dismissed. I spent time raising these experiences with the University Executive, and, speaking to other staff and students, I quickly found that I wasn’t alone. In September, I started in a child protection team, training to be a social worker with Frontline. Through its best and worst, Durham gave me the opportunities – and, less brilliantly, the need – to fight for the things I believe in. I wish it didn’t have to be quite that way, but I’m grateful to have the chance to now do that for the families that I work with.

Felicity Hall, Castle, Politics

Corporate Communications Consultant

My time in Durham shaped my career in a way I wasn’t expecting. Despite having little prior interest in the region, I fell in love with a module called “The Politics of The Middle East’s Oil Monarchies” completely by surprise. I went on to study for an MA in International Political Economy at the University of Manchester, during which I researched the contrasting economic diversification strategies of Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. Upon graduation, I joined a London PR agency to help the Government of Bahrain develop its economy. It was a perfect fit – from researching strategy to applying it in real life.

Over the past five years, I’ve worked for numerous clients across the tourism, infrastructure, FDI and government sectors. I’ve travelled to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Belgium, Moldova, Switzerland and Ukraine to support these clients on the ground. I utterly adore my line of work and intend to continue consulting for governments and businesses in emerging markets.

Giving back to the university that afforded me this opportunity is very important to me. I currently act as an alumni mentor through the Durham Women in Business Society and view the network of successful female graduates as one of our university’s greatest strengths.

Louise Hulland, St Chad’s, Criminology

TV Journalist and Radio Presenter

My time at St Chad’s, Durham was one of the happiest of my life.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, of course; socially I found it quite a change considering I came from a state school in Lancashire!

From a professional point of view, studying Criminology has certainly shaped my career as a TV reporter and journalist. I’ve made/presented countless documentaries/TV reports on organised crime, gangs, sexual assault in minicabs – plus I’ve worked undercover with the police, particularly around sexual violence against women. I’m currently writing a book on human trafficking and modern slavery in Britain.

But the most important thing I gained from my time at Durham are the friends I made there. My closest female friends are all Chadsians, and our friendships have only grown stronger. We’ve been bridesmaids at each other’s weddings, become godparents to our children – and sadly supported each other through divorces, serious illness, and devastating bereavements. We lift each other up professionally and personally – especially when life has tried to knock us down, and I’m confident those bonds will last forever.

Sadly one of my dear Chad’s friends is no longer with us – the brilliant Anna Roots (nee Townsend) – and I try and keep her legacy with me every day.

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