For the average person currently reading this article, it may be safe to assume that race in Durham is not something you think about every day. In Durham University’s Access and Participation Plan for the academic years 20/21 to 24/25, they noted that “…Durham has a particular issue around the proportion of black students…” Unfortunately, these statistics have manifested into a reality where black students attending Durham University may have an overwhelming feeling that there is no place for them here.
I had the opportunity to speak to the co-founders of Notes From Forgotten Women, Chloe Uzoukwu and Subomi Otunola, as well as other members of the collective. NFFW is a newfound community aimed at creating a space for black women that inspires community, fosters hope, and addresses a niche that has been all too forgotten about. This intersectional feminist space has already begun to inspire young black women in Durham; I got to experience firsthand what a strong sense of community can do from attending their first in-person gathering. I feel that it is pertinent to share the joys that they are so eager to spread.
When asked what inspired the initiative, Chloe talked emphatically about a conversation that she had with a friend from back home who currently attends Brown University in the United States. Hearing of her friend’s seemingly endless opportunities to connect with other people of colour, Chloe reflected on her experience in Durham, concluding that similar spaces did not exist to the same level. Subomi echoed the sentiment of being inspired by the opportunity to connect, as she derived how “last term a group of friends formed a space for black women…it sort of shocked me.” Subomi had previously been a member of the African and Caribbean Society, and explained that “I’d love to foster that in any way that I can.” Hence, Notes From Forgotten Women was born!
Subomi explained that it is important to acknowledge other societies that foster communities such as this. With notable mentions going to the Durham People of Colour Association as well as the ACS. She explained not wanting to “take away from the larger events going on” but also prioritising creating a safe space where black women can feel comfortable meeting each other without conforming to typical social pressures. In particular, NFFW wants to foster an intellectual community which brings together black women with all different interests and skills. Chloe sums this up by saying “We want to prioritise dialogue and conversation….a space where people feel free to speak.”
NFFW are not claiming to be experts in their field; leaning on the collaborative aspect of this project they hope to gain help from one another to nurture this space into one that is constantly evolving and growing to fit the needs of the collective. Why? Although it can be straightforward to understand the community that Subomi and Chloe are aiming to develop, the point of exactly why they want to do this and why this is so important can often go unnoticed.
“I’m just tired…so you need to do something.” These words echoed round the table during our discussion, and aptly summed up the exhaustion felt by these young women who merely want to assimilate into the university that they have worked hard to get into. Chloe spoke of the burden that comes along with having to be the educator of all things blackness and why there needs to be more around us that inspires diversity; not just filling quotas. Sara Taha, a member of the NFFW collective added to our discussion saying that “[at Durham] it’s not to do with the actual colour of the people, but just the culture.”
Returning to the Access and Participation Plan published by Durham University. The gap in statistics regarding BAME individuals at the University was largely explained as a reflection of the geographic factors which meant that the regional demographic which the University sums up as the population of the North East was “not very ethnically diverse.” While in the same plan the University said they had begun to address the issue by generating higher levels of participation in access schemes by black young people and forming effective relationships with groups to support black students, the gap remains. In the view of Chloe, she says “Okay but I’m still here!”.
Inspired by the work of both Chloe and Subomi, I draw to the end of this article. However, there is certainly more to come from Notes From Forgotten Women, with a podcast to look forward to in the near future and more content on their blog. Make sure to reach out to them via the forum on their website, or Instagram, if you think that this community is a space for you.
Image Credit: Chiemezie Agu