Welcome to Cambridge: student perspectives

(image: Mordecai Paechter, right, with Laurie O’Connell, Trinity Hall JCR LGBT+ officer, together at Pride in London)

Michael Davin

Hi everyone, we’re back again!

Beyond the basics of dealing with student’s union, there’s a wealth of student life going on in Cambridge, ready to be explored. It will certainly take some time to find your niches, but rest assured there’s going to be people like you around town, and you’re absolutely going to get a chance to find your place here.

Here are some of the experiences of current and recent students, each with a different lens on what Cambridge has to offer. If you’re looking for a few more, FLY, the university’s network for women and non-binary people of colour, collected a load for their own guide to Cambridge. FLY has a sizeable number of queer people of colour as members, and much of the advice in the guide is useful for other marginalised students as well.

Mordecai Paechter (they/them), Classics graduate
Hi everyone! Welcome to Cambridge – or, if you’re just coming out (as I did in fourth year), welcome to the wonderful and supportive queer scene that you’ve just fallen headfirst into.

Coming back to college and uni after coming out over summer 2016 was daunting, but I was really fortunate to have the amazing support network of friends met through CUSU LGBT+. I met some of my now best friends through the fresher’s pub crawl, and have really appreciated the regular Sunday trans coffee meetups (shout out to Ali), which provide a warm and safe space to hang out, moan, celebrate and generally chat about our lives (and occasionally make informal plans to actually, um, get stuff done!). My friends in college were also very supportive, and my DoS, Rosanna, was a life saver – as well as many other amazing things, she emailed round to all my supervisors insisting that they use my correct pronouns, and generally had my back on everything. I’ve since graduated, but am working in the POLIS faculty as Graduate Secretary for the MPhil in International Politics and Relations, and as part of this role, I’m the Wellbeing contact for the whole department. It’s great to be able to help out other students, so if you’re a POLIS student and have any issues, get in touch, and I should be able to send you in the direction of the right resources.

Devarshi Lodhia (he/him), History undergraduate, Wolfson
As a disabled, BME, mature student, I was incredibly relieved to find my college (Wolfson) had a very active and inclusive LGBT+ community. We have socials every other week and arrange socials with the other mature colleges as well as MCRs. While Cambridge’s nightlife isn’t to my taste, especially the LGBT+ nightlife which I think is aimed too much at the cis, gay, white male demographic, there’s all sorts of events throughout the year both organised by colleges and CUSU LGBT+. I’ve been to LGBT+ Formals, socials, film screenings and even a Queer Iftar organised by BanglaSoc while CUSU LGBT+ has a particularly stacked card this term including a Freshers Week bar crawl, speaker events, and film nights.

If there’s one piece of advice I have (and I’m sure by now you’ve had enough people telling you) it’s to make the most of the opportunities available to you and to get involved with as many things as you can. I’ve been involved with CUSU LGBT+, Varsity, Cambridge Universities Labour Clubs, and I run a comedy night in college. I can honestly say I’ve had a better time in Cambridge than I could’ve expected. So try a new sport, sign up for an LGBT+ family, write for a paper, and maybe even apply for committee next year!

Have a great time settling in – and come say hi if you spot me around!

Lydia Wong (she/her), Law graduate
I have nothing but great things to say about Cambridge. During my time here, I had felt absolutely safe and comfortable being who I am and created meaningful friendships (LGBT and allies) along the way. Cambridge University is becoming more and more inclusive in its policies and undertakings (shout out to Hughes Hall!). Do not wait until your final year to join your College’s LGBT+ Society or CUSU LGBT+, or you may come to regret it!

Marisa (she/her), HSPS undergraduate, Newnham
The best thing about being a lesbian at Cambridge has been finding a wonderful community among members of the women’s campaign and the lgbt+ women/nb people discussion group, which provides a really supportive space for women and nb to have interesting conversations and to meet people they can relate to.

Finley (she/her), English undergraduate, Newnham
For me, Cambridge has been a really conducive place to be queer. It’s been wonderful to build friendships and find a community that makes me feel so comfortable in my sexuality – it’s part of who I am, but doesn’t form the entire basis of how people see me. As a bisexual person, sometimes LGBTQ+ spaces that are dominated by gay people can feel alienating and erasing of my own and other marginalised identities, but you have to remember that you matter, and you have just as much right to take up space as anyone else.

Helen (they/them), Natural Sciences undergraduate, Emmanuel
My experience of the LGBT+ community in Cambridge has been excellent – the parenting scheme allowed me to meet new people very easily and I now have children of my own (the extended family gatherings are now taking up multiple tables of a restaurant!). The atmosphere is very welcoming and gave me the confidence to explore my gender identity, something that I hadn’t even considered before coming to university. Becoming college LGBT+ rep in first year gave me a voice to make positive change and it is something that I would definitely recommend to someone looking to get involved in the LGBT+ community.

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