Student blog: Ruskin will always be the place I became a person in my own right, a place I hold dear and will never forget
I have been a student since 2010. I have dyslexia and I really struggled in school because of it. Teachers did not recognize it at all and I was told that I was not an ‘academic’ and should focus on something more hands-on such as childcare. Although childcare is a rewarding profession it was not something I wanted to do. Nonetheless their determination to steer me away from academia into a social profession saw me taking up work experience in a nursery with children where I quickly found myself deeply unhappy and unfulfilled. I wanted to learn and progress academically and teachers that set me a low academic bar served as a red rag that I simply had to charge at. I desperately wanted to return to education and go to University but I had no A-levels, GCSEs, SATS, or anyone to reference that I was a conscientious student at all. I spent most my life in the care system and had my own battles to contend with, which meant I lacked consistency and moved around a lot and as a result, changing schools all the time was normal and consequently large gaps in my education made me a ghost on paper.
I finally focused on trying to achieve my goals and arranged several meetings with School Boards and Head Teachers to beg them to give me a chance to prove I’m not a time waster, and that I could be a student they could in the future be proud of. Most said “no”, but I badgered the Headmaster at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College telling him I wasn’t going away and that I deserved a chance. He told me repeatedly that many people with the qualifying grades had already filled the class, and that I was not eligible to enter in this manner. But I kept on and on and on and he was finally persuaded and he allowed me to enroll in the college and a chance to sit two GCSEs, one in English and one in Mathematics, as I understood that these were the primary access keys for A-Level. On his command I met with him every few weeks in the beginning and every month thereafter as part of the probationary agreement. After I got the two GCSE’s, I began a mission to get my A-Levels, and I rang and arranged to meet with Head Teachers to request that they allow me to join their 6th Forms. By this time I felt more confident in myself to approach people in positions of discretionary power, and basically bash their head with a censored version of my life story. Most still said no because I would be 19 by the second year of A-Levels, and it is at this point I was made aware that funding from the government stopped for people in my position. Many Heads said that they would not agree to absorb the cost but one Head Teacher gave me a chance. He made it very clear that this chance was probationary and could be revoked at any moment. To be honest I worked hard and kept my head in the books, and got two A’s and one B grade A-levels and did go to UCL for Anthropology. After a brief period at UCL I become seriously ill and had to leave. After a year I recovered but felt academically ‘empty’ not being a student. I searched again how to return to learning and found Ruskin through my own enquiries and applied. I was accepted and I did the Social and Political Studies course part-time, which meant I had a long journey in front of me, which was the right path for me. It took me seven years to finish the course but I’m so happy that I did and I got a first as well.
When I came to Ruskin I was a very quiet person. The care system does that to you because your voice always goes unheard and you feel like a legal burden, a potted plant being passed around, not a person at all, so eventually you can fall silent and withdrawn. The point of me telling you this is that by coming to Ruskin I heard my voice for the first time, people spoke to me respectfully and I stopped being mute. Being part-time, tutors encouraged me to raise my voice and pester them if necessary for their attention, which I did. Tutors responded well to me and never made me feel like a burden at all, they told me I was entitled and that they were there to mentor me and help me develop not only my academic range but also my critical mind. Tutors told us students, to question peoples’ personal biases and to question everything, the news, books, other academics, and the way information is served in general. I really took that on and started to articulate my opinions. In the beginning my opinions were undeveloped academically but over the next seven years I got better and better at being academically critical. I made friends. It hasn't been an easy road by any means, being part-time is tough and nobody prepares you for how lonely and isolating it can be as every year you see your year group move on and progress and you stay painfully in the slow-lane. It wasn’t only my tutors that supported me, the Library and Academic Registry Staff were also very supportive. Even the Housekeepers spoke to me at lengths and we became friends. Traditional hierarchies that separated people just didn’t exist, no one was better than anyone else and I felt that very strongly. Of course there was respect between people and that was the most important thing. I’m so pleased for myself that I have a degree now, I can kind of say to myself that I’m a worthy academic and I hope to apply for a postgraduate programme in Sociology somewhere, I’m not sure where yet but I feel confident that I can go somewhere and not have to ‘beg’ my way in ever again. I have learnt at Ruskin to engage in academic debate, disagree strongly with people but still walk out as friends at the end of the day, which is quite a difficult personal skill to learn, but I learnt it through Ruskin. Ruskin will always be the place I became a person in my own right, a place I hold dear and will never forget. I’m passionate when I talk about Ruskin and I will always tell others to go there even if it’s for a shorter period of time than I had.
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself.
Written by Odellia Channing