I wanted to use this blog platform to offer some reflection on my first year at university. Sharing not just my educational and personal growth but to share my struggle and sacrifice along the way. As many of you who follow my twitter and blog know, my time at university so far has been amazing. I love it. I have been dedicated, enthusiastic and really put in the effort to achieve all I have in the past year. People would be forgiven for thinking that I have eased through this journey and had a lot of support along the way. This of course, is true. However, as with every social media account, you only see what I want you to. This is an honest account of what you don’t see.
The only reason I have managed to get through this last year is because of my life experience. My experience of education prior to university was poor to say the least. I never had support through SATs in year 6, aged 11. I never had support during my GCSEs, aged 15. My behaviour at school lead to me being put in top sets with strict teachers not because of my ability but because it was the punitive way the education system dealt with teenagers experiencing trauma. I was suspended from school just prior to sitting my last exams in year 11 to stop me from going to the end of year ball. I didn’t care at all. Looking back now, I somewhat envy the people I went to school with who are now close friends, 10 years later. I don’t speak to anybody I went to school with. I can see now that everything the teachers at school did, was to further exclude me from anything that may have led to positive experiences at school. How sad is it that I can honestly say, after really racking my brains to think… that not one teacher put any effort at all into ensuring I had equality of opportunity to succeed at school. Well, the proof is in the pudding. After failing miserably, or, being failed miserably at school. I have just finished my first year at university with no lesse grade than a B- . This is due to people showing that they believe in me, that they want me to succeed and that my traumatic early life experiences does not diminish my abilities to achieve. School wrote me off, my ‘trouble’ was too much trouble to deal with. My ‘trouble’ was not my fault as a child. My life at home was troubled; my behaviour at the time was ‘trouble’. I was not less worthy of help, I was not less worthy of support, I was not less worthy of achieving. I was however, made to feel as though I would never be accepted in school. The only way I was ‘dealt with’ at school was by means of exclusion and detention. That happened for 5 years. Let us just think about that. I was about 11 years old when I started high school, about 15-16 when I left school. From 11 years old to 15 years old, a school detained me and excluded me from education because I was ‘naughty’. For five years, they ignored my ‘troubles’ and made me think I was the trouble. AND punished me for it. Imagine, at 11 years old I forgot my PE kit. Because I was probably cooking my own dinner the night before, I was probably awake all night and then walked miles to school. Suffered physical and emotional harm at home and went to school bruised. And then, I got detention for having no PE kit. This didn’t happen once. It happened over five years and the professionals continued with their punishments. I would like to say that they didn’t understand the life I was living. They didn’t. Nobody can understand that life unless they have lived it however, they knew what was happening at home and chose to ignore it. They chose to punish a child of addicts. They chose to detain me rather than support me. They chose to exclude me rather that help me. Those teachers should be utterly ashamed of their practice. I feel sick just reliving the experience as I type it. I was written off by an educational system at 11 years old.
Fast word to my 27 year old self, a far cry from that 11 year old girl sat in detention writing lines, a far cry from that 21 year old girl crying in a prison cell. From my first phone call to my course leaded a year ago, she supported my application, the admin process and has continuously nurtured my own ability and growth. After my last lecture, I emailed her in tears thanking her for the dedication she shows me to ensure I succeed. I remember a conversation with her when I was feeling excluded from my placement. I know from an outsider looking in at my life, everything is great! For a girl to navigate through such a traumatic childhood, to leave a prison and then access a degree in Criminology and a job in health in justice, I am obviously doing well. What I am managing to do with my life now does not eliminate the young girl who was attention starved, abused and punished for things that were out of her control. I am still that young girl, in a 27 year old body. That traumatised child inside of me doesn’t leave, because the experience is no longer here. My lecturer offered me a safe space to talk about my feelings with my placement mentor and both said that my ability to articulate my feelings is great. Giving me the opportunity to talk about how I feel, because of what I have been through is miles apart from getting a detention at school for something that wasn’t even my fault.
This first year has seen me sit in a room with a mother in recovery from drugs, talking about her children. I left the room in tears and was sick in the toilet. I wiped my eyes and went back to the room.
This first year has seen me battle with the child inside me that says I’ll never do this. I couldn’t even finish school.
This first year has seen me sit in lectures about child abuse, about safeguarding and child protection. As is sat there and listed professional after professional who had neglected their duty to keep me safe. I left that lecture and cried, I then wrote a blog about safeguarding and went back to uni the next day.
I have only got through this year because of my life experience, but my life experience is what makes this journey so much harder for me. I post my grades on twitter and express my happiness, what you don’t see is the tears that I cry when I write about child abuse, when I write about maternal imprisonment, when I write about privilege and power and struggle to hold onto my own power and establish my position as a worthwhile student and employee.
Sometimes I try and lose touch with my own life and focus on academic work. Sometimes I feel like I want to move away from how I got to university and complete assignments using the reading list sources. I was struggling with my sociology work so much, I was in tears. I lost sight of real life and aimed to produce an ‘academic assignment’ because I ‘thought’ that was what my lecturer wanted to see. I called a good friend in a state of stress and Lee told me that my lit review was shit. I can take that, it was. I had never done a lit review before. After a 20 minute conversation Lee reminded me about my own life and to move away from being so academic I lose sight of real life. My real life. In the conversation, all Lee did was talk to me about my own life. Things I know, things I still feel and still see. Following that conversation I deleted my assignment and started again, having faith in my own ability to produce academic work, on my life. By far, this was the hardest assignment that I have written to date, and I was over the moon last week when I received my A- grade. I text Lee straight away to thank him for reminding me that my ability to succeed is already a part of who I am, what I have been through and not to let go of that in the face of ‘reading list’ pressures.
I have too many people to thank here by name, but for all of you who read this, offer me support, give me opportunity to move on with my life and help me along the way. I honestly cant thank you all enough. I am full of motivation, passion and determination but the path I am now on wouldn’t be walked if you guys hadn’t of given me the opportunities that you have.
Here is to year two!