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Celebrating Black History Month…

…and introducing our MCR Equality and BAME Officer, Nirmani

Black History Month is celebrated in the UK during October and Hughes Hall’s MCR, library and many institutions across the University are busy planning events and activities to mark its significance, and to have fun.

We spoke to Hughes Hall MCR Equality and BAME Officer, Nirmani Rathnayake, about her position on the Committee, her academic passions, and her own journey to Hughes.

Tell us about yourself

“I am an engineering PhD student from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a little island south of India, often referred to as a tropical paradise. I grew up in this little tropical paradise up until the age of 18. Since then, my life has been a bit of a rollercoaster. I’ve lived in Hong Kong, Australia, the US and now the UK. Having studied and worked in various countries, I discovered that I have a passion for using my engineering skills to help people.”

“As an international student from a South Asian country who has had to fit into different communities over the past six years, I realize that it is difficult to fit in where not many people look like you.” Nirmani Rathnayake, MCR Equality and BAME Officer

And your journey to Hughes Hall?

“As an international student, especially coming from a low-income country, the biggest challenge facing my education has always been financial. Therefore, from a  young age, I have worked hard to obtain scholarships. Through hard work, I managed to rank as the top student in Sri Lanka for my A levels, thereby obtaining a full scholarship to the University of Hong Kong. This opportunity opened several doors for me and I was able to obtain research internships at prestigious institutions such as Stanford University. Based on my achievements at the University of Hong Kong, where I managed to rank first in my class, I obtained a full scholarship to pursue my passion for research at the University of Cambridge and I am truly grateful for this opportunity.”

What do you love about engineering and what are you currently focusing on?

“Engineering has always been a passion of mine since I found out that I was good with math. Added to that, both my parents are doctors back home in Sri Lanka, so growing up I was always around hospitals and saw people suffering from various problems. As a result, I have always had a passion for biomedical engineering and using my skills for helping people. At Stanford, I conducted research on ultrasound and its use for killing cancer cells. This sparked my interest in sound and its applications in biomedical engineering. Unlike many methods of diagnosis such as MRI, X-rays or CT sound is safe and causes little stress. Additionally, it is found all around us! And my current research is based exactly on that principle.”

“I am developing a wearable device that can pick up sounds produced during the heartbeat to diagnose heart disease based on abnormal heart sounds. This device would be extremely useful for screening for rheumatic heart disease, a heart disease based on abnormal heart valves. This disease is prevalent in developing countries as it is caused by a type of bacterium that thrives in unhygienic conditions. When this disease is diagnosed it is often too late to provide treatment. By screening for this disease early we can provide necessary treatment on time and save countless lives. Moreover, it may be possible to eradicate this disease.”

Why did you want to take on the MCR role?  

“As an international student from a South Asian country who has had to fit into different communities over the past 6 years, I realize that it is difficult to fit into a community where not many people look like you. I have dealt with this alone as a student and I believe it would have been extremely useful to have a support system behind me of a community of people who have been through similar experiences to me. That is why I decided to be the Equality and BAME Officer and I want to build a sense of community around the BAME students so that they feel seen and heard.”

“We are all different culturally and I believe this is something that should be celebrated not ignored.  As part of my role, I want to introduce different cultures to other students so that we can all celebrate the diverse cultures at Hughes.”

Black History Month at Hughes

Thank you to Nirmani, Kudzai, and others in the MCR and wider student body for all their hard work.  The MCR is marking this with several events throughout October:

  • 17th: Black History Month social (for Black students)
  • 19th: Games Night (all welcome)
  • 21st:  Black History Month Formal Hall (all welcome)
  • 24th: Movie night in collaboration with Hughes Hall Law society (all welcome)
  • 26th: Trivia Night (all welcome)
  • 28th: Academic seminar showcasing the work of our researchers and research students from a Black ethnic background (all welcome) – if you are a postgraduate student/researcher of Black ethnicity and would like to present, please contact the Nirmani at mcr.equality.bame@hughes.cam.ac.uk. 

Hughes Hall librarians arranged a display for Black history month, showcasing the work of Black writers and topics related to black history month.

Supporting students of Black, Asian and minority ethnicities at Hughes

  • As MCR Equality and BAME Officer, Nirmani welcomes Hughes Hall students to get in touch if they would like support, advice or to discuss anything related to equality and ethnicity with a fellow student: mcr.equality.bame@hughes.cam.ac.uk.
  • Dr Ben Marshall, College Head of Student Wellbeing and Welfare, has recently joined Hughes Hall and is available to meet with any student who has concerns or questions, especially regarding wider wellbeing issues: bjm71@hughes.cam.ac.uk.
  • Dr Othman Cole is a Governing Body Fellow, Tutor and Race Equality Champion at Hughes Hall. Members of our student community are welcome, and encouraged, to contact Dr Cole if they have concerns related to race and ethnicity issues which they would like discuss: oc219@hughes.cam.ac.uk.

Further information

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