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Flipping the narrative

Hughes Hall postgraduate student, Mosope Adeyinka, tells us about overcoming the challenges of being a Black woman at Cambridge and how she hopes to change the wider experiences of Black women in the criminal justice system.

Mosope is a UK student from London, studying for an MPhil in Criminology.

Did you always hope for a Cambridge education?

I worked hard at school but didn’t always receive the results I expected. I never really looked at a Cambridge education as being in reach back then but things changed when I began my undergrad degree and became more invested and passionate about what I was studying. I was determined to apply to Cambridge to further my research interests whilst receiving the best teaching from renowned academics.

How did you find yourself studying Criminology at Hughes Hall?

I became inspired by Criminology through my undergraduate degree in Criminology and American Studies. This interdisciplinary approach enabled me to study a range of different subjects which all linked to the wider discipline of Criminology. My main interest derived from the question I still ask myself today… Why do people commit crimes? Criminology is centred around this question and the deviant behaviour which some individuals exhibit.

I have always been interested in the analyses by criminologists and criminal behavioural analysts who are able to describe the logic and reasoning behind an individual committing a crime (the motive and gain, primarily). I decided to take my knowledge and interest further by pursuing a Master’s degree that would equip me to enter the field of criminal justice. I chose to do this at Hughes Hall due to its small and intimate community in comparison to other colleges. The environment and location of Hughes is perfect also!

Tell us more about your research and academic passions

For my MPhil thesis, I’m currently researching the experiences of Black women in female prisons in the United States. My analysis will entail a comparative focus on the historical experiences of black women during slavery and the ordeals of sexual violence, and correlate this with their treatment in the modern-day Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). I will be focusing on the narratives of these women themselves as a way to illuminate their marginalised voices because Black women are overlooked and unrepresented in society, especially in the PIC.  

My academic passions are closely linked to my research with a focus on Black people in general within the criminal justice system and how their experiences differ and how one can end the cycle of mass incarceration in the United States. My focus on the US criminal justice system derives from the fact that the US incarcerates more individuals than any other nation; and this is a serious concern for humanity, with the majority of these individuals being African American.  

Have Cambridge and Hughes Hall served you well?

My time at Hughes Hall has been wonderful to say the least; the College staff are delightful and are always there to help you with any issues you might have or just to have a friendly conversation with. The Porters are particularly kind, which is greatly appreciated, and most of them know me by name now… that could be just because I always have packages coming through! You definitely feel the community aspect at Hughes.

With Cambridge as a whole, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here and have made a few life-long friends from all over the world. I would say that it has been rather challenging as a Black woman, not seeing individuals that look like you, and suffering from imposter syndrome at first. However, in my mind, I flipped the narrative and continuously told myself that I deserve to be here as much as anyone else. I think it is important not to lose sight of who you are within a predominately White institution, and instead to recognise yourself as an asset to anywhere you go.

Black students are often underrepresented in postgraduate settings including Cambridge University. How have you found your experience with regard to equality and inclusion?

I’ve definitely noticed this during my time at Cambridge, I often asked myself why? I believe that the representation of Cambridge creates fear in most people of colour that screams ‘You don’t belong here’ or ‘This space is not for you’. It is important to understand that, regardless of your background, you should have faith and belief in yourself. There are people here just like you who are experiencing the same feelings and you will not be isolated. Don’t let anything deter you from applying at postgraduate level – you are more than capable!

In relation to my experience, I developed a heightened awareness of my blackness as I did not see many Black Cambridge students initially when I came, however when I joined various societies such as the Cambridge University African Caribbean Society and the Cambridge University Nigeria Society, I felt more at home around people with shared experiences. There is a long way to go for Cambridge, but the small initiatives during Black History Month and online events throughout the year are a good starting point for inclusivity.

What about your hopes for the future?

In 10 years’ time, I hope to be working within the US criminal justice system – being a part of change that will impact the lives of ethnic minorities through non-profit organisations or wider policy through government.

My dream legacy would be contributing to real change in the US criminal justice system and helping incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black people in the USA illuminate their stories. I also hope to contribute greatly to the body of criminological knowledge through policy papers that showcase the experiences of Black people in the system.

We’d love to hear from our community about your experiences and research, and are developing new content for the website to help inspire and inform applicants so please get in touch if you have a story you’d like to tell: comms@hughes.cam.ac.uk.