Profile: Charity Aria

This week we sat down with Charity, our FXU Widening Participation Officer, to discuss diversity, representation and inclusivity on campus! 

Firstly, tell us about about your role as Widening Participation Officer, what does the job entail?

People are very confused about what I do. Basically I deal mainly with societies, but it’s essentially making sure that everything is inclusive. For instance, if someone in the LGBTQ+ community felt they couldn’t join the football team because they thought they’d be discriminated against, I would have to sort that out and make sure that they don’t feel that way. It’s quite an intersectional job, as it covers everything really: race, gender identity, sexuality and religion.

Why did you put yourself forward for the role, and did you have any specific aims you wanted to achieve this year when you were elected?

One of the reasons I wanted the role was because I’d seen in past years that the FXU community has been quite white and straight. I wanted to bring a bit more diversity into it - not that they’re not inclusive and don’t make sure that everything is diverse, but obviously some people feel safer if there is someone there who identifies with them, and who they might want to contact through the services. As a queer girl who is mixed race, I felt I could bring more diversity to the role. I also joined because it’s one of the few liberation roles that is also a part of the student council, so it means that I have a say in everything that goes on with the FXU, which is awesome. It means a lot more meetings, but they’re quite fun usually!

I just really wanted to bring to the role something that not a lot of people could. One of my main aims was to make it a more racially inclusive environment. I’ve grown up in Cornwall as a very straight, white place, so I wanted to help people who felt a bit isolated within the community. I want this university to be as inclusive as it can, to make sure there is no hierarchy, and definitely no hierarchy between Exeter and Falmouth students - something that is ridiculous.

I’ve been working on what's basically an ‘Inclusivity 101’, getting information about not only how to make the student population more diverse, but also making faculties more diverse because there is a problem there too. I’m gathering research for future people who are going to take this role on, and to deliver presentations informing people about diversity, maybe passing it around to other universities. I’m still working on it, as obviously it’s a lot of work, mostly because there’s not that much information out there. I’m having to go to different universities to find this information, even networking with people on Facebook in different groups, and I’m getting there slowly but surely!

With regards to widening participation on Penryn Campus, do you think there’s an adequate degree of representation and diversity, or can improvement be made in certain areas?

There definitely can be. One of the first things that comes to mind is the LGBTQ+ community, which isn’t racially diverse at all. I know a lot of LGBTQ+ students - certainly black students – who feel like they can’t be included in the community. There are a lot of intersections within our communities, for example across gender and racial identities. It’s not ‘privilege’ as such, but people don’t think of this stuff, because if they don’t have those problems they’re not going worry about it. But I want to break things down. The LGBTQ+ community is predominantly gay but there are queer and trans identifying people who feel that this community does not work for them as a whole.

On my previous university degree, during International Women’s Week the feminist society wanted to create masks of famous inspiring women, but I pointed out the racial and ethnic appropriation that would be needed to make masks of people such as Frida Kahlo. My role is to point out the problems, so people run things by me and I’ll tell them if its ok and if it’s inclusive. I think, “am I leaving anything out?” or “am I leaving anyone out?”

With regards to other diversity issues, we have some great mental health facilities on campus, but Cornwall in general isn’t great for young people with these problems as there are no special units. I feel like there is a big problem both here and nationwide with men and mental health. It’s still quite stigmatized, so I’m working on that to try and make it more socially acceptable for men to come forward with their mental health problems without having to hide it. Masculinity is toxic and still perpetrated, and it could only get worse and worse. Alexa feels the same way and I’ve been working with her on this to see what we can do about it.  

What impact do you think you’ve made on campus this year as a result of your role?

I think we’ve made quite a lot of impact, Alexa is a big inspiration for this and we’ve had a great team together this year. Mackinlay has also been great, she’s been so much help and we meet up for coffee to decide on things we want to do. I think all together we’ve made quite an impact.

 When I was at university the first time round, I wasn’t aware certain support services were available to me, and there specifically to help me. But this year we’re good at signposting and raising awareness by getting our names out there - I’m always giving my cards out and telling people to email me, so people know that we’re here. It’s important for people to know that there are people out there working for them and championing their causes. Every university could be more diverse and inclusive, there is no perfect example of this. But I’ve worked with the best team, it’s been so inclusive and diverse this year and it’s really taken off. Being on the student council is really helpful because I get to have a say, so if I don’t like things I get to say no and stop it from happening.

Are you going to run for the role again next year?

I haven’t decided if I’m going to put myself up for the role again next year, I’m in second year but as a third year I don’t know if I can actually give the time to the role with my dissertation and everything. It would be nice to give someone else the opportunity to make a difference, because it’s such a great experience for someone who will give it their all. It is a lot of time and effort, but it’s so worth it as well. I don’t think I could give it my all next year, so I want someone to replace me who can do that. I would still be involved with the meetings and such, but I don’t think I’ll be the person people will go to, I’ll happily be helping signposting others within the FXU and go and bother them when I want to!

Anything else to add?

If you have any problems at university, if you’re struggling with anything, the FXU is the best place to go to. If they can’t help you with your specific issue, they’ll be able to point you to someone who can. They’ve been such a help to me, so I know that it’s important to know who to go to. They’re the greatest, so if you’ve got any issues at all they will try and resolve it with you.

Check out the list of FXU support services on offer here. This profile was organised with the help of our Women’s Student Officer, Mackinlay Ingham.