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Celebrating 10 years of Pembroke Access: The Afro-Caribbean Tyler Prize – Hope Oloye

21st June 2019

Recent alumna, Hope Oloye is the founding Director of the Afro-Caribbean Tyler Prize. She launched the initiative as an access and outreach project whilst studying Biological Sciences at Pembroke, to tackle some of the barriers that prevent African and Caribbean-heritage students from applying to Russell Group universities, such as Oxford.

‘Coming from a state school in East London I didn’t expect to feel as welcome as I did at Pembroke. Despite the myths I’d heard about Oxford, I was met with warmth and openness, as well as a stunning quad. However, after hearing about and getting involved in Pembroke’s pioneering access and outreach efforts, I wondered why these messages weren’t reaching and impacting my own community back in London. With Black students making up around 0.1% of our undergraduate student body, Oxford remained overwhelming white. Anecdotally, I knew Black people didn’t feel Oxford was a place for them, and working closely with Academic and Access Officers as JCR President offered an opportunity to try and tackle some of the complex barriers to Black students’ progression at university. The Afro-Caribbean Tyler prize aims to both raise attainment and aspirations of a talented group of potential students.

Centred around an essay prize, students engage in socially relevant topics that are complementary to their formal curriculum. During the programme, they attend workshops aimed at building skills that are not only useful in producing a piece of work for the competition, but will help them excel in their school exams and coursework. The essay itself is a central part of the Oxford learning experience; with some subjects requiring its submission alongside student applications, it is an integral part of both the admission and the tutorial system. As part of the programme, students are allocated a Black undergraduate mentor, to provide help with the essay and insight into life as an Oxford student. We hope that our mentors show that there are Black students thriving at the University and to replicate some of the informal knowledge of Oxford and higher education that exists in more privileged communities. The participants are finally invited to a celebration day held at Pembroke college, where they receive tours, listen to panel discussions and talks held by students and Tutors – a powerful way of demystifying the university.

As Director of the programme I, alongside other Black students, design the questions and reading lists, coordinate the administration of the programme, train mentors and organise the celebration day. It’s a big task that is shared with many capable volunteers across the university including, of course, Pembroke’s Access and Outreach office. With the help of this team, I’ve been able to successfully propose an expansion of the programme to include public speaking and creative writing programmes, work with younger students and incorporate a longitudinal research and evaluation component that will enable us to expand our impact, validate our approaches and improve our practise.’

Hope Oloye
Hope Oloye