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Meet the students who broke boundaries while studying

In partnership with UNiDAYS Student Women of the Year awards, gal-dem meets with the student founders of Ashamed Magazine and CHL Agency

11 Mar

Collage by Karis Pierre

In Partnership with UNiDAYS

“My only regret is I didn’t do it a day earlier.” These are the words of Seyi Alawode (she/her) reflecting on her journey with CHL (Creative Hub Limited), the careers community she started in 2017 — her second year at Warwick uni. CHL was Seyi’s answer to a problem she saw on campus. Her decision to create a solution is just one example of how young people of colour are using their time at uni not just to study and socialise, but to found initiatives that break boundaries for themselves and their communities. As Seyi explains, the uni’s careers service wasn’t serving everyone. “If you want to be a lawyer, then Warwick is the institution for you. But, as a creative myself — and my friends were creative — we just didn’t find that there was that support,” she says. So she set up a service of her own to give underrepresented creatives a pathway to their dream careers. 

Meanwhile, in 2019, Halima Jibril (she/they) was founding Ashamed Magazine, a zine that centres the creativity of people of colour. The publication seeks to confront and reclaim shame through bold collage artwork and articles in which people of colour speak freely on topics close to their hearts. 

“If nobody wants to take me seriously or if people only ever want me to write about my trauma… I’m gonna make a space where I don’t have to do that”

In her second year of uni at Southampton, Halima struggled to get the bylines she saw her peers achieving in journalism. After hitting a patch where publications either never responded, strung her along, or only wanted to exploit her identity for clicks, she also took matters into her own hands. Her thought process was: “well, if nobody wants to take me seriously or if people only ever want me to write about my trauma, which I don’t always want to do, I’m gonna make a space where I don’t have to do that. [Where] I can have the opportunity to interview people and talk about things I like.” 

Setting up Ashamed has given Halima writing and editing experience and paved the way for their current job as community editor of Polyester Zine. But, for them, the best part of Ashamed has been the global community it has attracted. “We’re all so close. It really has built a community of us supporting each other and helping each other grow. I felt that was the thing a lot of my friends were missing, because it was difficult to have mentors or people who would happily read your work,” Halima says. 

Friends who have your back are a huge help when you’re running a side-project alongside your studies. But there are other forms of help out there for people innovating while at uni. In recognition of the growing number of students like Seyi and Halima, this year UNiDAYS’ Student Woman of the Year (SWOTY) is seeking out applicants who are launching businesses and initiatives that break boundaries, overcoming stereotypes and discrimination, with a £10,000 prize up for grabs, to help their cause to the next level.

“It’s the people I got to speak to, the people who inspired me, people I was possibly able to inspire… If you’re doing that, you then realise it’s bigger than you.”

Speaking of levelling up — as students of colour look to make the step from uni into the world of work, a supportive community is key. Through CHL, Seyi helped young creatives make the kinds of connections that could lead to a first job and gave them access to a network of peers for referrals, link-ups, advice and support. After running a couple of careers events with speakers from Spotify and Buzzfeed, she realised attendees were keen to connect and collaborate. So she set up a group for them to do just that, CHL Hub, and soon gathered members in Nigeria, where Seyi’s from, in Ghana, Kenya and beyond. 

She tells me that the most rewarding thing about running CHL as a student was how much it impacted this community. “It’s the people I got to speak to, the people who inspired me, people I was possibly able to inspire. We had a couple of people get internships from event[s]. If you’re doing that, you then realise it’s bigger than you.”  

She adds: “I don’t know if it’s a Gen Z thing, but a lot of us are such driven people. Even if it’s not careerwise, people just want to make something out of their lives that’s different from what our parents gave us. To be able to help people do that was just… chef’s kiss.”

While it’s important to celebrate young students of colour making these kinds of strides, burnout is a serious consequence of hustle culture. Both Seyi and Halima say they struggled to balance uni work and socialising alongside CHL and Ashamed. So, if you have a great idea for a side-project while studying — go for it. But know it’s a journey and you need to look after yourself along the way. 

For Halima this means taking breaks and asking for help. They say there’s been many times where they’ve needed time off from their project and Ashamed’s Instagram, in particular. They explain: “People that like Ashamed will always come back. [I] remind myself that having a slow approach to making content is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing.”

She also tells me: “definitely asking for help has been my saving grace. Being honest with people, being like I need support with this. If you could spell check this or upload this to the website or whatever.”

As for current students starting a side-project of their own, Halima advises reaching out for help and advice. “Talk to people who have done it. People in this industry, message them and they will help you. In the very beginning, I messaged people like: ‘What website do you use? How do you design your website? How did you gain attention on Instagram? Can you share this for us so people can know that we exist?’ and they were all so happy to help.”

“Asking for help has been my saving grace. Being honest with people, being like I need support with this.”

Seyi is a perfect example of Halima’s advice. When I ask her about her suggestions for students working on side-hustles, she says: “Come and talk to me, I’ll help you. I kid you not. I want to talk to more students like this. The sad thing is I wasn’t the only one with a side-hustle at uni, I was just the only one that kept at it. If you’re a student you absolutely need people around you that are doing similar things.”

If you or one of your mates is out there breaking boundaries while studying, UNiDAYS want to know about it. This IWD, they’re bringing back their Student Woman Of The Year Awards. To enter the competition, head here and post a short 60-second video, showcasing how you have been breaking boundaries, and outline your plans for how you would spend the £10,000 grant to further your impact.

Don’t forget to cast your vote from 27th March. In the meantime, let UNiDAYS help you make the most of your student experience with its curated selection of discount codes.