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Cambridge University – HSPS

Excel Uzoma-Ebere
University:  Cambridge
Course: HSPS
Year: 1st 

What papers are you doing?
The core four (politics, international relations, sociology and social anthropology)
Do you find the lack of diversity on the HSPS curriculum and reading lists problematic? How do you navigate that?
Yes. I’ve been complaining about that for the last few weeks. When I first started, diversity on the reading list wasn’t one of my primary concerns. It wasn’t because I don’t care, but I like the people we’re reading about a lot. As time went on, I started to spot a problem that made me very uncomfortable. It has a bit to do with coming back to Cambridge and being in lockdown. Mentally I was a bit tired and had less patience for stuff.

I read this paper about critical race theory in sociology and how race became a topic that people wanted to debate in critical race legalism. But the topics that the lecturers were bringing to the forefront were not about the actual issuses. Critical Race theorists were writing about- narrative history, the place of race in the courtroom, representation, no. They wanted to talk about race as a subject.

They were bringing topics into the lecture halls like “what does race have to do with intelligence?”, “are certain races predisposed to do this or [that]?” The theorists said in the essay something I’ve always felt- I am not interested in topics like this. You are not gonna catch me debating about issues like this; it’s not because I’m scared of being proven wrong. I don’t think my humanity should be up for debate.

That’s not what we’re talking about when we’re [calling for] a diverse curriculum. It’s not just about asking questions about the topic; it’s about the kind of questions you ask. Because when you platform specific questions, you give them legitimacy.
Similarly, I spotted many questions in HSPS and reading lists where, it’s not the same, but I feel the same sentiment towards them. In the ’80s, if you were a respected academic and suggested one of these arguments, you would be laughed out of your job. So if it’s not even a position within academia that people take seriously, why is it a position for students to debate? Why are we treating it like a valid question?

Platforming these debates led to things like The Bell Curve becoming a cornerstone of [sociological] academic, and now Charles Murray is in sociology textbooks talking about the underclass. Likewise, when we come to debates in IR, there are questions where we have to debate whether or not it is worth violating the sovereignty of non-Western countries for their own good. I’m exhausted by questions like that.
I understand the desire to expose us to different viewpoints; you should know them so you can take down their ideas. Nevertheless, I think that there is a more tactful way to investigate these beliefs without platforming them or giving them a debate at the University of Cambridge.

What do you like the most about HSPS?
Sometimes I come across a topic that I’m really passionate about, making the whole process a lot smoother. HSPS is so varied and always feels like a collection of questions that I would want to answer. These are the questions that people want to answer in general.

Why did you choose this course?
Law is boring. You might as well do something that you actually care about. I was supposed to do Law, and when it was time to write the personal statement, I couldn’t write about Law because I wasn’t passionate about it on its own. But with HSPS, it just felt so natural to me, reading people’s essays, the practice exams- it just felt so intuitive… It was more like I see my interests [and] everything I’ve worked towards being reflected in this subject.

What has been the biggest challenge for you on the course?
It’s in-between time management and confidence in my own work and ideas. When I’m panicking about essays, I like to take the approach that I’ve always gotten them done eventually! You’re not going to go to jail if it is late- just do it.

Did you do the SAQ, and how was it?
I did do the SAQ. It was very short. I remember not taking it too seriously. But the reason I added my SAQ was because my personal statement was so heavy with Law- the places I went to, the work experience, books I read etc. Essentially [my SAQ was] saying Law is the system. I’m trying to break away from that! I thought my SAQ would be an extra emphasis that I added Law because I hate it, HSPS all the way. But I wouldn’t recommend it; you’ve already written the personal statement, just move on.