Celebrating Black Excellence at Oxford

22 Oct 2019
Lanisha Butterfield

Asta Diabate

Then: Brasenose College (2013), BA History and Politics

Now: Digital Innovation Consultant

How did your Oxford journey start?

I was born and raised in Italy, and grew up thinking of Oxford as this beautiful, mystical place that reminded me of Hogwarts. Applying to study never crossed my mind until I moved to England and attended sixth form college in Hackney. I participated in the Pembroke College Raising Aspirations programme and after that I was convinced it was the only place for me and I’ve never regretted my choice.

What is your fondest Oxford memory?

I loved everything from the silly traditions, to getting to know lots of people from different backgrounds around England, and the world. My friends and I organised an alternative ball; the Swag Ball. We dressed different college rooms in different themes and had a huge party. It was amazing.

How did your Oxford experience impact your adult life?

I am someone who likes to live outside of my comfort zone. I moved from Italy to London at the age of 16, and then to Oxford to study and then to South Korea for a three month internship and now London again, where I work as a consultant. I am a better person for these leaps and constantly push myself to the next step.

Oxford has an amazing support network when it comes to careers, and by actually taking the opportunities available it meant I had a job lined up by graduation.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

I say this as a historian, whether it is black history, women’s history or any other group, I don’t think we should relegate these histories to just a month of the year. Britain and many other countries are very diverse all the time, and there needs to be an effort to integrate our histories and teach over common ground.

Regardless, I think it is a good thing that allows you to celebrate and think of your own people. You can have the far away, almost unattainable role model, who you will probably never meet, but you could also have people back home showcasing what black excellence is every day, without being in the spotlight.

My parents didn’t have any formal education, but they still made an effort to make their lives better and have made so many sacrifices for me. That in itself is black excellence.

Was diversity a factor in your Oxford experience?

Let’s be honest, does Oxford have a diversity problem? Yes, but no more than any other top institution in the western world. But I really didn’t feel it was an issue when I was here. I was surrounded by peers who may not have come from a similar background but we shared other bonds; an interest in our subjects, learning about each other and making the most of the experience. My experience may not be a reflection of everyone else’s but I really felt at home. I never felt unwelcome, or like I didn’t belong here.

 

Twitter: @DiabateAsta

Launched in 2017, the Oxford Black Alumni Network connects hundreds of black Oxford graduates with peers from across the generations. Through these connections and sharing their achievements, the platform allows them to be power players in the University’s legacy, future, and access to higher education in general. For current and aspiring Oxford students, their experiences are an encouraging appeal to dream bigger, achieve their goals and follow in their footsteps.

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