English | Indonesian
I identify as half English, half Indonesian & an Atheist. My Mum’s English & my Dad’s Indonesian, they met in Indonesia when my Mum was working there in the 1990s. They’ve both lived and worked all over the world, but we grew up in very White, very middle-class Surrey. My surname is pretty unusual, so I’m very used to being asked where I’m originally from, most memorably in the lunch queue at primary school. I grew up in a privileged, predominantly White area so I have always identified as 90% English. This is only really challenged when I visit Indonesia. Growing up in England and having never learned Indonesian means that I’ve never truly connected with that side of my identity.
My parents separated when I was 8 and my Dad moved back to Indonesia. We see him sporadically. My Mum has been with her new White-British partner for several years, leading to the entertaining idea that my best friend thought I was adopted for a good couple of years. The mix of two cultures and parents living in different countries has definitely added a layer of complexity to my childhood. Going to Indonesia is a bit of culture shock, compounded by the language barriers, and I’m lucky to have my brother in the same boat. My friends are really supportive, but most can’t relate to the mixed-race bit of my life.
I think growing up with two wildly differing cultural experiences does make you much more resilient and adaptable. Though this has been messy at points, I wouldn’t change that for the world. I’m also pretty lucky that visiting Indonesia every couple of years has meant I’ve seen lots of South-East Asia and developed a love of travelling.
I think I’m probably more vocal and proactive about diversity in the workplace (and everywhere) than my peers. I knew about Oxford’s lack of diversity because it receives a lot of coverage in the press. But because I often don’t think of myself as particularly non-white, it didn’t factor much into my thinking. Everything else about my social background is wildly over-represented at Oxford.
I have received a couple of comments while at Oxford, implying I’ve benefitted from positive discrimination for being BME. I have enough self-confidence to not be too affected, but not everyone might. But I’ve never experienced anything as overt here as someone walking past me in Manchester and shouting ‘ni hao’ at my face. I don’t even look Chinese. People are extremely aware of race in Oxford and problems of lack of representation. But I think this doesn’t always translate to a welcoming and inclusive environment; I’ve found people pretty hesitant to express opinions about race and identity because of fear of offending someone. Oxford is more international than where I grew up but not really more diverse to the point where I have found lots of other people who have been able to identify with mixed-race issues. I don’t feel represented within Oxford from an Asian point of view.
I’m really happy to see a movement to push visibility of mixed-race students. It’s given me more confidence to talk about a complex part of my life that I usually keep private.
In the context of the University of Oxford, we hope our names; faces and stories will emphasise that there is a place for everyone at Oxford. According to last year’s admissions data, 700 Oxford undergraduates identify as mixed. In 2016, BAME students accounted for 15.9% of the undergraduate intake. Oxford is diversifying, albeit slowly. We hope to empower mixed heritage students at Oxford and foster a community where they can safely share their own opinions, experiences and stories.