Diane Abbot MP is the first person to be profiled by ‘Cambridge and Diversity’ – a project that celebrates and explores the University’s 800 years of history by revealing the stories of current and former staff and students.

Diane, whose parents came from rural Jamaica, has confessed she knew nothing about higher education when she was growing up, but that her desire to try for Cambridge had been ignited by a school trip to the University when she was in fifth form (now Year 11).

“I was enchanted by the colleges, architecture and the young men and women in their striped scarves”.

Diane read history at Newnham College (1973-76) and felt a “huge sense of achievement just by setting foot in Cambridge”. However, as the only black person in the history faculty at the time, she’s frank about her initial impressions of not belonging and how she managed to overcome them.

She also talks about how the University is far more diverse now, and that schools must play a key role in encouraging their students to apply to top-level universities:

“Teachers must not get caught up in the mythology that Oxford and Cambridge are only for posh children. I was there thirty years ago and there weren’t only posh people there then.”

Looking back on her career as a civil servant, race relations officer and journalist before becoming the first female black MP in 1987, she says: “Going to Cambridge gave me that sense that obstacles were there to be overcome. It also gave me more confidence.”

Developed by Equality and Diversity, and supported by the 2009 Fund, the ‘Cambridge and Diversity’ project provides an opportunity to discover how the University of Cambridge has embraced the challenge of accepting differences over its 800 year history. During 2009 the project will showcase the profiles of current and past, students and staff from a variety of backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, religions, sexualities and ages.

Diane Abbott will be in Cambridge next week to deliver the inaugural Race Equality lecture (Equality vs Academic Freedom) on Monday 23 February. This new lecture is an extension of an existing high-profile series of Equality and Diversity lectures.

The Race Equality lecture will take place at 5pm at Newnham College. To book a place and read the full profile follow the links in the top right menu.

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