To say that Victoria Ayodeji is accomplished is something of an understatement.
She secured a place at Cambridge University’s Queens’ College to study Geography and attended summer schools at some of the top Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Bristol. Other than the summer schools she has completed in the UK, Victoria also completed a sponsored summer internship at the United Geological Survey in Silicon Valley, California. This gave her the opportunity to work alongside scientists from some of the best stateside institutions such as Stanford University and MIT. Victoria has also made an impact in the life of others, most notably as a BAME officer for the Junior Common Room (JCR) of Queens’ College, a role for which she was awarded the college Cyril Bibby Prize because of the various initiatives that she pioneered. She received the ‘upReach Top Ten’ and ‘Outstanding Achievement’ awards at the 2019 Social Mobility Awards, standing out among 200 nominations and was selected as one of the global winners of the 2021 McKinsey Achievement award. Another role she held at Queens’ College was an Access Ambassador, where she offered guidance to prospective students entering the University and helped to demystify the application process.
With so much experience in some of the top universities and varied work experiences, what does she think the biggest factors in diversity and inclusion is? Simply put - it is about fostering safe and inclusive spaces. Whether through societies, clubs, or even workshops. Having spaces where students can feel support and a sense of community and belonging is what makes a big difference. “I think we often have a specific view of people, institutions and experiences because of narratives that have been pushed, but it may not always be the case,” she notes. Growing up in East London, Victoria was used to a community that was diverse, and multicultural, with tons of different languages being spoken around her. After being accepted to study Geography at Cambridge, Victoria wasn’t sure if the space she was walking into would be as diverse. “There is a narrative that it is a school full of pretentious posh kids,” she says. But she was surprised to find it more diverse than she imagined, meeting people from all walks of life which challenged many of her preconceived notions. She chalks it up to the fact that there were a variety of societies and communities for students of all backgrounds to tap into. At Cambridge she picked up DJ’ing, which she explains is something she never thought she’d learn whilst at university, “I think it also comes down to the spaces and societies that are available - at Cambridge they have the African and Caribbean Society (ACS) as well as societies like FLY Cambridge, which is an open forum network for woman and non-binary people of colour at the university.”
Victoria stresses the importance of societies and spaces like these as important vehicles to provide support and community, and noted that her friends at other institutions did not always have access to them. “Having groups like that makes all the difference, not just for different ethnicities but also cultures and religions. For example, having a Chrisitan student union and an Islamic society is also very important.” Victoria also notes that having her expectations broadened taught her the importance of being open-minded when entering new situations and spaces.
Even working as the BAME officer, she found that Queens’ College was receptive to all her ideas and suggestions and offered her a ton of flexibility - one thing she really appreciated when working on the committee. A large part of her focus in the role was making sure that incoming students felt a sense of belonging, that if they had questions, they had someone who looked like them or shared a similar background that could help. “For new students coming onto campus different facets of their identity may be important to them like their heritage, religion and culture and may play an important part throughout their university career. Being the BAME officer allowed me to ensure students could feel welcome and confident enough to enjoy their university experience in its entirety.” Victoria aimed to create a space where incoming students could come forward and ask questions. She also pointed out the importance of catering for students during religious festivals, for example, making sure that Muslim students had access to college food at specific times of the day during Ramadan.
Victoria has received the awards and recognition she has because of the positive feedback from the students that she helped and the difference that she made. It suggests that perhaps the best approach to create diverse and inclusive spaces is recognition and providing support, so that students and employees can reach out and ask questions ultimately aiding their personal development.
Want to keep up to date with Victoria and her work? You can find her here:
LinkedIn : linkedin.com/in/victoria-ayodeji