“I returned to the LSE this September to pursue my Master’s in Sociology somewhat excited to throw myself back into the topics that interest me. I write this as I sit in a caff near my East London home. News coverage of COP26 plays on the television with the world’s politicians professing their supposed dedication to securing and preserving our future. I tune in and out of the coverage as I get on with my studies. The thought of the future continues to plague me.
Whether fearing climate change or our government’s dedication to making life worse for young people or employment prospects or the ongoing persistence of intertwined systems of oppression; many of us are incredibly aware of the future. For me, studying sociology has in many ways produced my fears. As an aspiring Sociologist, this master’s is fundamental to my career development and because of that it is terrifying. It represents my whole future. As a Black working class woman, my possible success or failure in the field dictates my economic stability and freedom. The burden of success weighs heavy on my mind. Every reading, class and essay is of such immense importance that it overwhelms me. This burden marginalised students bear is perhaps unsurprising to those of us in the field of sociology. A significant number of sociologists have studied this in a multitude of ways. Universities at least claim to be trying to help these students but lost in this is how the very content we study impacts us.
It is hard enough dealing with the burden of success and fear of the future. But I also spend much of my time learning about the seemingly countless reasons why I have no chance of succeeding. When I first began studying sociology at A-Level I learnt about various class and ethnic differences in life chances. I then furthered my study of sociology at the LSE where my knowledge of capitalism, patriarchy and racism became more complex. Every day was a new lesson in the stifling nature of our world and the evils that fill it. Every day it became harder and harder to have any hope at all when all I could see was a thousand reasons why nothing would change. This process only continues as I proceed with my studies today and is further complicated when we situate sociology itself within these systems of oppression. In my three years LSE I have not been taught by a single Black academic and I am currently one of two Black students on my course. One would have to be wilfully ignorant to be unaware of the persistent dominance of white voices in the field. Paradoxically, I spend my time trying to be successful whilst constantly learning why I am not only unlikely to do so, but also about the problems of what success under capitalism represents. In many ways, engagement with an academy heavily rooted in colonialism and increasingly neoliberal serves to reify those systems of oppression that harm me. At the same time, my studies teach me so much about these processes and put me in a position to contribute to possible solutions.
To study sociology leaves me hyperaware of my own oppression. Every reading, essay and class is traumatic. This experience might be likened to Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of the world that looks on in amused contempt and pity”. As a Black working class woman, I must spend so much of my time studying how the world sees me and attempt to reconcile that with my perception of self. It feels as though I am doomed to fulfil the failure that much of the work I read prophesises. My future entails a struggle to achieve in this field but why should I try to succeed or seek change when all the odds are against me? I do not believe that universities are aware of this trauma. If they were, perhaps we would not see such stark ethnic differences in attainment at the LSE. The effect of this trauma on Black students must be recognised and acknowledged not just through messages of equality, but in the way that we are assessed. The toll these studies have taken on me cannot be put into words. In lieu of proper support, the field will continue to miss out on the valuable contributions of budding Black thinkers, as minority students face levels of pressure that push us dangerously close to the edge.”
 Du Bois, W.E.B., 2007. The souls of Black folk, Oxford [England] ; New York: Oxford University Press. p.8.
Christiana Ajai-Thomas is a student on the MSc Sociology programme.