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Reclaiming Spaces: CUSU and GU Welfare and Women’s Officer’s campaigns

By Claire Sosienski Smith & Christine Pungong, (welfare@cusu.cam.ac.uk & womens@cusu.cam.ac.uk)

My experience as a student at Cambridge centred around the feminist activism I chose to get involved in, as part of the Women’s Campaign. I learned that feminist work is legacy work in the physical spaces I shared and created with women and non-binary people. My involvement in these spaces led me to run for my current position as the full-time Women’s Officer on the students’ union (CUSU), where I work closely with people who influenced my feminist activism. Christine Pungong, the current CUSU and GU Welfare and Rights Officer, was one of the first people I met when I joined Cambridge as an undergraduate and has been part of my feminist community during the last four years of our involvement with the Women’s Campaign and student organising. The Our Streets project, a collaboration between the Women’s Campaign and Welfare portfolio, represents these kinds of feminist communities that enable us to survive in these spaces, legacies which are often missing from our depiction of Cambridge as an intensely competitive environment.

Much of our time as Women’s Officer and Welfare Officer in the students’ union has been spent ensuring that people feel safe in the university. From reforming the disciplinary procedures part of the Breaking the Silence initiative, to the End Everyday Racism Project launched by the sociology department, students and staff who have not traditionally been represented in the university’s membership are acutely aware of the politics of space and visibility. We share where it is safe to go, how we can avoid the risks associated with hypervisibility, and provide reporting tools to locate the moments and spaces in which we witness those violations. We recognise institutionalised racism in collegiate spaces when students of colour are denied easy access to their colleges, and the effort it takes students to get basic concessions from colleges or departments to make Cambridge a more comfortable space to exist in.

Cambridge is a complicated space for many people. Yet, our legacy would be incomplete if it speaks only of the instances of harassment, assault and an inability to be in spaces without resistance. We wanted to leave behind something that records the friendships and moments of feminist joy which meant we could survive in spaces that were never build with us in mind. We decided to map the spaces and networks of joy and community that exist inside, outside and alongside the closed spaces of the university. We surveyed as many women and non-binary students that we could, past and present, asking them to record the physical locations they associate with memories of feminist activism and their and identities and friendships within those spaces.

From this collection of personal stories, we are forming a psychogeographical map that proves that these streets can be our streets. As a part of this commitment to represent alternative narratives, we are putting on an art exhibition to showcase the potential of the archive as a radical tool. We have commissioned a team of women and non-binary students to produce artworks for the Our Streets exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, which launches on International Women’s Day (8th March). To facilitate art that situates itself within feminist legacies, we have organised archive workshops for women and non-binary students on how to practically use archives, including how archives can be used for political change and be political in their very existence. One of our archive workshops was led by the Doing History in Public team, sharing archival method and theory which often stays in small classroom settings and within academic and research circles.

The Our Streets’ team of artists and researchers, as well as the contributors to our mapping project, show that legacies exist to share knowledge and show a way forward. Collaborating and connecting with each other allows us to create new ways of being in these spaces, and new ways in which these spaces can be used, including the thoughts that come out of them. All are welcome to attend the Our Streets exhibition: the launch night is part of Kettle’s Yard late event on the 8th March and tickets are available on the Kettle’s Yard website for £5. There will be performances from artists, words from student activists past and present, and a chance to view the work of women and non-binary students as a part of a collective group on the night. The Our Streets exhibition will be open and free to view in the Ede Room until Sunday 10th March.

Stay up to date on the Our Streets project at the Facebook page, including details on the forthcoming release of the psychogeophical map, or email welfare@cusu.cam.ac.uk or womens@cusu.cam.ac.uk for more information.

Image: Members of the Women’s Campaign at Reclaim the Night 2018, author’s photograph.

 

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