THE BLOG
09/02/2016 10:48 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 05:12 GMT

From Tragedy to Triumph: Why My University's New Chancellor Really Matters

How many students know who their university's chancellor is?

Some might, if the chancellor is famous for other things like Dawn French, Steve Cram or Grayson Perry. And some might have heard them make speeches at graduation or matriculation ceremonies.

But I don't imagine many do. And I really doubt any students could say their time has been changed or improved by the chancellor in post. Can any of those chancellors - often still engaged in their own busy careers - really connect with students? Really inspire them or engage with them? How many of them are actually on campus more than a handful of times during the three years most students are studying?

Well, at De Montfort University, we've just got a new chancellor who I think will change that, one who had already inspired me in a big way before she was even asked to consider the post.

Her name is Doreen Lawrence.

Or - to give her proper title - The Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon OBE. But that title is misleading. I hear Baroness or Lord or Lady or Duke and suddenly I can't see a real person. I see someone living a life a million miles away from the one me, my friends and my family live.

When you add to that the elaborate robes and hats chancellors always seem to be wearing, you get someone who most students at university would find it hard to connect with.

But this Baroness is different. This chancellor is different.

Because the long title is not who Doreen Lawrence is, not to me or, I imagine, to most other people. She is not a hereditary peer, she is not landed or noble by birth or any of that.

In 1993, she was mostly known as Mum to her son Stephen. She had been born in Jamaica and emigrated to England at the age of nine, later becoming a bank worker.

But in April, Stephen, then 19, was murdered as he stood waiting for a bus. Despite a subsequent investigation and trial, nobody was convicted of the murder. Whoever had done it had got away with it.

But Baroness Lawrence wouldn't accept that. She stood up and accused the Met Police of being racist and incompetent. She campaigned relentlessly for an inquiry. And, in the end - despite having no standing or influence beside her own will and her own sense of right and wrong; despite being a black woman in a predominantly white society; despite the many layers of authority ranged against her - she won. An inquiry was opened which vindicated what she'd been saying all along. It also led to a new trial and the conviction of Stephen's killers.

I knew all this; I'd followed the story and I was kind of in awe of Doreen Lawrence. I was so excited when I heard she had decided to become our new chancellor.

Already, on the day she was invested this month (January) she showed that she wanted to be an active part of university life, touring the campus and chatting to students. She said she didn't like all the attention and publicity, that she just wanted to get to know students.

I feel a real connection with her. My family were originally from Jamaica, like hers. They came to England in 1992 and I was born in England, like Stephen.

I've been quite lucky in my life. I've never really been the victim of racism. There have been a couple of incidents - comments made by people where I've worked, normally things which I know were not meant to be offensive but which are still stereotyping.

The truth is, if you are black, you never stop being aware of it. You feel you have to try harder than other people to have the same chance. In a way I know I'm lucky that my name is Tiffannie because people won't assume I'm black from reading it so I avoid being judged by the colour of my skin.

But what happened to Stephen Lawrence and the fight his mother had to put up, shows there is still a real problem in our country.

Unlike Stephen, I actually have a chance. I'm at university, trying to live the life I want. And he would be so proud to know that his mum is genuinely inspiring young people to do the things they really want to, to feel that they can achieve what want to with enough hard work. After all, she did exactly that.

Stephen had been a talented runner and a good student: he dreamed of becoming an architect. But he was forever denied the chance of going to university and making that dream come true. I have this chance and this opportunity to follow my dreams not only for myself but for those who couldn't

I hope that in being made our chancellor, Baroness Lawrence can enjoy helping out and getting involved, righting the wrong which took place in 1993, inspiring hundreds of students to live the lives they want to, and showing that one voice can make great changes.