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Bethany Harri-Lirette's story

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

My name’s Beth and I’m a second-year Biochemistry student at the University of Sussex.

I was born at home in a small basement flat in the late nineties before moving to live on a New Age Traveller site when I was six months old. I would spend the next ten years of my life there, first in a bus then in a 1950s trailer. This was a far cry from the experiences I would have had growing up in a damp inner-city basement flat. The site we moved to was relatively small with up to 10 units or families and was a few miles outside of a county town. As an only child I benefitted from the community, spending little time inside or alone.

Like the other children in my community, I attended the local village school. It was only as I grew older that I learnt that our headmaster had been vehemently opposed to our attendance. As a child, I remained blissfully unaware of his attempts to exclude us.

Towards the end of primary school as friends began to move on, my Mum and I moved into social housing following struggles with epilepsy and my Mum’s work.

At secondary school, I faced prejudice when some of my peers found out where I used to live but on the whole, I only talked about my families circumstances with a small group of friends that I knew wouldn’t judge me. While my upbringing remained widely unknown I always spoke up when GRT issues were raised and people shared ignorant opinions. Although my experiences of discriminations in school were mild, one of my childhood friends was harassed and bullied by both students and staff at her first secondary school forcing her to transfer to another.

My secondary school experience was made more manageable by improved excess to technology and wifi which had been lacking on my site, posing a significant challenge to older students in my community. Despite this, many of the people I grew up with have progressed on to university with some undertaking postgraduate courses. The high proportion of my community who continued into higher education does not however reflect the norm for most GRT students. I believe the continued engagement and achievement of my peers can be at least partially attribute to many of them having parents who themselves had attended university. These parents made HE appear attainable and offered encouragement and advice throughout the application process which many of our counterparts did not receive.

Although my parents do not have degrees, I received encouragement and help from my mum and extended family. At secondary school, I was fortunate enough to have teachers who did not discount me simply for being GRT and help me pursue my goal of studying biochemistry.

On the whole, since coming to Uni I have found most students open to hearing about experiences that differ from their own but still find myself braced for negative reactions when I talk about my GRT background. Although I have encountered some bigoted views, in my experience these have been in the minority much to my relief.

After completing my BSc I hope to study further with the aim of either working as a clinical scientist for the NHS or pursuing a career in academic research.

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