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On Behind the Scenes at BLS this week, Sharla Peters reflects on how coming from working-class roots meant joining BLS was a culture shock and how the supportive and diverse environment made her law school experience a success.

Sharla Peters

I am an International Law and Globalisation student currently in my inverted third year at UoB. Thanks to COVID, I am not in Japan just yet, but that is my first goal for when I graduate: exploring the world!

My background is non-traditional. Not only am I a working-class Caribbean student from a single parent household and of the first generation in my family to enter university, but my entry into university was also non-traditional. Growing up, although my grades were good, I was not able to sit my GCSE exams due to illness. Therefore, I was only able to gain three GCSEs and so was not able to take the typical route of A Levels and then university. Instead, I gained two different Art qualifications in Visual Arts and Fashion and then studied another qualification in Hairdressing before I finally managed to recover from my health issues and decide what path I wanted to take.

I chose to study law without any idea what this would entail. All I knew was that I loved the idea of speaking in court, getting to the bottom of crimes and played a lot of Ace Attorney when I signed up for my Access to Higher Education course. While there, I developed a love for criminal law and criminology that I still hold today as evidenced by my choosing of Criminal Evidence and Human Rights and Criminal Justice as modules this year.

Coming to the BLS was such a culture shock for me. All I had known were my working-class roots and although I did not hesitate to enrol here, once my foot was in the door, I felt overwhelmed very quickly. I thought since I had missed out on the typical teenage experiences and had no A Levels, I was behind everyone else. Luckily, the support here has been great, and my cohort gets along well. I have also enjoyed participating in the events of the legal societies we have here such as Holdsworth, PALS and Women in Law as well as being on the committee for European Law Student Association (ELSA) Birmingham for two years in a row. Being on ELSA’s committee, I have further developed the resilience and creativity I already had from my past and incorporated those skills into a brand-new setting.

My favourite thing about my course is its diverse content. I have been able to explore a variety of topics that are law-adjacent such as colonialism and misdemeanours of non-governmental organisations. I was also able to combine my knowledge of the foundations of international law with my love for criminal law by answering the question of whether the legacy of Black women being sexualised in colonial structures influences their experiences as victims of sexual assault in the UK as my dissertation.

From my experience at BLS, my dissertation topic and meeting a PhD student who studies a similar field, I wish to continue my studies exploring the issues of intersectionality that affect the legal system.