Students are foundational to the story of UCL. Established in 1826 as the first university in England outside Oxford and Cambridge, UCL opened up higher education to those who had previously been denied access. This included religious minorities, the middle classes, and later, women. Since the beginning, students have been free to invent their own traditions and forge a distinctive student culture in London.
This exhibition places students at the heart of this 200-year history. On display are items from UCL Special Collections, Students’ Union UCL and UCL Museums, each of which sheds light on an aspect of student life. These include student identity, spaces and community-building, with UCL students often crucial to organisations like the Central Union of Chinese Students, formed in 1904, and the West African Students’ Union, started on the initiative of a UCL student in 1925.
The exhibition showcases national and international student activism and engagement across two centuries, from anti-colonial protests, the Spanish Civil War, 1956’s Soviet invasion of Hungary, the 2003 war in Iraq and the more recent Black Lives Matter protests. Student action relating to the university itself is also represented, including a 1970s campaign to end sexual harassment on campus, and calls for campus decolonisation, with a particular focus on UCL’s role in legitimising eugenics.
The exhibition features audio clips from Generation UCL oral history interviews with UCL alumni and extracts from memoirs voiced by actors. Hear recollections of segregation between male and female students in the 1880s, life as an international student in 1909, the impact of the Second World War, and the 1990s dance music scene in London, among many other memories.