International Development

Beth Munro, BA in International Development, talks about why she chose Sussex

Beth MunroBeth Munro graduated on 20 July with a first class BA degree in International Development (with a Study Abroad year) (with French).  

Here she talks about why she chose Sussex, her involvement with a project to promote politics in schools, and how her time here has shaped her plans for the future. 

Congratulations Beth!

What made you want to study at Sussex, and specifically International Development?

 International Development appealed to me as I had been volunteering in Oxfam and decided that I wanted a career in which I could both travel and "help" people. Once I had chosen International Development, Sussex emerged as a clear choice as it has such a good reputation for the subject and links with IDS. I had always loved Brighton from visiting for fun weekends by the sea as a child and when I visited on the open day and spoke to so many happy students, my choice was made very easily.

What were you doing before?

I grew up in South London. Before university I took a "gap year" in which I worked baking cakes for a restaurant and then went travelling for 6 months in India and South America. I arrived at Sussex ready to learn more about the world.

How has your time here inspired you to set up your secondary school politics project?

Sussex is the perfect environment to try new things. In my first year at Sussex I was a member of over 10 different societies - from swing dancing to foodies to feminist society - and met all different sorts of people and explored different interests. The atmosphere at Sussex is one of non-judgement and I felt welcome in every new club I joined. That played a large part in giving me the confidence to set up my own group in Sussex, as well as equipping me with the people skills to do so in an open and inclusive way.

In 2015, my first year at Sussex, there was a General election. It was then that it struck me how little most people - of all ages! - know about the political system, political parties, elections, etc. I had studies politics at A-level and so had some basic knowledge, but still didn't feel confident in talking about it. I would have discussions with friends where they confided in me that they didn't really know what any of the major parties stood for, they only knew which party their parents voted for. There seemed to be a real lack of knowledge about where to find unbiased information about politics and there also seemed to be a real shame in admitting how little we all knew. No-one wanted to ask questions in case they sounded stupid.

The low voter turnout among 18-25 yr-olds in the 2015 election reflected this bewilderment. The idea of setting up a group which "taught" politics to young people started here, but it didn't develop into PIE (Politics in Education) until I returned from my third-year studying abroad in Morocco to a Brexit-ed England and a world threatened by Trump which kicked me into action to actually DO something, rather than just talking about it with friends. The Politics society were very encouraging and directed me towards Alon Harnshack, who had been running the Sussex Role Models project https://www.sussexstudent.com/volunteer/role-models/ with Lyndsay Burtonshaw and Natasha Mansley.  Alon was invaluable to me and the creation of PIE. Offering advice, encouragement and also getting me involved in Role Models, I learnt how to facilitate workshops and work with young people. On the whole, the accepting, daring and active environment of Sussex definitely set the stage for PIE, and for countless other projects.

Why is this important now – given the political landscape?

The political landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. The increased importance of social media has had a huge impact on the way people - particularly young people - engage with the world around them. In many ways, this is incredibly positive. As seen in the most recent "snap" election, social media was harnessed and young people mobilised more than ever before, and the young vote increased from around 40% (2015) to around 70% (2017). With the dramatic headlines created by Brexit and Trump, politics seems to be more in fashion and is talked about over all forms of media. The tricky part is to harness this vague interest into an active engagement, seeking reliable information, forming opinions, feeling confident to ask questions, discussing and debating, and finding ways to become involved - be it through campaigning, running for school council, protesting, anything!

PIE doesn't make any attempt to influence young people in any political direction. Our aim is to get young people interested in and enthused about politics and to recognise the impact that they can make, simply by showing an interest and making politicians take notice of their views. We want to dispel the idea of politics as boring, irrelevant and confusing and to break the barriers put in place by politicians evading questions, reporters using confusing terminology and inflammatory headlines.

What are you set to do after you graduate?

I plan to stick around to continue with PIE! We are in the process of handing the group over to a new group of Sussex students. I am also aware of similar projects existing in other universities and cities around the UK and so plan to share ideas and hopefully expand the project into a nationwide programme. There are many other campaigns aiming to get politics, human rights and democracy onto the national curriculum which we are involved in and so, as well as keeping our workshops going in local Brighton schools, the scope of PIE is much wider.

What is your proudest memory?

Being nominated for the Best New Society award was a nice recognition of our work but without a doubt the best memories have been the moments during workshops when young people start discussing and debating themselves. For example, in one of our sessions at Ringmer Community College we had only 10 minutes left and we asked the students if they would rather play a game or have a debate and everyone shouted "debate!" Young people have a lot to say about political issues, they just need to be given the space to voice these opinions, and that's what PIE aims to do.

Read more about PIE