Clare Hall, University of Cambridge
Graduation ceremony at Senate House, October 2016. Photo © Dr Jerelle Joseph

“I examine how Black college students make meaning of the stories shared within their college personal statements to predominately white institutions”

Meet Aya M. Waller-Bey, an MPhil in Education graduate who was a recipient of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. We catch up with Aya as she completes her PhD in Sociology, focusing on race and college admissions

I am a proud first-generation college student born and raised in Detroit, Michigan.
I graduated from Georgetown University in 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a Social Justice Concentration and a minor in African American Studies. In 2016, I completed my MPhil in Education at the University of Cambridge as a recipient of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. My master’s thesis examined the possibilities and barriers of non-Black educators to implement Hip Hop Based Education and Hip Hop Pedagogy in multi-ethnic classrooms. Now, as a third-year doctoral student at the University of Michigan, my work examines how current, Black college students make meaning of the stories shared within their college personal statements to predominately white institutions. My research aims to reframe the discussion on the college admissions process through an examination of the role that social actors and universities play in reproducing racial stereotypes among Black students during critical political and academic debates about diversity in higher education. Outside of the classroom, I publish reflections on my Medium blog. I volunteer on the board of the Georgetown University Alumni Club of Detroit and facilitate and participate in a host of conversations about racial equity and socioeconomic diversity in higher education. Past discussions include the 2016 White House Summit on Advancing Postsecondary Diversity and Inclusion and as a panelist discussing the experiences of historically disadvantaged students attending elite institutions at SXSW Education in Austin, Texas.

Co-presentation at the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies Conference at the University of Amsterdam

I aim to serve as the Chief Academic Officer, or Provost, at a four-year institution

I learned a great deal during my time at Cambridge.
I learned the power of storytelling and the ways our stories can make an impact. Specifically, while collecting data for my MPhil thesis on Hip Hop Based Education, I integrated the Postgraduate Certificate in Education trainees’ experiences and perspectives at a leading British university. My participants revealed the important pedagogical opportunities of Hip Hop in education. I also learned the importance of a global network during my time across the pond. While at Cambridge, I connected with people from all over the world who challenged my perspectives and pushed me to decolonise my worldview. I was forced to de-center my American-ness, which allowed me to consider all the ways that I maintained privilege. Finally, I took my first solo trip while at Cambridge. In May 2016, I traveled to Iceland, and that experience revealed to me how courageous and resourceful I truly was.

Overlooking downtown Detroit on Thanksgiving 2020. Photo taken by @Erinnaephotography

Learn more about Gates Cambridge Scholarships at


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