Newnham Faces – Sidsel, first year philosopher


“The only thing I’m scared of is that I’ll never leave,” says Sidsel. Sidsel, a first year philosopher from Norway, is the first ever student to move into the Dorothy Garrod Building.

As she has a visual impairment, she’s arrived early to work with the Disability Resource Centre, and to familiarise herself with the College and town before the term begins.

“I really like the Dorothy Garrod Building – it’s incredible. It has that home atmosphere that the rest of the College has.” Sidsel feels the new building has a Scandinavian vibe, stylish and thoughtfully designed, “which makes an easier transition”.

She’s moved into a spacious corner room with an en-suite bathroom, and huge windows looking out over trees. The architect, Cindy Walters, has already popped round to say hello to the first Garrod student.

So why Newnham? “I’d heard a lot of good things about it,” she explained. “It seemed to be a College with a lot of community, very supportive.” When she visited some of the Colleges that she’d seen on TV, they were “impressive, but not a home.” Whereas stepping inside Newnham, “it didn’t seem like an institution – it seemed like a home.”

She appreciates that it’s firmly in the academic area of town, rather than the tourist-filled centre. For someone who won’t be cycling, Newnham is a short walk to lectures and the University library. “I’m having fun exploring Cambridge, though,” she explains – and she has already discovered the crucial venue that is Hot Numbers Café.

As a philosophy student, Sidsel was particularly interested in attending a women’s college, having discovered that philosophy is generally a male dominated subject. “I’m interested in political philosophy and ethics – philosophy that relates to the world around us.”

“You get the same degree, the same lectures,” she points out, so in some ways it doesn’t matter which College you choose. However, the opportunity to be at the same college as Knightsbridge Professor of Philosophy Rae Langton was a tempting one, especially given that Rae Langton has a particular interest in philosophy and social justice.

Sidsel was impressed by Newnham’s longer history of philosophical thought in a social context, with past Fellows including Baroness Onora O’Neill. Indeed, Newnham was co-founded by Henry Sidgwick, then a young and radical philosopher without a job, later the Knightsbridge Professor of Philosophy – the post that Rae Langton holds today.

Meanwhile, the University’s Disability Resource Centre have been working with her to ensure that the University can meet her needs. Sidsel says they’ve been very helpful, despite the fact that “it still takes time to get everything done.”

“Maybe it’s a very Norwegian attitude, but I believe you’re not here to be the best, you’re here to learn as much as you can,” she says. “I wanted a learning environment that would really push me. If we don’t challenge ourselves, then what’s the meaning of it all anyway?”