Interview: Blueprint and BRASH

Hannah Brown 7 March 2017

TCS talks to Micha Frazer-Carroll, creator of Blueprint Magazine, co-presenter of BRASH and candidate for CUSU Welfare Officer, and Emily Bailey-Page, Blueprint's arts editor and co-presenter of BRASH, about magazine, radio, and mental health.

What is Blueprint?

Micha: It’s a magazine and online platform that specializes in the topic of mental health and we have quite a feminist intersectional ethos. When I started it up I had this idea firstly that there’s not much mental health representation in general in society and the media, but also when there is representation it’s very narrow, a very specific thing. I feel often that was pertaining to middle-class, white, able-bodied women, and that was quite a common thing. So I basically wanted to represent more and represent BME issues, feminist issues and get the whole scope of how those things tie into mental illness.

Emily: A broad scope of mental illness beyond anxiety and depression, which is a very valid thing to discuss obviously but is what the mainstream conversation on mental health gets restricted to.

Who participates? What does the magazine feature?

Micha: We’ve got three sections: we’ve got arts, non-fiction, and then creative writing. A lot of Cambridge students email in saying ‘I’ve got this idea’ or people will just approach me in college, so it’s a bit of a free-for-all in terms of pitching. And we’re quite keen to give a platform to first time writers, because there are a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh I haven’t written before but I’ve had this really interesting or unique experience that I want to talk about’ and we try with our non-fiction editors to kind of mentor and have a back-and-forth process with those who might not be as confident with writing.

Do you get many submissions?

Emily: Yeah, we met at the beginning of last term to look at the initial wave of submissions, not only was it surprising that so many people outside of Cambridge sent in their stuff, but the sheer volume of stuff – we were trying to cut down.

Micha: At least a hundred pieces. And also I was surprised by the amount of anonymous stuff we got as well because often with writing people have this idea that a lot of it is about self-promotion and getting your name out there, but a lot of people, with arts especially, submitted things without their names on, which I thought was interesting because it kind of conveyed an ethos of just wanting to share.

Do you think that anonymity is also partly to do with the stigma of mental health?

Micha: I think that’s a factor.

Emily: Especially within the Cambridge community, it can take a lot of confidence, it can take a lot of guts. Attaching your name to something like that kind of is stigmatised and you’re really sticking your head above the parapet by doing it.

Micha: But surprisingly, some very personal articles have been written, and I always ask writers ‘Do you want me to just put anonymous?’ And people have said ‘No, I want my name on this’ because it feels like an act of reclaiming.

What are your opinions on mental health issues in Cambridge? What is Blueprint’s stance?

Micha: Where to start? Stigma was definitely a very big part of it and our kind of party line is that we are here to primarily start a conversation rather than try to give solutions to problems. We just want to open up a debate that isn’t being had and start a space that isn’t really there for people. Also I think solidarity. I think it does mean a lot to be able to see an article on something you’ve experienced and you’ve never seen online before, you’ve never heard anyone speak about before and be like ‘oh my gosh I’m not weird, there are other people experiencing the same thing’.

Emily: In a way there are conversations that happen around mental health in Cambridge, it’s something we’re kind of attuned to in terms of discussions. And yet I think particularly for some subjects the Cambridge experience can be so isolating, you can feel very alone with the things that you’re going through. So when you say solidarity I think that’s really important.

Micha: I’m never sure whether we talk about mental health loads in Cambridge or we don’t talk about it enough. And it’s almost as if people talk about it from a distance, as if people talk about it as an issue but don’t want to be attached to mental health problems or associated with them. I also think that another thing with mental health in Cambridge is that, partly by virtue of the collegiate system I think, but I think there are other factors at play, is that there’s just huge discrepancies between different people’s experiences. Often it feels like luck of the draw.

Do you think that’s fair when it comes to applications then?  

Micha: I have a lot of issues with the collegiate system in general for that because I think the way that we market colleges to prospective applicants, we do it with rents and we do it with living out in second year, and college stereotypes. And we say ‘All colleges are the same, it doesn’t matter which one you apply to, you’ll love it’. And I think that’s really unfair and really misleading. Yeah, I think we need to be talking more about discrepancies between colleges and measure them more fairly.

Going into the future, then, is that something Blueprint would like to focus on? More campaign-based things? Or do you have other plans?

Emily: I kind of feel like there is a real value in Blueprint that comes from it just being a place for writing and expression, the idea is not providing solutions but being a forum for discussion.

Micha: I think that’s true. But I think it would also be interesting to do features on certain campaigns without doing the campaigns ourselves, for example, Student Minds Cambridge do really good Cambridge-based campaigns. So I think collaboration and awareness raising of campaigns rather than us being campaigners. Other things in terms of future plans: more discussions. We did a discussion this term on mental health and feminism: is mental health a feminist issue? I think different things work for different people too; some people prefer to write, some prefer to come along and chat, and it’s nice to have both of those spaces.

And what’s BRASH?

Emily: It’s a weekly radio show that we do live on CamFM every Monday evening at 9pm. The way that we pitched it, we were like, ‘It’s not your grandma’s woman’s hour’. That was roughly the inspiration behind the show but we wanted to update it, make it more relevant for a student audience. And we focus on anything that’s either come up in the news or in current affairs in the week, or just stuff we’ve been thinking about. For example the show we did last night, we were talking about all the stuff that happened at the Oscars in terms of the whole Moonlight-La La Land controversy, Casey Affleck, and all the race and gender issues around that. Race and gender is kind of our remit. We like taking pop culture very seriously and treating it as the reflection of our society that it is. It’s fun, it’s light-hearted and it’s stuff that we really enjoy having a chat about and we laugh a lot.

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