More than Aesthetics: Dark Academia Helps Students Find Representation And Romance in Study

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Words by Eliza Lourenço

Over the past couple of years, communities have cropped up around aesthetics across social media platforms. 

Amongst these styles is dark academia, which ties into the mystery of sandstone university halls and the characters that you’d find within them. 

Students and users within the community come from a number of different backgrounds: LGBTQIA+, people of colour and varying socioeconomic situations. 

Mae, also known as darkacademiacottage, is a POC currently studying human anatomy. Her experience in the dark academia community means she’s been able to find inspiration and representation.

“Oftentimes the only POC representation that we get is drenched in stereotypes that many POC don’t even relate to,” says Mae. “The aesthetic of [Dark academia] is important for POC as well because many aren’t portrayed as classy, soft, elegant, high-class, or important. Most of the time POC are portrayed as the exact opposite of that. DA almost represents what POC are told they can’t be. There is not near enough POC representation in DA, but there is more now than ever.”

Traditional academia has been for the most part based around socioeconomic, racial, cisgender and heterosexual privilege. Members of the dark academia community work hard to carve out their own space in academia, where they’ve been historically denied room to grow

Popular dark academia texts include Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. Gabriela, who runs the tumblr blog sunlssgrden, uses the aesthetic to pursue her own love of literature that taps into the mystery and romanticism that these texts create. 

“I mainly focus on the classic lit, pretty things and all the yearning and unrequited love,” says Gabriela. “I think a lot of people like the wild and chaotic aspect of it, secret meetings/ societies learning dead languages that sort of thing.”

On the surface, the aesthetic means wearing tweed jackets and wire rim glasses whilst drinking black coffee and pulling an all nighter. Deeper than that comes unbridled passion for liberal arts, exploration of the unknown and this subversion of classical academia. A huge part of this change comes from members who identify as queer. 

Venus, who studies English and classics, runs the tumblr blog etherealacademia and finds dark academia empowering as a queer member of the community. 

“Dark academia fashion allows me to feel comfortable in my self expression,” says Venus. “Also, many of the writers and literary works associated with dark academia are queer. For example, Sappho and her poems are held in high regard. I love seeing reminders that LGBT people have always existed; even if historians have tried to obfuscate their experiences.”

Aurelia, another queer dark academic who studies psychology and runs lovinstudyin, agrees that queerness and dark academia are “braided together.”

“As a dark academia blog I follow recently stated, ‘gay and trans individuals are CARRYING this subculture’,” says Aurelia. “A majority of favored literature in the dark academia community is lgbt or queer coded. I would say, they support each other. Dark academia is really like an academic space for the lgbt and the lgbt make up the dark academia aesthetic, keeping it alive and kicking. Like a big support group maybe.” 

Alongside queerness and POC representation, members are also aware of accessibility. 

Lou, a music student from England who runs engloutie, sometimes takes the aesthetic beyond her Tumblr blog, but adapts it to fit into a more affordable version. 

“I try to wear vintage clothing and decorate my uni dorm a little bit,” she says. “But to be honest I can’t afford the full aesthetic and lifestyle completely. But I’ve taken a lot in terms of my attitude to studying. I don’t think you have to live the aesthetic 100% to be dark academia.”

Photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash

Lou is conscious that some of the original privilege and cost of being an academic can have the potential to carry over into the aesthetic and lifestyle. 

“It probably does put people off unfortunately,” says Lou. “Just as the same privilege and elitism puts people off academia in real life. It makes me more thoughtful about what I post on my blog. In my opinion if we can change the attitudes to privilege in the aesthetic and make it more inclusive, then that might feed into real life as well.” 

What do you think about dark academia? Leave a comment below!

Feature photos by etherealacademia on Tumblr

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