When summarising some of the experiences of women and non binary students of colour, who are we addressing when we state Cambridge? One can’t help targeting those whom have attempted to be silencers and obstructers of our voices and self-expression. Yet this is a greater issue of institutional and structural racism and sexism. We have to address all students, staff, academics and administrators as contributing members of this greater body which we all make up.
This academic year has been positive in many ways, especially having witnessed the expansion of FLY. Our network continues to facilitate WNBPOC taking up space, making sure our voices are heard and partaking in the cathartic experience of sharing experiences and struggles where it is so common for students like us to feel alienated. Highlights of this academic year have to include our collaboration with Students of Cambridge where we were able to shine a light on and celebrate women of colour. Also included is Sophia Luu’s great initiative, inspired by the Oxford women international society to have our girls photographed in their cultural traditional dress. We also celebrate the launch of our zine, the culmination of much passion and effort. But this year has shown us that we are not just coming together and carving out space within a university still plagued by institutional discrimination, but that problematic individuals still remain and continue to make us feel unsafe and isolated. Worst of all, it has also revealed the university is currently weak and unmotivated to provide and promote the infrastructure to tackle these issues effectively.
For the last few months, FLY has collated the experiences of students of colour and it has overwhelmingly and disappointingly revealed the scale of discontent and dissatisfaction across colleges. Monica Dey, a first year PBS student at Corpus Christi is one example of students of colour having to cope with racial and cultural harassment. Bravely, she disclosed how her class, religion and ethnicity have become the focal point of a fellow student’s ignorance in their daily interactions.
Another case involved a student at Clare who was found to be racially harassing black students at Bristol. It managed to be pushed under the radar fairly rapidly with no official recognition of the incident in the form of a statement from the university despite it reaching national news. Timi Sotire and her sister, who was one of the victims in the Bristol incident, had this to say: “My sister and her friend had a group of white boys from their old school cyber bully them through racial attacks for about a year and a half. The boys made a snapchat video saying ‘ he swings where he wants’, earlier this year, with one of the boys in the video being a student who is now at Cambridge. Tami and Timi had faced racial abuse from these people since sixth form, but once they saw the snapchat video, they realised that they should not let things like this slide.
They decided then put the video on Facebook, where it went viral and was picked up by The Tab and BBC News. The University has still given no formal response to the video and given their student no formal punishment. It has created frustration in our community because it seems as if Cambridge is more interested in protecting their students than making sure that the university is a safe space for people from all backgrounds. This is not an isolated story; it is representative of the experiences many BME students face in an institution like this. The lack of action taken by the university will make students here less likely to report any racial harassment that they may experience.”
This sense of neglect, which can only be perceived of as apathy on the university’s part, sends out a message to minority students that our daily lived experiences are not a priority despite it being our reality. If international rapper Princess Nokia, a victim of misogynoir at our very university felt so unsafe she had to take a stand against an audience member and exit the stage early in her set, it only revealed how ingrained discrimination is within our community. It affects our ability to be comfortable and thrive.
The assimilationist attitude that students of colour have to adopt just to belong at Cambridge is not sufficient for making us feel settled. It denies the prevalence of racial and cultural differences, institutional biases and the ignorance that pervades in society up to this day. From the students we surveyed who had experienced some form of racial harassment, the majority did not feel confident reporting the incidents to their colleges and some expressed a firm belief that nothing would be done. One student who had even gone through mediation with their accused stated that “I was pressured to discontinue following up further action” and told to “end it at an apology, despite the student admitting to the racist nature of their actions. No punishment was advised for them or prescribed.”
We acknowledge that some official bodies within the university are attempting to make strides with the implementation of new policies that will advance the ways colleges handle cases of harassment. The new office of student conduct, complaints and appeals (OSCCA) which seeks to “provide procedural advice, case handling and oversight of a number of student procedures including complaints” is hopefully one step forward in ensuring students of colour that require support and justice from their colleges are satisfied. However, the addition of new “offices” and “policies” can never be enough to encourage students of colour to feel safe and acknowledged. What is required is a shift in attitudes and better representation. Shout out to ACS Cambridge for making major waves with their viral photo of fifteen black boys, only highlighting how much work still needs to be done. Colleges should move away from a solely disciplinary and procedural based rhetoric in regards to cases such as these. All colleges should make it official within a moral, respect and dignity code that discrimination and harassment based on ethnicity, race and cultural difference will not be tolerated.
FLY will continue taking up space alongside WNBPOC of the university and speak out against all forms of ignorance and discrimination.