Lola Olufemi became the target of online trolls after national coverage of her involvement in decolonisation effortsCUSU

Nearly 100 Cambridge academics have lent their signatures to a statement condemning the “deliberately misleading and racially inflammatory” coverage of the campaign to ‘decolonise’ Cambridge’s English Tripos, following widespread criticism of the treatment of CUSU women’s officer Lola Olufemi in the national press.

So far, 93 lecturers, professors, readers and other academics – including several course directors – have backed the statement, which was released this afternoon.

Signatories include Ha-Joon Chang, director of Development Studies; Joya Chatterji, director of South Asian Studies; and Adam Branch, director of African Studies.


Mountain View

Telegraph issues correction following criticism of article on curriculum decolonisation

The Daily Telegraph was denounced by staff, students and the University itself on Wednesday, after it carried a front page photo of Olufemi, author of an open letter calling for decolonisation of the English Faculty, under the headline “Student forces Cambridge to drop white authors”. The accompanying article said that a Faculty discussion about decolonisation – hosted by the English Faculty’s Teaching Forum and first reported by Varsity last week – meant Cambridge would be forced to drop white writers in favour of black writers. The story was picked up by other outlets, and Olufemi became the target of abuse from online trolls.

The article and front page have been strongly criticised by members of the University and wider public. In a public statement, the University disputed its accuracy and condemned related harassment of Olufemi.

On Thursday, the Telegraph ran a correction which said the article had “incorrectly stated that under proposals by academic staff in response to an open letter from students on ‘decolonising’ its English Faculty, Cambridge University will be forced to replace white authors with black writers.”

The academics’ statement further criticises national press coverage, saying “the errors, misrepresentations and tone” of articles could “set back the cause of equality and inclusion”.

The full statement says: “As academic staff at the University of Cambridge, we offer our solidarity with Lola Olufemi and express our condemnation of the distorted coverage in some sections of the media of the “decolonising the curriculum” efforts at Cambridge. A large and diverse group of students and faculty from nearly a dozen subjects has been working during the past year to explore ways in which our curricula can become more inclusive and representative.”

It adds: “We’ve also discussed how to study European subjects, ideas and events within their imperial contexts. The Telegraph’s presentation of this effort as a confrontation between students and faculty – or, even worse, an attempt by a black woman to “drop white authors” from reading lists – is deliberately misleading and racially inflammatory. In a week when public attention has rightly focused on the need to increase the numbers of BME students and other underrepresented groups at Oxbridge, the errors, misrepresentations and tone of the articles in the Telegraph, Daily Mail and elsewhere can only set back the cause of equality and inclusion.”

Dr Nicholas Guyatt, a reader in American History at Trinity Hall, was one of the statement’s authors. A tweet he posted yesterday, comparing the position of the photograph of Olufemi in the Telegraph relative to the subsequent correction, has received almost 40,000 retweets.

Guyatt, who has written on issues of race and segregation, told Varsity the statement had been sent out on Thursday night, and had quickly received support.

“A number of us drafted the letter,” he said, “and then sent it out very late last night – we had nearly a hundred signatories by lunchtime today, when we locked down the list.”

Signatories of the letter so far include Andrew Preston, professor of American History; Joya Chatterji, director of the Centre of South Asian Studies; Lucy Delap, reader in Modern British and Gender History; Ha-Joon Chang, director of the Centre of Development Studies; Peter Mandler, professor of Modern Cultural History; Adam Branch, director of the Centre of African Studies; Saul Dubow, Smuts professor of Commonwealth History; Sarah Franklin, head of the Sociology Department; Priyamvada Gopal, a teaching fellow in English at Churchill College; Joanna Page, director of the Centre of Latin American Studies; and Chris Warnes, senior lecturer in English.

In a tweet, Guyatt said that any other staff who wish to have their names added to the list of signatories can email him.