The crowd gathered outside Senate House at five o'clock this eveningLouis Ashworth

Hundreds of students, academic staff, and members of the public gathered outside of Senate House this evening in a display of solidarity with CUSU women’s officer Lola Olufemi after critical coverage of Cambridge’s decolonisation movement in the national press.

The rally, organised by Cambridge Defend Education, CUSU BME campaign, FLY, CUSU women's campaign, Class Act, and Critical Theory and Practice saw roughly two hundred people gather on King’s Parade to bring banners, chant, and listen to speeches from various figures involved in the Cambridge decolonisation movement. Among those to speak were Olufemi herself, and Dr Priya Gopal, an English fellow who has been an outspoken advocate for the decolonisation in the University.

Safieh Kabir, who co-organised the rally, opened by saying that she had felt it necessary “to express solidarity with Lola, in defiance of racist media”.

The decolonisation movement has been especially prominent in the past week, after The Daily Telegraph last Wednesday ran a picture of Olufemi on its front page under the caption “Student forces Cambridge to drop white authors”. The related article falsely claimed that the Cambridge English Faculty is removing white authors in favour of black authors in its curriculum.

The coverage was widely criticised, including by the University who issued a statement condemning the abuse Olufemi received and correcting a number of elements of the Telegraph story. The paper issued a correction the next day.

Support for Olufemi also came from academics, over 100 of whom signed an open letter condemning the “deliberately misleading and racially inflammatory” coverage in the national press.

Gopal was the first speaker at this evening's rallyLouis Ashworth

Among those academics who have been most public in their support for Olufemi and criticism of the press coverage is Dr Gopal. Speaking first this evening, Dr Gopal paid tribute to those who had already worked on decolonisation, and had taken the movement to where it is today. She said that decolonisation was “not an appeal to the special interests of minority groups” but rather meant the “ending of sanctioned ignorance”.

Ending with a quotation from Frederick Douglass, Gopal said that decolonisation is about dismantling “deeply entitled race entitlement and class privilege”.

Dr Sarah Franklin, the head of the Sociology faculty, spoke briefly to confirm that earlier today the faculty had voted unanimously to establish a working group to look into decolonisation. She said that it would not just be about changing the curriculum, but the cultures within the faculty.

Olufemi, who came to the front to speak amidst the loudest applause and cheering of the evening, thanked everyone who had attended the rally. She condemned the coverage of her in the press, saying that they had “wilfully misunderstood the [decolonisation] process”.

“Decolonisation is not an end point but an ongoing process,” she continued.

Speaking to Varsity after the rally, Olufemi said she was “not surprised but impressed” by the number of people in attendance.

She added that “it’s important not only to show with our bodies, to be here, to say this is important, but also to do the hard and invisible work that’s necessary: to start working groups, write an open letter to your own faculty, make movements in any direction you can, gather people who are interested in this, so that you leave a curricula or a department in a better place for the people who come after you”.

Head of CUSU BME campaign, Jason OkundayeLouis Ashworth

Among the other speakers were Jason Okundaye, head of CUSU BME campaign, who said that “we have seen the power of student organising” and urged white students to stand in solidarity with students of colour, saying they could  “take the hit sometimes”.

Towards the end of the rally when members of the crowd were invited to come forward, a man who identified himself as an Australian aboriginal, Rodney Kelly, spoke out in support of the Cambridge decolonisation movement. He was warmly received when he called on the University and its museums to “decolonise your collection now, and give back everything you stole from around the world”.

The rally this evening is one of a number of decolonisation events taking place in Cambridge this week. Earlier today there was a working group meeting in the Sociology faculty, while a similar meeting will be held tomorrow to discuss decolonisation in the English faculty