A postgraduate student at Pembroke College submitted the joke proposalREPT0N1X

A joke proposal to create a “White Majority Ethnic” (WME) officer in Pembroke College Graduate Parlour (GP) has provoked outrage among some students.

It was submitted anonymously to a dossier of student opinions collected by the GP on the creation of a black and minority ethnic (BME) officer role, following a series of discussions over the past few weeks.

The proposal, submitted by a BME student, attempts to satirise the arguments for the creation of a BME officer, which it implies “patronize”, “infantilize” and “ghettoize” BME students. However, supporters of the BME officer position have called the proposal “profoundly unproductive”, with one GP alumnus saying that it provoked “deep disgust” from other GP members.

Discussing pastoral support, it reads: “This is not meant to put them all in one box, or to strengthen further the divisions inside and between the various subgroups and cliques, the majorities and the minorities, if you please, of WME students that already exist.

“In the face of ever-looming fragmented and fragmenting solidarities, we need to ensure that the networks WME students forge in this community stay rock solid, and the limits and boundaries of their identities are fully defined and reified. What better place and method to start this, than with a post that says it loud and clear: “White”. “WHITE MAJORITY ETHNIC” OFFICER.”

After a proposal to establish the role of BME officer was passed last term, elections were due to take place featuring a single candidate, Harum Mukhayer. However, the planned hustings event instead devolved into a debate about the capacity and legitimacy of the role, with several students on either side of the argument.

Matthew Mahmoudi, a Development Studies PhD student who argued for the creation of the role, said that while the GP Committee (GPC) and community have been “generally supportive of the position”, the difficulty in attempting to pass “what should be a rather uncontroversial proposal” has been “a source of great outrage”.

“By show of hand,” he explained, “a majority of the GP was in favour of the position, though this is in no way the focal point of this event. The outrageous part of the hustings, was having members who did not themselves either identify as Black and/or minority ethnic, or who admitted to never having experienced racism, shutting the [BME] position down.”

As a result of this disagreement, the GPC decided to delay the elections in order to survey student opinions on the issue through the creation of the dossier.

Sahil Shah, who completed an MPhil in International Relations and Politics at Pembroke last year, said that in the interim he heard about the possibility of a “White Majority Ethnic” officer joke proposal and raised the issue on the GP Facebook group “as a concerned alumnus”, prompting a large discussion.

“Most were in favor of the BME Officer position as they saw our point that only a BME Officer could properly deal with certain issues,” he said, “but some decided to pipe up with shoddy arguments on how it could create tokenization and fracturing. Others tried to argue that this would fall under the purview of the Welfare or International Officers.”

He also contacted the master of Pembroke College, Lord Chris Smith, whom he said has responded in support of the proposed position.

“There seems to be a lack of education on issues of racial justice altogether in the GP,” Shah added, “and some of the arguments made in the ensuing debate showcased that.”

In response to the arguments in opposition, Harum Mukhayer, the original candidate for election to the role, submitted her own letter to the dossier in defence of the BME officer role. However, when the dossier was released, Shah said he was “shocked” to discover that the joke proposal had been written and included.


Mountain View

BME event ‘forcibly shut down’, sparking student outrage

He immediately raised the issue in the Facebook group again, prompting another heated discussion after which the joke proposal’s author, an international BME student, came forward. He said that while two or three other BME students attempted to defend the “satirical” proposal, this was “quickly overshadowed by the deep disgust many felt towards what was written in the proposal”.

Mahmoudi described the inclusion of the joke proposal in the dossier as “regrettable”, “given that it trivialises lived experiences, and distracts from other perhaps more legitimate concerns”.

He added: “The letter is profoundly unproductive in advancing the position of BME students, who are at a de facto institutional disadvantage in Cambridge.

“This isn’t about fragmenting individuals down to exact identities, it’s about identifying what is a common struggle, which manifests itself differently, and providing a platform through which it can be challenged.”

The author of the WME proposal subsequently issued an apology for submitting the joke proposal for publication in the dossier.