Students and staff rallied at the end of Michaelmas Term to call for decolonisationLouis Ashworth

The CUSU BME Campaign published a statement today condemning an article about decolonisation published by The Daily Telegraph on Friday.

The article under criticism reported on the decolonisation efforts in different Cambridge faculties, as well as in other universities, such as ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in Oxford.

The BME Campaign called the Telegraph article “sensationalist and hate-mongering” and accused it of using loaded language and ignoring context.


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Decolonisation efforts branch out across faculties

Decolonisation movements across the University – the aims of which include improving representation of non-white authors, centring non-western perspectives within teaching, and encouraging students to think more critically about their curricula – have seen significant growth over recent months. Varsity reported last month that campaigns at several faculties are currently pushing for change.

The Campaign statement says that Friday’s article has the “intent of creating racist backlash”, arguing that the language used in the article, including the phrase “over 30 university departments will be targeted by students”, is loaded.

The article includes personal reference to one of the BME Campaign’s officers. In its statement, the BME Campaign argued that, in naming student activists, as well as a decolonisation Facebook group, ‘Decolonise Cambridge’, the article “unjustifiably puts students under direct harm and threat”.

The statement follows a widely-criticised Telegraph article in November which reported on an open letter containing suggestions for decolonising the English faculty. The letter was authored by CUSU women’s officer Lola Olufemi and signed by around 150 students.

The Telegraph later published two corrections. The first acknowledged that “the proposals were in fact recommendations”. The second noted that that “the letter called only for black authors to be included, not for white writers to be replaced”.That article incorrectly claimed that “Cambridge University’s English literature professors will be forced to replace white authors with black writers”. Olufemi, whose photo was prominently displayed on the paper’s front page in conjunction with the article, received threatening abuse online following the article’s publication. She suggested that her photo had been displayed “as if to incite hatred”.

Hundreds of students and staff held a rally at the end of Michaelmas Term, at which they made calls for decolonisation.

Last month, the incident was raised again when author and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge took to Twitter to criticise the Telegraph’s education editor – who wrote both the article from November and the one from last week – saying “You owe Lola Olufemi, the black student in question, a personal apology”.

Friday’s Telegraph article incorrectly states the paper revealed that Cambridge’s English Faculty was actively looking into ways to improve the representation of non-white authors, something which was originally reported by Varsity.

The statement from the BME Campaign also criticises the University for failing to adequately “defend their students or to clarify facts” in response to articles such as those published by The Daily Telegraph. The University has not issued any response to the most recent article, but following last year’s article it issued a statement criticising the coverage and the subsequent abuse faced by Olufemi. The University also reported the article to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The statement also claims that Cambridge’s student press “has repeatedly failed to take any action by shedding light on the efforts of organisers and activists in a credible, factually accurate manner that protects those involved”. It calls the student press “complicit” with “a sensationalist media that does not care to listen” to explanations of decolonisation.


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Decolonising the curriculum is no more political than not doing so

The BME Campaign told Varsity that the article failed to put the decolonisation in its academic context, saying that it is “an important and necessary conversation that is happening globally and within many universities, as part of an academic discourse on the critique of epistemological practice”.

They added that the article drew on information in a spreadsheet “where student activists could enter information on decolonisation efforts currently taking place within their respective faculties, so that existing work on decolonisation could be centralised”. However, they said that the purpose of the spreadsheet had not been made clear in the article, an omission they claim to have been made “with the intent to feed into the sensationalism of the piece”.

While the BME Campaign acknowledged that the University had made a statement in support of Olufemi, they contended that the response was “neither fast nor comprehensive enough”, noting that it only came about after an open letter by FLY (the network for women of colour).

They went on to say that Cambridge’s student newspapers had mishandled their coverage of decolonisation movements, and BME issues in general. The campaign pointed to a “pattern where the student press does not recognise its position as a publication operating within a highly regarded institution that is constantly surveilled by the national press such as the Telegraph and the consequences of such position.”

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