Pembroke CollegeVarsity News

Nearly six months after at least two people raised concerns to Pembroke college about a student who displayed white supremacist and Neo-Nazi beliefs, the student remains a member of the college, and has recently been witnessed making similar extremist remarks.

Varsity understands that Pembroke is currently collecting evidence of the student’s extremist remarks.

The college has not provided the wider student body with any information about the current situation. The student currently lives in college-owned accommodation.

In early October in discussions with senior members of college, both a Cambridge student and a staff member said that they believed that the student was a threat to members of minority groups within college, and called for action to be taken. One cited the student’s consistent use of multiple white supremacist dog whistles.

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Dog whistles are messages that have a particular political meaning or symbolism within a certain group, often to express racist and hateful sentiments, while not necessarily being overtly or immediately obvious to the general public.

In a statement to Varsity, a spokesperson for Pembroke said: “The College does not comment on individual student matters. However, it works extremely hard to uphold its commitment to providing an environment that is free from discrimination, and affirms the right of all its members to be treated with dignity and respect.

“Furthermore the College works diligently with all relevant parties to ensure the appropriate balance is found between implementation of its policies on harassment and on freedom of speech, and the UK law.”

However, in the process of responding to concerns raised in an email exchange in October, a senior college staff member went against general practice of keeping informal complaints confidential.

In correspondence seen by Varsity, the college staff member forwarded one person’s email raising concerns to a student who had also raised concerns independently of the first, without the consent of the first person for their email to be shared outside of senior college staff. In responding to Varsity’s request for comment, the college did not respond specifically to this aspect of the case. Initial concerns raised by students were treated informally, as they were not official complaints.

Speaking to Varsity, the person whose email was forwarded remarked: “My email – with all my identifying information (name, crsID etc.) still perfectly visible – was forwarded by a staff member (who I had not originally emailed) to another current student. I consider this not only a serious breach of my confidentiality, but also an action which could well have put me at significant risk, if it had been sent to a friend of the student I was reporting for example”.

They added, “I consider [the student’s] continued presence in the university a serious threat to the welfare of students – particularly Jewish, BME, and LGBT+ students – as well as an indication of a severe failure of current college and university procedures to adequately address racism (and indeed outright fascism) within the university. I do not believe this case in particular is being taken as seriously as is merited”.

They added that, in their view, the college and University’s actions did not seem to sufficiently reflect “the distinction between what we might call ‘common garden’ racist views and outright fascism, where specific neo-Nazi dogwhistles are used to indicate not just bigoted views but active connections with neo-Nazi communities (both of course being serious issues, but the latter posing a specific form of threat that the university seems unable to recognise and ill-equipped to deal with).”

“I do not believe this case in particular is being taken as seriously as is merited”

Speaking to Varsity on the condition of anonymity, a student with some knowledge of college discussions due to their position on the Pembroke Junior Parlour Committee (JPC), the college’s undergraduate democratic body, said that requests for clarity on the ongoing disciplinary procedure were met with vague answers by senior college staff, and that proceedings were kept confidential.

While they believed that the college’s hands were tied by protocol, and that the concerns of many senior figures appeared to be genuine, they said that the college’s inability to provide the wider undergraduate body with information stonewalled attempts to safeguard the welfare of minority students in college. They added that they were dissuaded from making a formal complaint by the fact that they would have had to waive their anonymity.


Mountain View

Two students speak out about the lapses in their college disciplinary procedures

Pembroke’s complaints procedures provide several routes through which concerns raised informally regarding another student may be addressed.

The college’s disciplinary procedures include a range of measures, such as barring students from particular college facilities, formal warnings of future conduct, temporary expulsion from the college, and expulsion from college-owned accommodation.

The college’s ‘fitness to study’ procedures are relevant in cases where serious concerns about a student emerge from a third party to indicate that there is a need to address their fitness to study – which is defined as “concern that a student’s behaviour or health has the potential to disrupt of threaten the welfare or academic progress of the student himself or herself or of other in the academic community”.

College procedures in response to student complaints have repeatedly come under harsh scrutiny. In September, two students spoke to Varsity about how they found they weren’t taken seriously, after bringing forward complaints of supervisor misconduct.