Acting Senior Tutor at Emmanuel Dr Phillip Howell described the role as a "supplement" ot other resources available to BME studentsDaniel Gayne

Emmanuel College has instated an Advisor to BME Students in College in an effort to increase representation in, and engagement with, the tutorial system.

The role, which was proposed to the College by Emmanuel College’s Green & Ethical Officer Eliane Thoma-Stemmet and supported by its JCR and MCR,  is currently occupied by Dr Pallavi Singh. 

A number of different functions constitute the position. The Advisor for BME students is contactable by students identifying as BME for any issues or concerns, whether or not directly related to the BME experience, and they may also direct students towards resources and services both in the College and wider University. 

Furthermore, they have some involvement in College procedures and governance, helping to provide representation of BME issues on an institutional level, such as in disciplinary cases involving racism.

Dr Philip Howell, Acting Senior Tutor at Emmanuel College, described the Advisor role as a “supplement” to other resources available to BME students, such as the BME counsellor option with the University Counselling Service (UCS), BME officers on College student unions and CUSU’s Black and Minority Ethnic Campaign (BMEC). He noted that the Advisor can “coordinate with others in the College and University seeking to promote equality, diversity and inclusion”.

When asked about the main challenges faced by BME students within the University, Howell commented that “though we need to understand the complexities of students’ backgrounds, Black students in particular are underrepresented in the University”. He also highlighted issues with “attainment gaps, concerns about the curriculum, and concerns about cultural sensitivities at Cambridge”.

In turn, Jerry Chen, Emmanuel College Student Union (ECSU) Vice President, identified “under-representation”, “structural and cultural problems around racism”, and “pressure” on BME students not to call out discrimination “for fear of being labelled hysterical or reactionary” as significant challenges facing students in a University setting identifying as BME. 

Thoma-Stemmet commented that “despite the idea that Cambridge is a liberal bubble, it still seems to fall to BME students to call out everyday racism and conduct anti-racist work”.

Other recent measures proposed by the ECSU to promote anti-racism include unconscious bias and bystander intervention training, alongside fresher workshops. BME representation on the committee is at its highest level to date, at 23%.

Harriet Hards, the President of ECSU, stated that “from my perspective, it’s really important for JCRs and student activists both to focus on immediate education for the current student body and also work on larger institutional matters within colleges like admissions and attainment and the availability of specialised support”.

The creation of the Advisor role follows an incident of racism at Emmanuel College in March, when an offensive white supremacist slogan was written on a whiteboard in the laundry room of Emmanuel Blantyre accommodation. Dr Howell condemned this incident and reminded students that “we have a duty to be vigilant against racism, and that means supporting those who report it and who seek to make the College a better place”.


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Further concerns were raised at this time by a Bar Extension event at the College themed ‘Gap bah: full moon party’, which according to a statement by the ECSU Committee was “racist”, “inappropriate” and “offensive to multiple communities within college, promoting and perpetuating stereotypes of numerous cultures”.

Chen praised the response of the College and its “commitment to making things better for BME students”, stating that “they stood firmly with us in condemning [such] incidents”. Describing the “structural and ‘cultural’ problems around racism endemic in our society, and therefore the university”, he stated that “I don’t think it’s a problem that’s restricted to Emmanuel by any means; it’s more that perhaps other colleges haven’t approached it head-on”.

Students wishing to contact Dr Singh can find further information on the Emmanuel College website.

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