St Catharine's will fly the Bahamian flag at full-mast to mark the beginning and end of Black History MonthSt Catharine's College

Cambridge marks Black History Month (BHM) this October in Covid-secure style. BHM comes amid a year steeped in racial issues. St Catharine’s, Churchill, Lucy Cavendish and Pembroke colleges, as well as the University and a member of Pembroke’s JCR Committee, all detailed their plans for BHM to Varsity.

A number of colleges have chosen to fly flags in acknowledgment of BHM. St Catharine’s has honoured its history by flying the national flag of the Bahamas on the 1st, to mark the start of BHM, and again on the 31st October, in order to commemorate “the College’s connections with the Bahamas thanks to its earliest known Black student, Alfred F.Adderley CBE [1891-1953] .”

A St Catharine’s press release continues to detail that the College “took the opportunity to fly the Bahamas flag after a recent research project found that Adderley arrived from the Bahamas to study law in 1912, making him the earliest Black member of the College on record.” After graduating and receiving legal training, he returned to the Bahamas to practice law, “where he distinguished himself in court and became a leader in national politics, religion and sports.”

L’myah Sherae, the graduate student behind the research project, described how she “was overwhelmed and completely inspired by [Adderley’s] achievements and [those of] the other Black students at St Catharine’s who followed him” when looking through archives, adding that “knowing that [she] also followed in their prominent footsteps, as a black student [...] was incredibly motivating.”

Danielle Wright, one of the College’s Black History Month organisers and JCR BME Officers, said that “given [Adderley’s] breadth of interests and legacy of support [for the college], I like to think he would welcome the wide-ranging programme that we’re hosting [for BHM] this year”, continuing that “Josie Archer [the college’s other JCR BME Officer] and I have been working very hard to help St Catharine’s embrace our black history, and we are looking forward to students, staff and Fellows joining together - largely online in the current circumstances - for these activities and writing the next chapter in our Black history.”

The college’s programme of events will invite submissions from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students and encompass celebrations of black composers through spoken word and art, an exhibition of photographs and inspirational quotes from past and present Black members of the college community, dedicated services in the college’s chapel and an event focused on supporting Black and BME students’ mental health in higher education.

The college additionally established an ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group’ over the summer, which “has already started to meet and discuss priorities for the coming year, with representatives on the group providing a voice for staff, students and Fellows.”

At Churchill a statement directed to students from the Master, Dame Athene Donald, expressed the College’s stance of “dignity and respect”. The text continued that “The -isms (racism, sexism and so on) have no place in the College context [...] we must not hide behind privilege but recognise that we are all born equal.”

An earlier statement from the college in mid-June in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd had acknowledged “an additional responsibility, given the name that the College carries”.

The statement warned that “Churchill, as a successful leader in time of war, must not be mythologised as a man without significant flaws; on race he was backward even in his day [...] we aim to lead an ongoing critical dialogue about his own legacy in global history [...] [with] these strands [papers from the Churchill Archives Centre] offer[ing] us a unique opportunity to contribute to the debate about system racism in our global society as it has grown out of history and to work to eradicate the injustice so horribly illustrated by Floyd’s death”.

As part of BHM 2020, Churchill is flying the Pan-African flag and has ensured mandatory JCR workshops for Freshers on Privilege, as well as providing online presentations and videos to “be made more widely available after a further little editing.”

A spokesperson for Lucy Cavendish meanwhile informed Varsity that a Working Group was established in the summer to work in conjunction with their BME SU Representative, and other BME members of the Student Union, as well as the college’s President and Senior Tutor.

“This group made two aims for the first part of the academic year. Firstly, to make discussion of anti-racism a core part of all incoming students’ inductions and use this also for further staff training, and then to aim for a keynote talk per term around race awareness, the lived experience and anti-racism”, the spokesperson detailed.

This comes as the University has announced plans to roll out ‘unconscious bias’ training for all its staff after it recorded a record black student intake for 2020-21, with 91 Black Freshers admitted in 2019-20 compared to the 137 admitted this academic year.

Lucy Cavendish will also be delivering two training courses in October entitled ‘Being an anti-racist: what does that mean?’, by former BME Representative for the National Union of Students (NUS), Fope Olaleye.

The poster Pemrboke's Ethnic Minorities Officer designed for the College's Black History Month programme of eventsMAYA MCFARLANE

In a statement to Varsity, Pembroke regretted that “due to public health restrictions [...] events planned to mark Black History Month are less ambitious this year than anyone would have wanted”, as “staff have had to prioritise their work over the summer months to ensuring buildings are Covid compliant, [meaning] any planning of talks or exhibitions has been limited.”

Nonetheless, the spokesperson assured that “this doesn’t mean colleges are any less committed to diversity”, adding that “the virtual commemorations that have been organised are supported by [staff] and we hope these will be well attended in terms of their online engagement.”

A programme of events has been put together by Pembroke’s Junior Parlour Committee, led by Ethnic Minorities Officer Maya McFarlane, including a ‘Black Contributions to Science Panel’ from the college’s Stokes Society and a ‘Black Talent Showcase’ from the Pembroke Players.

Kwakye and Ore’s book aims to make black girls in particular “feel empowered, comforted and validated in every emotion [they] experience, or decision that [they] make”, while simultaneously instructing others that “it’s time we stepped away from seeing this [the feeling of ‘taking up space’ in a predominantly white institution] as a problem that black people are charged with solving on their own.”

Cambridge graduate, vlogger and face of the Black access social media campaign ‘Get in Cambridge’, Courtney Daniella, will also feature in the talk, which will allow the women to “discuss their experiences and offer solutions for how black women can be better served education.”


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Additionally at a University level, an exhibition entitled ‘Past & Present: Black Legacies in STEM’, curated by Africans in STEM, was launched online on 5 October. The project oversees two events in recognition of BHM 2020: the first, “a poster and online exhibition of notable Black scientists around the world” free of charge, with the second being a virtual panel organised in collaboration with the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge entitled ‘Spotlight on Black Female Scientists in Cambridge’. The panel “will feature scientists who will speak about the research that they do and how they navigate academia and Cambridge.”

And so, in a challenging year steeped in racial issues, the Cambridge community recognises the achievements and value of its Black members both past and present through Black History Month 2020.