The signs were written in Mandarin onlyWith permission for Varsity

Homerton has apologised for “offensive and discriminatory” messaging after staff left public notices around the College written in only Mandarin.

Multiple Chinese students complained to the College and met with Simon Woolley, Homerton’s Principal, and senior staff, before Wooley sent a notice to all students offering an “unequivocal apology to all students, and in particular students of Chinese descent, for what occurred”.

One of the signs, which Woolley said were posted “around exits and in public conveniences,” read, in Mandarin: “Please throw the toilet paper into the toilets, and other rubbish into the bin.”

Students took to Chinese social media site Little Red Book to voice their anger, with one post, which notched 6,000 likes, alleging: “This is blatant racism from our college.”

“Assuming that it was done by a Chinese person (native Mandarin speaker) and therefore should be written in Chinese is itself a form of racial discrimination. All students can understand English; Cambridge has high English language requirements for admission and it is the official language within the school,” the post continued.

Another popular Little Red Book post stated that the incidents left them “shocked and disheartened,” saying renowned institutions such as Cambridge “should create an inclusive and friendly environment for all students and staff.”

They felt “a lack of inclusivity” in the single-language signs, they said, adding: “This could also be construed as racial discrimination.”

The social media discourse on the signs also noted that fluids from soluble toilet paper safely flush in some regions, while elsewhere clogged pipes necessitate bins.

In an email response to complaining students, Caroline Bobb-Semple, Head of Conference & Events, wrote: “Firstly, let me apologise most sincerely for any offence this notice has caused to yourself and any other students within college. This was absolutely not our intention & all signs have now been swiftly removed. We understand the way this sign has been interpreted.”

“By way of background, we had first put up a sign in English language about the matter of toilet paper to address an issue we were having with some conference clients, however the issue persisted, therefore a subsequent sign was requested for clarification. There was no intention to assume any group, community or nationality is predisposed to the behaviours we wanted to address,” she wrote.

The College’s response further enraged students, with one Little Red Book post stating: “They posted first in English then switched to Chinese when issues persisted. Are they suggesting we don’t understand English? This action singles out native Chinese speakers.”

Following this, Lester Holloway, the College’s Head of Communications, emailed some students to arrange a meeting with the Principal, adding that senior leaders took the matter “extremely seriously”.


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Lord Woolley’s message, emailed to all Homerton students on Wednesday (31/01), said: “Whilst I accept that there was no intention to cause offence, the perceived or deliberate targeting of any community in this way is offensive and discriminatory.”

“To be absolutely clear it is deeply wrong to make negative assumptions about any one group or community,” he said.

Lord Woolley told Varsity: “I apologise unreservedly to all students, and in particular students of Chinese descent, for the offence caused. I will be introducing new protocols to ensure this does not happen again.”

“At Homerton, we want to celebrate our rich diversity, not least because it helps all our students to belong, thrive and excel academically. We look forward to working with Chinese and East Asian students to celebrate and support them,” he added.