David Starkey, whose controversial remarks have sparked the rowSurrey County Council

A promotional video for the ‘Dear World…Yours, Cambridge’ fundraising campaign has been taken down from the university’s YouTube channel, after protests and petitions from staff and students.

The controversial video, which features a number of Cambridge alumni, was launched in conjunction with a large fundraising campaign, and highlights both the past successes of Cambridge and its alumni, and the importance of funding for the future. It became unavailable to view on Wednesday afternoon.

Since then, a new video, entitled ‘What Does Cambridge Mean To You?’, has been put up, featuring Clare Balding and Stephen Fry as well as other alumni and academics.

The ongoing debate between the university and the CUSU BME Campaign over the inclusion of David Starkey in the video had grown this week, with the the launch of a petition saying that the historian “should not represent Cambridge” and requesting that the video be withdrawn. The petition was backed by CUSU’s Access Officer Helena Blair, who also features prominently in the video.

The petition centred on an open letter published by Dr Malachi McIntosh, a Director of Studies in English at King’s. The letter describes Starkey as someone who has “repeatedly made racist statements”. McIntosh denounced Starkey’s inclusion in a video which focuses upon access, saying that “any institution making this choice of representative would seem to care very little about its appearance in the eyes of Black and Minority Ethnic students and staff, current and future”. He highlighted current disparities between admissions figures based on ethnicity and gender.

The letter said that “Starkey’s presence both undermines and taints our daily efforts to function as a united community” and demanded that the university “withdraw the video from public view, immediately suspend its use in development activities and apologise for the choice of its main figure, David Starkey”.

Starkey has been criticised in the past for remarks he has made regarding race, most notably in 2011 during a televised debate about the London riots, in which he said “the problem is that the whites have become black”. He was also accused by journalist Laurie Penny of “playing xenophobia and national prejudice for laughs” in 2012, after he claimed in a debate at the Sunday Times Festival of Education that the Asian men convicted of grooming under-age white girls for sex in Rochdale had values “entrenched in the foothills of the Punjab or wherever it is”.

Speaking to TCS, Starkey said: “I did not put myself forward. I was asked to contribute by the university, which I love, and to which I owe a profound debt.”

“In due course, the university will decide what is right, proper and expedient,” he added. “I shall be happy to accept that decision. Of course, if it raises any question about the nature of academic enquiry and academic freedom, I shall reserve the right to comment freely but without recrimination.”

The CUSU BME Campaign denounced the video last month, describing Starkey, a historian and former Fitzwilliam student, as not being a “suitable representative” for the university. They criticised Starkey, who narrates parts of the video and appears in several scenes, for having made what they described as “explicitly racist remarks” in the past.

On Wednesday, CUSU Access Officer Helena Blair said in a statement that she regretted that the video had “effectively platformed someone who students deem to be aggressively racist.” Blair claimed that she was not aware of Starkey’s “racist views” at the time of filming, and said that the video now brings her “feelings of extreme discomfort and anger”. She said “I welcome this campaign calling for the withdrawal of the video.” The statement was supported by several other CUSU Sabbatical Officers.

A spokesman for Cambridge University Development and Alumni Relations said: “This was the first in a series of films and was intended for use at the launch event.”
They confirmed that the decision to take down the video on Wednesday was in reaction to the protests, saying: “It was always our intention that the video would be replaced with a new video, however it was taken down early as a number of people who took part expressed their concerns.”

“David Starkey is a prominent historian who studied at Cambridge,” they said. “He was one of a number of alumni who wished to participate in the film to demonstrate their gratitude and commitment to Cambridge. We appreciate that he is an academic who has made controversial statements in the past. However, in the video, he was representing his affection for the university and its values.”

Speaking to Varsity, a representative of the CUSU BME Campaign emphasised the nature of Starkey’s remarks, adding that “the statement the university has issued doesn’t seem to take into account that Starkey’s previous comments are not simply ‘controversial.’ These comments don’t express a harmless opinion: they are racist, reinforce the idea of whiteness to be supreme, and are not casual in doing this.

“Repeatedly, Starkey states whiteness to be intelligence, ‘black culture’ as destructive, at the root of rioting behaviour, and that a successful black man’s success is the result of his sounding or appearing ‘white’.”

The CUSU BME Campaign said that, as well as those of the university, “Starkey also represents his own values” and said that it raises question of the “values of a university if it can excuse the racism of an alumnus”. They stressed the negative effect that Starkey’s inclusion may have on current and prospective BME students, and upon the reputation of the university. They described Starkey as “someone who is counterproductive to the move toward inclusion and representation”.

The company responsible for the ‘Dear World…Yours, Cambridge’ campaign, johnson banks, declined to give a statement to Varsity regarding the removal of the video.

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