Working towards greater diversity
Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University
A FEW months back I met with a group of student representatives. One of them – a black, American postgraduate woman – said: “I have never felt so uncomfortable about being a black woman as I have here in Cambridge – and I grew up in the American south!” This was upsetting and, to me, deeply sad.
Over the past year I have spoken to, and heard from, numerous students and staff who have expressed similar concerns about racial inequality at Cambridge.
These are not only about the conspicuous imbalance between white and non-white students, for instance; or the conspicuous scarcity of BAME staff in senior academic or academic-related posts.
They are about being patronised, profiled or pointed at. Or about experiencing a stream of illjudged remarks or actions that chip away at someone’s sense of self.
I said in my recent address to the University that we cannot be truly great as a university if we are not open to the social and cultural diversity of the world around us.
To be fully inclusive of the most diverse talent means recognising and speaking out against discrimination in any form. It means embracing exceptional talent; the rich mix of voices and experiences; and the unique chances to broaden our outlook that university life can offer.
Any words or actions that suggest talent is determined by colour, or by gender, or by sexual orientation are wrong, and have no place at Cambridge.
We let everyone down – white, black, brown – when we don’t educate ourselves and others about the strength of diversity. It is not acceptable for any one group to assume that it can be indifferent to race issues.
Our own biases can be held so deeply that we remain unaware of them. Challenging them will be uncomfortable.
But, to quote author Reni Eddo-Lodge, “You can’t skip to the resolution without having the difficult, messy conversation first. We’re still in the hard bit.”
To be a leader in defending equality and fostering inclusion, we must have an environment where we can openly discuss race-related issues, and feel empowered to robustly challenge racism.
There is no quick fix, but work is underway to address these complex issues.
Over the summer, we announced the launch of the Stormzy Scholarships to offer full financial support to some black students admitted to study at Cambridge. Dedicated funding has been allocated to create a new position in the Equality and Diversity team to help embed race equality in the University’s work. A Diversity Fund to support initiatives and projects that promote diversity has been launched. Dedicated “Discrimination and Harassment Contacts” have been named in various Colleges, and have received appropriate training, with more to come. The wording around our anonymous reporting tool has been updated to make clear that staff and students can use it to report racial harassment. A BAME Staff Network has just been set up, and I trust it will help create a space for colleagues to address, formally and informally, issues of race and ethnicity as they impinge on their working lives.
We are developing ways to ensure our curriculum reflects the rich variety and diversity of view-points and traditions and schools of thought, and of increasing the representation of BAME staff in positions of leadership across the university. A new Race Equality website will bring all our resources together in one place.
Pushing back against inequality should not only be the responsibility of those who are most affected by it. It is a responsibility for all of us. Equality and diversity must become deeply and irreversibly embedded in the University’s core work – whether it is education, research or administration.
One of the issues frequently brought up in discussions about race is the question of representation – or, more precisely, the lack of representation – of people of colour in the stories told about Cambridge.
From the histories written about the University, to the images that hang on our walls, there are not enough relatable faces and voices to instil in potential BAME staff and students the confidence that Cambridge can be a place “for people who look like me”.