BME student’s proposition for White Majority Ethnicity Officer “utterly disgraceful”

Molly Moss 21 February 2018

Following recent debates over the appointment of a graduate BME Officer at Pembroke College, members of the Pembroke graduate community have been emailed an ‘opinions dossier’ which includes a letter from a BME graduate student asking for the appointment of a White Majority Ethnicity Officer in a ‘parallel’ role to that of the BME Officer.

The proposal for the appointment of a BME Officer, a position which does not currently exist at the graduate level, was met with support from the graduate community generally but with opposition from a ‘small minority’, according to Harum Mukhayer, the student running for the BME Officer role, who has also contributed to the dossier of opinions. Opposition reportedly came from students who do not identify as BME, as well as some who do, but have admitted to not having faced racism.

The letter from the graduate student, written after a vote last term as to whether to create the position, claims to follow ‘a commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusion’, and states that it is ‘only logical that the majority be kept in mind along with the minority’. It calls for a WME Officer who will be able to ‘tap into’ the consciousness of ‘disenfranchised WME students’ and help them to start seeing race.

Written by an International BME student, the letter also implores that ‘nuances, complexities, positionalities, and blurred boundaries’ be set aside when the subject is WME students. It hopes the pastoral support provided by the role will help ‘self-identifying’ WME students feel ‘proud’ of their background and overcome ‘adversity’. ‘What better place to start this’, it continues, ‘than with a post that says it loud and clear: “White”’.

Though current plans for the role are ‘fuzzy’, the author suggests the creation of ‘safe spaces’ for fear WME students wander into ‘Unsafe Spaces’, where they may learn that they in fact constitute the minority or a ‘jarring’ upside-down map of the world. It also mentions the WME officer as an ‘individual’ who will take care of race and race-related debates through ‘opt in or opt out’ designated sessions, allowing students to then ‘get on with their work, their lives, and their degrees’. The proposal concludes: ‘If a WHITE MAJORITY ETHNIC OFFICER is elected, how will it be detrimental to your life?’

The letter was met with outrage by some members of the Pembroke graduate community who argued that it undermined the discrimination experienced by BME students. Member Sahil V. Shah tweeted in reponse to the letter: 'talk about taking the piss at BME students who feel underrepresented. Utterly disgraceful. We are going to the press.'

'We now know this was written by an International BME student. I don't think this detracts from how demeaning this proposal was to the rest of us BME students.'

Another of Shah's tweets about the WME Officer letter stated: ‘it highlights an even bigger problem for coalition building when you have people who believe having a person tasked with advocacy is going to engender tokenism and fracturing.’

In relation to the BME Officer role proposal by the Graduate Parlour Committee, Pembroke GP President Sofia Ropek Hewson commented: ‘We felt that a BME Officer position would provide representation, support and advocacy. Most JCRs have a BME Officer, and very few MCRs do. Providing equal representation and advocacy at both levels seems important.’

According to one Pembroke graduate student, Matt Mahmoudi, who was one of the students who wrote the original proposal, the response was written with the belief that college provisions are ‘adequate’, and ‘would prevent current and future BME students from having an avenue for advocating for racial justice, before incidences are experienced. This is unacceptable’’.

The author of the letter, who wishes to remain anonymous, later retracted it, adding: ‘As a BME student myself, I am very distressed that a difference of opinion about the method to achieve our shared goals of inclusion and equality has caused this unhappiness and division. My post was intended to be satirical, and I apologise unreservedly.’