Pembroke BME Students’ Open Letter calls for more diversity in MCRs

Juliette Bretan 23 February 2018

Following the disclosure of a proposal for the creation of a ‘White Majority Ethnicity Officer’ to stand alongside a BME (Black and Minority Ethnicities) Officer on Pembroke College’s Graduate Parlour (GP), graduate students of the college have penned an open letter addressing the current lack of diversity among Cambridge University JCR and MCRs.

The letter asks for college student bodies to push for better representation and ‘encourage, promote, and work towards’ the creation of BME Officer posts on both undergraduate and  graduate committees, mentioning the failure of St Edmund’s and Churchill Colleges to implement a BME Officer position on their MCR committees last year due to backlash at the time.

A similar position was proposed at a GP Open Meeting in Michaelmas term, which initially met with approval from the wider graduate committee as well as the College. However, the proposed creation of a graduate BME Officer position has met with controversy recently over allegations of ‘tokenism’ and ‘reductionism’.

The Open Letter, which currently has over 40 signatories, challenges the idea that the post will encourage fragmentation among the Cambridge university community, arguing that more sources of support are needed to face the different kinds of discrimination experienced by BME students throughout their time at Cambridge, noting: ‘It is not labeling for BME students to articulate for change for our needs.’

Through a ‘question and answer’ format, the letter later adds that the focus of the post is the creation of community through ‘lived experience’, adding that ‘to question its validity is to question the validity of all representative MCR positions, including that of LGBTQ+ Officer and Women’s Officer’. It instead asks students who have not experienced racism to express themselves through support for the position and advancing a platform for ‘those who feel that they do not currently have representation’.

The letter concludes with testimonies of GP students, whose voices have often not been heard because they were ‘the only person of colour in the room’. The testimony goes on to say: ‘To think that having no BME Officer…is somehow more inclusive, productive, and progressive that having one goes to show how much reflection the GP community needs to do’.

One testimonial reads: ‘During my first week at Pembroke as an MPhil student, a fellow (white) GP member told me that I pronounce my name incorrectly. That I do not pronounce my name with enough of an accent for someone who looks like me.’

Another highlights the ‘double standard’ of the College’s treatment of undergraduate and graduate concerns, due to the creation of the position at the undergraduate level, but as of yet nonexistent as part of the GP Committee.