Surveys prompt racial discrimination debate in Cambridge

Jocelyn Major 14 April 2014

Universities approach to racial equality has come under scrutiny, as CUSU and Black British Academics commission surveys on the matter.

CUSU has recently commissioned a survey about race, ethnicity and cultural diversity in Cambridge. Complied by CUSU’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Women’s Representative Priscilla Mensah, the survey will be presented to Cambridge University in the hope of “improving racial and cultural equality at the university”. 

Questions posed by the survey include whether “the university does enough to promote and encourage ethnically diverse access” or if “racial or culturally-based prejudice is a problem at the University”.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student Priscilla called the “dispersed” nature of Cambridge’s BME student population, “an inevitable result of our collegiate system.

“There is a catch-22 situation at Cambridge because there are so few BME students, thus often making it difficult for the BME Campaign to gain a unified momentum or consensus on issues that may be affecting BME students.

“I therefore wanted the survey to help gauging an overall sense of what the Cambridge experience is like for BME students, as well as gauge overall perceptions of racial equality and diversity at the university. This is especially in light of the recently successful 'I too, am Cambridge' BME Campaign, which shed light on some of the prejudices BME students have experienced during their time here.”

The CUSU survey comes at the same time as a national survey of racial equality undertaken by Black British Academics. 56% of the BME students and higher education staff questioned reported discrimination at university. Some criticised the admissions process complaining of “differential treatment” and “closed doors”.  The survey concluded that whilst there is positive action, more still needs to be done in higher education to improve racial equality.

A spokesperson for the University noted that Cambridge is still above the national average in its acceptance of BME students and has a number of measures in place to ensure equality across the University.  

The spokesperson told TCS: "The University of Cambridge is committed to a proactive and inclusive approach to equality. This commitment – embedded in its governance structures – and related activities supports and encourages all under-represented groups, promotes an inclusive culture, and values diversity.

"The University expects all members of its community to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration at all times.

"Where behaviour falls short of this expectation, there are well-established reporting procedures for both staff (Dignity@Work) and students (Dignity@Study)."

The spokesperson called the University’s commitment to improving access “longstanding and unwavering.”

“GEEMA, the Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications, was set up in 1989 to ensure that talented UK Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students were not deterred from applying to the University of Cambridge.  We now employ a full-time BAME Communities Officer to encourage the brightest students from under-represented ethnicities to apply to the University.

"16.4% of our 2012 entry came from Black and other Minority Ethnic backgrounds, which is ahead of national population trends and the highest it has ever been."