TCS survey reveals extent of racism in Cambridge

Tessa Evans - Deputy News Editor 24 November 2011

The Cambridge Student survey on ethnic and racial discrimination in Cambridge has revealed that while discrimination is not a common experience, those students who have had experiences of racism feel unable to report it. Moreover, students who have reported incidents have found the university unable or unwilling to address their experience.

33% of students who felt they had been racially discriminated against experienced this in Cambridge. The top sources for this discrimination were fellow students, with 60.7% of those who had been discriminated against highlighting their peers as a source.

Often, this discrimination was not felt to be purposefully “racist”, with one student arguing that “there is a more subtle problem, which involves an inability to empathise with the experience of non-white members of the Cambridge community.”

This discrimination can take the form of social exclusion. One student, who identified themselves as African, said: “I just felt excluded from social events and I felt looked down on. I felt unwelcome and completely uncomfortable.”

Many students felt that they were frequently being confronted with inaccurate racial stereotypes. One Chinese student recounted being told that “you Asians always hang out with each other”, a comment which she found offensive.

Worryingly, discrimination sometimes took a more aggressive form. One mixed race student outlined how she was told “they used to stuff you lot and put you in museums” by a fellow student, which she described as “quite a shock”.

Many students felt they had been the victim of overtly racist slurs by Cambridge residents, with 57.1% of those who had been discriminated against citing local people as a source. One Asian student described being called “Paki” by strangers in the street. Another described the experience of “calls of “konichiwa” or other attempts at “Asian” greetings on the streets of Cambridge” which she found “offensive and condescending”.

However, some believed discrimination from Cambridge residents may be rooted in resentment towards students. One student suggested, “I think East Anglia is just quite white so maybe what the local residents are doing is just identifying me as a Cambridge student and then being discriminatory about that.”

Experience of racism by authority figures was found to be more rare, with 25% of those who had been discriminated against citing academics as a source. One student described being racially insulted in the gym by a visiting fellow; “he said that I should have been in jail rather than be in Cambridge”, an experience he described as “very upsetting”.

College staff were also highlighted as a source of discrimination by 17.9% of students. One student described “porters being extremely rude when I didn’t understand something about the college system”.

Worryingly, the vast majority of those who had experienced racial discrimination in Cambridge did not report it. One student said, “I feel if you do bring it up you get blamed for pulling out the race card.” Another student described the university as “a racist institution” which is “built on white privilege.”

Students often felt that action would not be taken were they to report their experiences. One student said: “it’s not going to make a difference (it never does), and the harm’s already done”.

Unfortunately, this pessimism was proved to be correct according to the experiences of many students. One student described reporting a racist incident but finding that “since it is a ‘touchy’ subject few wanted to listen”. Another student reporting an incident was told “we will deal with it” but found that in the end there “was no outcome.”

CUSU Anti-Racism Officer Rebecca Usden told TCS: “these results are incredibly useful for the Anti-Racism Campaign. The fact that so many students were disillusioned with the importance of reporting incidents is concerning and it is clear that we need to assure students that we take all kinds of racism seriously.”

Tessa Evans – Deputy News Editor