Two St Hugh’s students caused controversy after ‘blacking up’ at a bop last Saturday.
The bop theme was ‘Song Titles’, and the students – both freshers – arrived dressed as ‘Ni**as in Paris’, after the Kanye West and Jay-Z song. Their costumes included ‘blacked up’ faces and signs around their necks saying ‘In Paris’.
The bop took place on Saturday 20th April. Cherwell understands that after another student advised them to remove the outfits, one did so, while the other remained in costume.
One of the students told Cherwell, “I would like to express my sincere regret for my actions. In hindsight I see that what I did was wholly unacceptable and a terrible misjudgment on my part. My intention was never to offend and I am deeply sorry for the upset caused.”
The other student also apologised, stating, “I am extremely sorry for my actions. I realise now that it was completely inappropriate and I had no intention of being derogatory or offensive.
“I did not consider the consequences of my actions and I thoroughly regret any offence caused. As soon as it was expressed that my actions were inappropriate I proceeded to remove the face paint.”
St Hugh’s JCR are carrying out an inquiry into the incident. Thomas Pope, JCR President, told Cherwell, “St Hugh’s JCR condemns racism in all its forms.”
Pope described the costume choice as arrising from “a severe lack of judgement”.
Several students criticised the costumes. Melvin Mezue, President of Oxford Africa Society, opined to Cherwell that he didn’t, “find [the costumes] offensive personally.” Nevertheless, he continued, “While I do not think this was motivated by hatred…I do worry about the lack of cultural sensitivity and emotional maturity displayed here.
“Our experience is that such acts are not uncommon around the university; it is likely a product of the way students are taught to imagine other cultures – as foreign objects and topics for consumption.”
Mezue said that the university intake needed to “properly reflect the contemporary cosmopolitan era” and that he “feared we can continue to expect this kind of behaviour.”
Oxford University rejected criticism of Oxford’s alleged lack of diversity. A spokesperson stated, “The University strongly condemns any form of racism, or any action – whatever the intent – which is potentially detrimental to good race relations.
“The University’s aim is to provide an inclusive environment which promotes equality and values diversity, and we believe that the overwhelming majority of students and staff share this aim and these values.”
The spokesperson continued, “We refute in the strongest terms the allegation that Oxford students are ‘taught to imagine other cultures as foreign objects and topics for consumption’. Oxford has a global reputation for its advancement of the understanding of other cultures.
“It is also one of the most international universities in the world, with staff and students coming from over 140 countries.”
The incident comes after Oxford University was accused of “institutional bias” by Labour MP David Lammy in February. Lammy’s comments responded to a Guardian investigation which reported that ethnic minority applicants were less likely to recieve an offer.
The Guardian found that in 2010-2011, 25.7% of white applicants received an Oxford offer, compared with 17.2% of students from ethnic minorities.
David Cameron has also previously criticised Oxford’s admissions records. In 2011, he branded the university “disgraceful” for apparently admitting only one black candidate. The University responded by branding the allegation “incorrect and highly misleading.”
Katie Colliver, OUSU VP for Welfare ands Equal Opportunity, said that the two students “should consider attending OUSU’s Equality and Diversity Training”, which is run termly.She condemned the choice of costumes, stating, “‘Blacking up’ for a bop is incredibly culturally insensitive.”
One St Hugh’s student, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he “knows both people involved” and defended them as “not racists, not even in the slightest — they are just very young and very immature.
“Obviously had they thought at length and with sensitivity then they would not have dressed as they did.”
Nathalie Cooper, a second year History student, opined, “What I find most upsetting is that [one of the students] was told it was insulting so she knowingly caused offence – she can’t claim what she did was out of ignorance”.