A PhD student has withdrawn from her course at Cambridge due to “structural racism” within the university.
Indiana Seresin, whose government-funded doctorate focused on contemporary American artists and writers, claims to have witnessed an “accumulation of racist incidents” during her time at Cambridge.
In an open letter published online, she described a lecturer repeatedly using the n-word during class discussions and in an undergraduate lecture.
Miss Seresin revealed that her friend, one of the few black students in the faculty, attended the lecture and made her discomfort at the use of the word known to the lecturer.
Instead of an apology, however, she was “patronisingly told that she did not understand the context in which the word was being used.”
Miss Seresin and her friend were invited to raise the issue at the Teaching Forum, a procedure described as “intimidating”.
This experience, in combination with the “near total absence of black students and lecturers” at Cambridge made her aware of the prevalent “structural racism” in the university.
In her withdrawal statement, Miss Seresin said: “I concluded that I have an imperative to leave. As a white researcher whose scholarship draws significantly on black studies, I believe that I need to earn the right to do this work.”
“I also believe that the ethical and intellectual integrity of my research was compromised by the fact that it was situated at Cambridge. This is particularly true because, as a white student, I benefitted from the structural racism of the university,” she added.
A Cambridge University spokesperson said: “The Teaching Forum, which included students, met and following a well-informed exchange of views it was decided that there should be no prescriptive rules on what language is appropriate to reference when reading from texts, but that academics should consider the contemporary and political discourse around particular words or terms.
“The very best academic teaching, thinking and learning requires an environment which encourages diversity. The University strives to create a culture free from racism, discrimination, prejudice and harassment.
“We have introduced a number of prevention initiatives and anonymous, informal and formal reporting options to make it easier for staff and students to call out and report any form of harassment or discrimination.”
The spokesperson added: “A University-wide action plan on race equality is being implemented following extensive consultations with staff and students.”
New initiatives include a leadership programme which includes training on race awareness and implicit bias, as well as a University Diversity Fund, which aims to promote race equality. Academic courses are also being reviewed “to ensure a diverse curriculum is offered.”
Cambridge is developing a “reverse mentoring” scheme in which senior white members of staff are mentored by a BAME staff member. They have developed new staff recruitment guidelines “to assist appointment panels in attracting and recruiting diverse applicants.”
The University has also introduced a policy whereby all BAME students can request access to a counsellor from a BAME background.