Oxbridge Institutes Need To Do More To Welcome BAME Students
By focussing solely on the issue of hairdressers this week, one feels that Prof. Graham Virgo was deliberately attempting to undermine the black and minority ethnic experience at Oxbridge Universities. The Pro-vice Chancellor of Cambridge University was quoted recently as saying that ‘We have been doing some quite detailed research, particularly with black students, particularly in looking at obstacles to applying to Cambridge and thinking about Cambridge. And number three on the list was hairdressers.’
Not only have findings numbers 1 and 2 on the list somehow been brushed over, but there are a litany of other issues and barriers that have been ignored. Issues such as: the overwhelmingly white student body, the system of inherited wealth and status of most students and faculty, the euro-centric curriculum, the constant reinforcement of white colonialism, the statues and portraits of slave owners staring out from every wall, the lack of a separate black student union - the list is endless.
With all this in mind it’s hard to see what prompted Virgo to focus on the hairdresser angle beyond a deliberate attempt to make the grievances of the potential student body seem frivolous. There is no doubt that the wealthy, white centricity of places like Oxford and Cambridge can be daunting to students from poorer multi-ethnic backgrounds, but it’s just shame that hairdressers became the headline, particularly in right wing outlets such as The Telegraph and The Daily Mail.
So how do we help today’s BAME students view these institutes as realistic choices? Firstly we need to sort out the student body, but it won’t be enough just to make it representative we need to skew it in favour of minority pupils to counteract the centuries of privilege that have gone before. When a young black person from an inner-city estate knows friends and relations who have gone on to Oxford, Cambridge or Warwick then they are more likely to do so themselves.
Secondly we need to decolonise the curriculum and campuses, tear down the imperialist statues and reminders of oppression and replace them with statues of inspiring civil rights leaders like Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. We need to remove the male, pale and stale from the curriculum and fill the halls of these venerable institutions with voices of all nations, colours and creeds.
Finally the local council needs to offer cuts on stamp duty and business rates to people from minority backgrounds, while at the same time imposing levies on white buyers so we can start to make these cities look more like the neighbourhoods where deprived BAME students grew up. Who knows we might even be able to open the first ever Afro-Cambridgean hair salon (sorry bad pun)!
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