In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests all around the world, I want to write to all Newnham undergraduates and update you all on how we are working with the College and within the JCR to effect real change and offer solidarity and support to Black students. This is an unequivocal message of solidarity with the Black members of our community and a strong condemnation of racism and racialised social injustice.
Working with College
Many of you will have seen and been disappointed by the initial College response to these events early last week on Twitter and Instagram. These social media posts were an inadequate and insulting reaction to the trauma the Black community is experiencing, both in Cambridge and beyond. I’m glad to report that following discussions with the Principal and collaboration with the MCR, a revised statement was released on the College social media channels, and the letter co-written by the MCR and JCR Presidents and BAME officers was brought to the attention of the College Council.
In this letter, we asked the College to make an official statement of solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking out on what’s going on (condemning racism, discrimination and police brutality) and acknowledging that the same problems exist in the UK and Cambridge. As an institution, Newnham is not removed from the structural and systemic racism in place which feeds into the need for the Black Lives Matter Movement. We asked to see concrete engagement by the College with issues of racial discrimination and the implementation of measures designed to help Black students. Below is an excerpt of the letter detailing the demands we made:
In terms of supporting black students going forward, we have been discussing with black and BAME students at Newnham on how best to get active change within college. The following is a list that we hope and expect the college to meet so that Newnham has the chance to be a catalyst for change in Cambridge, and truly support our black and BAME students. We do not expect the College to meet these actions immediately, but we want the College to start working on these now for the long term:
- A statement acknowledging the disappointment of the community at Newnham’s previous twitter and instagram posts, and showing explicit support for the black community and black lives.
- A statement committing to and showing an explicit plan of what will be done in the future to support black students and create an anti-racist college community. Some of these actions should include (at least):
– A black counsellor.
– Termly sessions on emotional intelligence (part of this should include emotional
intelligence and sensitivity when talking to BAME students/colleagues)
– A virtual forum addressing white femininity, tears and allyship.
– A safe complaints system for BAME students.
3. Setting up a BAME fund.
– Working with The Guild of Friends, we want Newnham to commit to creating a long term fund for BAME students and BAME-related projects. Part of this could include a virtual speaker series focussed on inviting BAME speakers on subjects relating to race and racism, and donating to racial justice funds. Some suggestions include the Breonna Taylor and Belly Mujinga fundraisers and Black Lives Matter UK.
In a meeting with the Principal and Vice-Principal at the end of last week, we discussed and agreed the above action points. The Senior Tutor has also been in contact with undergraduate tutors today to emphasise the importance of being understanding and generous with Black students who request extra help, support or who request extenuating circumstances for any pieces of assessment they are required to submit.
Working within the JCR
It is the responsibility of the JCR to speak to Black students directly and ensure their pain and anger is recognised; to listen to what they are saying and ensure their requests are met to the best of our ability. In order to truly stand in support of Black students, it is also our role to speak directly to fellow non-Black students to ensure they are aware of their own responsibilities to their Black peers. I hope that by working alongside the College in the areas specified above and continuing the work of the BAME Officer, the JCR will achieve these goals even after this moment is over. It’s also important for me to remind you that the Legacies of Slavery project, whilst it won’t be going ahead as planned this summer, will begin next term as a reading group. More information will follow as we go into Michaelmas about how you can get involved.
As a committee, we have signed the CUSU BME Campaign’s open letter asking the University to commit to anti-racism, and would encourage all undergraduates to do the same. From our budget we will be making a donation of £500 split between Belly Mujinga’s Memorial Fund and Black Minds Matter UK. Next Sunday, Ents Officer Nuvpreet is holding a fundraiser in aid of this fund and Black Minds Matter UK. I’d like to ask all undergraduates to work through this checklist of actions in order to support the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK, including petitions, funds, and educational resources. We all must act in ongoing solidarity with this movement.
Peer to peer support for Black students is available from our BAME Officer Oluchi and resources are available on the following online platforms until the College coordinates its own system of support for the Black community at Newnham. Oluchi and Ranait (MCR BAME Officer) are holding a BAME chill on the 14th June – please contact Oluchi to be added to the group chat for Black and BAME students at Newnham. The CUSU BME Campaign and Cambridge ACS are sources of support, advocacy and community for Black Cambridge students and you can request a black counsellor at the University Counselling Service by asking for one in the ‘free text’ boxes on the pre-counselling form. The NUS Black Students’ Campaign works on a national level to campaign for Black students, and there are many charities and local organisations that focus on Black mental health, such as Inside Out UK; the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network; and these links to London-based support.
Newnham JCR is here for all of our students, but it’s our individual duty to actively fight against the systematic oppression of Black people. Inaction and silence is complicity. If you have any questions or suggestions about what the JCR is doing and can do to support our Black students, please get in touch.
Rosie Stevenson, Newnham JCR President