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Race row hits Cambridge University as Indian academic accuses ‘racial profiling’

Sajeda Momin

Published: Updated:

An Indian academic at the world famous Cambridge University in the UK has accused the porters of one of the oldest colleges – King’s College – of racist and aggressive treatment.

Priyamvada Gopal, 49, claimed that racism at this one college was “widespread” and that the porters frequently “hassled” non-white staff and students at the gates, and behaved in a manner which effectively amounted to “racial profiling”.

As a mark of protest, Gopal who is senior lecturer in the Faculty of English, is refusing to supervise any students from King’s College.

“With deep regret but with 17 years of consideration behind it, I have finally decided on my behalf & of other people of color to refuse to supervise any students at King’s College. Enough is Enough of the consistently racist profiling & aggression by Porters”, Gopal tweeted making the row public.

King’s College, founded in 1441 by King Henry VI, is one of the earliest of the 31 colleges that make up Cambridge University which all have the age-old system of porters. The role of the porters is to control entry in the colleges, maintenance and some administrative tasks.

“They will let white people walk through unimpeded but demand ID cards from people who are not white,” Gopal complained of the porters.

“We had two students who came crying late to class because they were hassled at the gates of Kings and I’ve never had a white student who’s had this problem. Do I have 100 percent proof that it is racism? No. But one can only look at the fact people of color are carded frequently or asked more questions frequently,” she added.

“My attempts to raise this with fellows and with its management verbally and in writing have failed to elicit any changes,” said Gopal, who has more than 20,000 followers on Twitter.

Since posting her tweets, the academic who specializes in colonial and post-colonial literature and theory has received messages from current and former students who have admitted that they too had similar experiences.

“I was constantly stopped by Cambridge porters to show my ID, to explain where I was going,” said one former student from ethnic minorities.

Gopal said she has received a message from a King’s College BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) student who said the issue of “racial profiling and unconscious bias at the King’s gate is something we are aware of and are trying our absolute hardest to find some sort of resolution to this – we have collected testimonials of many other students and staff who have experienced horrible unfair treatment from the staff at the front of King’s.”

The University, however, has sided with the porters arguing that they have “conducted a thorough investigation” and “have found no wrongdoing on the part of our staff”.

A spokeswoman for the University said: “King’s prides itself on being an inclusive and tolerant place, where students and staff of all backgrounds can feel secure, so we will always act swiftly and proportionately to remedy any wrongdoing. The college abhors racism or discrimination of any kind and would seek to stamp it out wherever it might be found”.

Both Cambridge and Oxford University, the world’s top two universities and alma mater to kings, princes, prime ministers and presidents, were criticized in October 2017 for practicing “social apartheid” and for being “fiefdoms of entrenched privilege”.

A scathing report by David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham showed that most colleges at the two universities did not take any British BAME students and of the few colleges that did accept them, the numbers were in single digits.