Queens’ College in hot soup over Africa Formal

“Africa isn’t yours to appropriate”

africa formal african society of cambridge university cultural appropriation equality flygirlsofcambrige political correctness Queen's College Student Activism

Another debate over cultural appropriation within Cambridge has arisen over the issue of Queens’ MCR hosting an ‘Africa Formal’. 

In an article on FlygirlsofCambridge, severe criticism has appeared over the MCR Africa formal, accusing it of cultural appropriation. Several have called for the cancellation of the event.


This comes in light of a significant history of conflict over cultural appropriation in Cambridge, with controversy raised over Pembroke’s BOP theme ‘Around the World in 80 days’, and criticism over the Clare May Ball theme ‘The Orient Express’.

The formal has not only received criticism for being “tokenistic” but has been accused of falsifying its claim of “celebrating diversity” due to accused failure of partnership with the African Society of Cambridge University.

Anger was also expressed over the location of the formal –  the Cripps Dining Hall at Queens’. The event proposes diners “can travel far away”, yet it is “incidentally only filled with portraits of white people, in spite of the efforts of the Black Cantabs Society” according to Alice Davidson, who penned the article.

The use of ‘Hakuna Matata’ in the description, which has now been changed, faced backlash

The initial opening line “Hakuna Matata’ and the stereotypical image of a tree in the Savannah and the fact that the formal proposes a ‘discovery’ of African cuisine when they will only be having three dishes have all received criticism for stereotyping a diverse continent made up of over fifty countries.

Since the creation of the event, the description has been changed, with “Hakuna Matata” being removed, and “rafikis” changed to “friends”.

Supporters have taken to Facebook to express their feelings on the Africa formal in light of the article

Yet more issues have been raised that stem beyond the accusation of cultural appropriation, with failure to cooperate with the African Society of Cambridge University perpetuating these claims. It is alleged that the ASCU asked that the date of the formal be changed so that more members could attend which was refused by the organisers of the event. In her article criticising the event, Alice Davidson also remarked that ASCU were not granted the allocated tickets they were promised, meaning what could have been a partnered event between the MCR and the Society transformed into a solo endeavour.

According to the MCR page, the event will still go ahead

Since the controversy arose, a post in the Queens MCR page sought to dispel the fact that that a date change was “refused”, and argued “we are in fact still working with the ASCU to explore alternatives to host a dinner in Queens on the date requested”.

However, this response apparently was unsatisfactory for members of ASCU, who expressed that the MCR had not “adequately listened to them or included them in planning”. This was criticism reflected in Davidson’s article, which said “the Africa themed formal is most definitely cultural appropriation, but there are several ways this could have been avoided”, proposing that it would have been better had the idea actually been proposed by ASCU rather than having invited them as an “afterthought”.

An anonymous member of ASCU told The Tab “I think the response has been a little overdramatic. I agree that one must tread the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation carefully, but this MCR’s formal really isn’t an enormous issue”.

When asked by The Tab, Alice Davidson declined to offer comment.

It seems that the formal will still go ahead as it is currently “sold out”. But should Queens’ MCR listen to the claims of cultural appropriation and cancel? Let us know in the poll below: