New Chair of SU BME campaign on promoting inclusivity: ‘Not just as a slogan, but as a cultural reality’

Darold Cuba spoke to The Tab about his goals of establishing a supportive community for black students and other ethnic minorities at the university level, as well as promoting decolonisation and anti-racism


With Rishi Sunak determined to bring “down” overall “legal migration” by imposing new restrictions on foreign students after net migration to the country spiked to a record half a million, concerns over racism in higher education have increased.

Darold Cuba, the new chair of the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) campaign at the Cambridge SU, also first experienced the issue of systematic racism within the university when he told his friends of colour he was going to St. John’s College as they were shocked that “John’s let a black person in.” He thinks the BME community can help make Cambridge “more inclusive, more equitable and more diverse, and not just as a slogan, but as a cultural reality.”

Cuba became motivated to promote equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) both at John’s and the university because he recognised a history of “systematic white supremacy and institutionalised racism” at Western universities, especially in “places like Cambridge and Oxford.” He observed that “Cambridge still isn’t the most diverse place in the world by race” and “class,” which is why it is important to create a community in which these students “can feel like they belong, where they can feel like they can voice whatever they’re experiencing.” Therefore, his first task is to build a supportive BME community to make Cambridge an actual “international university” that welcomes everyone.

St. John’s College (Image credits: Astrid Healy)

What can be done to promote EDI values at the collegiate and university levels?

When asked about how his current role as the EDI office at John’s Samuel Butler’s Room (SBR) has prepared him for his upcoming work at the SU, Cuba said he was working on a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Anti-Slavery Society at John’s, which would be relevant to the BME Campaign as well. He will explore the legacies of abolitionism as well as how news, power and privilege affect anti-racist changes. For example, the college will celebrate famous Johnians “like Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Palmerston” and thus guides students to reflect on the legacy 200 years later.

His aim is to raise the question: “What is John’s doing to continue to produce those types of people who will put their privilege on the line and use their power and their access to resources to help other people?” The celebration will include an exhibition of students’ creative works that centred around the theme of abolitionism and anti-racism and a Chapel service that features some famous gospel and hymns relevant to the abolitionist movement.

Cuba said he was eager to extend such celebrations to a university-wide level by forming the Cambridge Anti-Racism Forum and other bicentennial events that “get to the direct issue of anti-racism.”

Looking ahead: Celebrating the Black History Month

Cuba also has plans for Black History Month: “We’re looking to have a bunch of programming during that month, and it is also the 75th anniversary of the Windrush and the 30th anniversary of the Stephen Lawrence murder. So there’s a lot of things going on within the black community to commemorate these things.”

He stressed the importance of the remembrances of these historical events as “people who are racialised as black were the ones most impacted by slavery.” To spark conversations about the BME community, he hopes to host different panels that discuss the theme of “Abolitionism isn’t Anti-Racism” and thus how we have moved from abolitionism to anti-racism in the past 200 years. Topics such as plantation slavery, Haitian heritage, and the legacies of various abolitionists including Henri Christophe, Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce.

Darold Cuba discussing his plans for the BME Campaign at the SBR. (Image credits: Audrey Chan)

What about other ethnic minorities and cultural heritages?

Cuba grew up in a multi-generational military family as an American and a lot of his ideas are centred around the indigenous Natives and African Diasporic communities. Therefore, I asked him how would you connect with and thus represent other ethnic minorities. He said that he was constantly expanding his networks and therefore in touch with many different types of communities. Moreover, issues surrounding former British colonies in Asia like India and Hong Kong are also on Cuba’s list.

Cuba also mentioned his ambition of promoting the idea of racialisation as a construct “that has no scientific, genetic or biologic basis.” As a PhD student reading History, Cuba found that people “don’t want to be pigeonholed by their skin colour.” He noted that he wanted to bring his research into practice by promoting ethnic heritages like that of the Bavarians, Sámi, Irish, and Scandinavian that have been “obscured by racialisation.” He would like to promote the idea that there are unique aspects of all cultures beyond racialisation.

How can a closely connected BME student community be built?

The Cambridge SU has often been criticised for being inactive and out of touch with the student body. The BME Campaign’s website and social media pages have rarely been updated or have rather low engagement rates, especially following the resignation of Kefeshe Bernard, the former BME officer. Cuba discussed his goal of forming a support BME network several times during the interview, so I asked him how he would implement it.

Cuba acknowledged the problem of the dysconnectivity between the SU and students as the communication within the union was inefficient. He said he wanted to resolve such issues by making use of social media platforms and newsletters more efficiently, fostering a closer connection with all the EDI officers in the colleges and “having them liaise with the student union.”

By including EDI officers from different colleges in his plans, he said that the BME Campaign’s events could be promoted more efficiently. Hosting events and swaps with colleges and communities like the EMEA would also be helpful to get people together, he said. Moreover, Cuba is also interested in using live-streaming platforms like YouTube to make events more accessible to students. He said that he would use technology to “make sure that things are accessible to people, people can look at the recordings even when they can’t make it.”

Cuba emphasised that his goal was to put different people into conversations and he still had a lot to learn as an American living in Cambridge. As part of the BME community, he is looking forward to taking this journey with everyone else and hearing from you through his CRSID (dbc34).

When approached for comment by The Tab, Professor Bhaskar Vira, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Education, said: “I offer my congratulations to Darold on his appointment. I have already started engaging with him and look forward to working with him over the coming year.”

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