Over 2,200 sign open letter to St Andrews Principal demanding action over diversity policies
‘We are asking you, with all due respect, to do the right thing’
A St Andrews student has written an open letter to Principal Mapstone calling “for action from the university.”
The open letter received 1,900 signatures before it was sent to the Principal and since then has gathered a total of 2,233 at the time of publishing.
The student penned the letter “to urge that active action is taken to ensure that fully-fledged and effective diversity policies are put in place in the University”. She asked The St Andrews Tab to remain anonymous, explaining: “This really isn’t about me.”
The letter accuses the University’s response of being inadequate following the death of George Floyd and criticises current diversity policies.
It comments on “the current racial makeup of the University body” saying: “The fact is that the University continues to make a very limited effort to diversify its student and staff body. Not a single one of the University’s rectors has been BAME”.
A spokesperson for the University has previously told The St Andrews Tab it will be publishing “a comprehensive set of EDI statistics,” including an Ethnicity Pay Gap and promotion gap for staff and participation, and retention and attainment gap for students.
The University also drew attention to the Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Belief Equality Group launched in February this year, which aims to identify “identify and address any issues that mean that BAME staff and students experience disadvantage.”
Ananya Jain, incoming Member for Racial Equality and Cultural Diversity at St Andrews, told the St Andrews Tab: “The one thing that we strongly want however is for this movement – striving for a more diverse community, that is actively anti-racist – to be an ongoing and long term effort.
“The conversations being had at the moment need to be part of the central narrative rather than being a secondary thought, not only within St. Andrews but also at institutions around the world.”
The letter continues: “The University has adopted ‘a tick-the-boxes approach’, rather than a process of deconstructing white-centred practices and assumptions.
“The perpetuation of oppressive ideas and practices, with all due respect, is partly driven by curriculums like ours.”
It also notes: “Only two Arts and Humanities modules for first and second year offered topics that weren’t focused on white, western ways of thinking and history” in its assessment of the curriculum offered at St Andrews.
In a comment to The St Andrews Tab last week, a spokesperson for the University said: “To ensure that the curriculum is reflective of the students in our St Andrews community, we have begun an audit of the inclusive curriculum initiatives currently active across the University, with a focus on practice which aims to enhance the curriculum with respect to race and ethnicity.
“The audit will be conducted with a view to identifying areas of improvement and ensuring that all students, including those who identify as BAME, see themselves reflected in the curriculum they experience at St Andrews.”
The Bongo Ball was also highlighted as an example of the racism “ingrained in the University’s culture”.
Bongo Ball, or Xavier Ball as it was later called, was a charity ball raising money for the Xavier Project. Attendees reportedly wore African themed outfits and sometimes black face. Bongo Ball ran from 2007 to 2014 when it financially collapsed following its rebrand to Xavier Ball.
The letter accuses St Andrews of failing to criticise the ball publicly, however the University did issue a statement which was published in The Daily Mail last week. The statement read: “The so-called Bongo Ball was not supported by the University of St Andrews or the Students’ Association.
“It is clearly unacceptable than any event was ever marketed in this way, this was very steadfastly communicated to the students at the time.”
Ok… where do we start? This is a university that has an annual "Africa" themed ball called Bongo Ball where the rich white students that attend have worn loin cloths, monkey suits and black face. When I told the team they needed to scrap this they refused. This is a… https://t.co/9tIQknl6UC
— Anthony We Need a Green Recovery Simpson-Pike (@SimpsonPike) June 3, 2020
The letter accuses Project Zambia, a volunteering initiative, of falling “into the stereotypical portrayal of white aid” by continuing to use photos which perpetuate “issues related to volunteerism and white savior complex.”
The letter goes on to say: “The initiative continues colonial-era practices of treating Africa as Europe’s playground” it also criticises the continued highlighting of Rudyard Kipling “as one of the University’s prominent members without any acknowledgement of his role in crafting colonial and racist literature, such as The White Man’s Burden.”
Directed at the Principal, the letter says: “Your personal response to the demand for University action, in the form of your latest email to all students, unfortunately, embodied the University’s trend of treating this issue without the necessary sensitivity”.
The open letter concludes by appealing to Principal Mapstone personally, saying: “You may not be able to change the University’s past, but you can shape its future. You may not be able to support black students who graduated years ago, but you can support black students who still experience the University’s failures.”
Ananya told the St Andrews Tab: “The response from the student body has been absolutely wonderful, and the encouragement definitely suggests that students want change, and are actively advocating for it”.
Asked about the letter, Zoë Ruki Nengite, Former Member for Racial Equality, told The St Andrews Tab: “I didn’t write the letter but I did take it upon myself to use my platform to share it.
“This is mainly because I wanted to support Ananya, the current holder of my former position.
“I think the letter summarised a lot of concerns from students and was the result of discussions from a focus group on racial equality.
“I think the general consensus from students I have spoken with is that the University’s response to the current situation is not enough. Their words are not enough, we need concrete actions that they are committed to being an anti-racist institution and want to increase its ethnic diversity.”
The allegations made in the open letter have been put to the University by The St Andrews Tab but we have yet to receive a reply. This article will be updated with the reply.
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Featured image via SWNS