The Women’s Officer of Cambridge University Student Union, Lola Olufemi, has succeeded in a campaign forcing Cambridge University’s English Literature professors to replace white authors with black writers, under new proposals put forward by academic staff.
According to a report in the Telegraph, for the first time, lecturers and tutors will have to “ensure the presence” of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) writers on their course, under plans discussed by the English Faculty’s Teaching Forum.
The move follows an open letter, penned by Lola Olufemi and signed by over 100 students, titled “Decolonising the English Faculty”.
“For too long, teaching English at Cambridge has encouraged a ‘traditional’ and ‘canonical’ approach that elevates white male authors at the expense of all others,” the letter said.
“What we can no longer ignore, however, is the fact that the curriculum, taken as a whole, risks perpetuating institutional racism.”
They said that they are not seeking to exclude white men from reading lists. However, adding new BME texts and topics is likely to lead to existing authors being downgraded or dropped altogether, since there are no plans to lengthen courses to accommodate an expansion of reading materials.
Minutes from the Teaching Forum’s meeting earlier this month, seen by The Daily Telegraph, reveal the actions discussed by academics to address the students’ concerns.
Ms Olufemi has previously said that white people who go on holidays Africa are “inherently selfish”.
She also wrote the open letter which prompted the English Faculty’s discussion about the curriculum at their recent Teaching Forum meeting.
The English graduate, who grew up in north London, has claimed that students who go on gap year programmes that involve doing aid work in Africa are guilty of “fetishising” the African culture.
In an article for Varsity, the Cambridge University student newspaper, she wrote: “It shows an astounding level of entitlement to think that you, on your gap year or your three weeks abroad ‘exploring’, are going to do anything meaningful or long lasting to help the communities that you fetishise.”
She added that “at the very least” there must be a recognition that “what drives middle class white people to travel abroad is an inherent selfishness”.
Ms Olufemi has also written about what Cambridge can learn from Rhodes Must Fall campaign in Oxford, which called for the statue of the Victorian mining magnate Cecil Rhodes to be torn down from Oriel College due to his links with imperialism.
She was involved in the National Union of Students’ “Liberate My Degree” campaign and spoke on a “Liberate My Degree Week” panel event earlier this year.
Ms Olufemi has said that her top priority as women’s officer is “the admission of trans women to women’s colleges” and to step up political campaigning.
Earlier this year, Murray Edwards College became the first of Cambridge’s all-women colleges to allow students who “identify” as a woman to apply.
At the university’s other women-only colleges, Newnham and Lucy Cavendish, any application must be recognised under the Gender Recognition Act, but their policies are understood to be under review.