Yesterday, student feminist activist Lola Olufemi was targeted by right-wing media for her efforts to decolonise the English curriculum at Cambridge University. Printing her headshot on the front page, The Telegraph wrongly accused her of “forcing” the uni to “drop white authors”, and quoted articles she wrote on racism out of context, framing her as antagonistic. gal-dem condemns highly racialised hate-campaigns against black student activists.
FLY, Cambridge’s forum for women and non-binary people of colour, released the following statement:
‘As members of FLY, the university’s network for women and non-binary people of colour, we condemn the targeting of CUSU Women’s Officer Lola Olufemi in the reports of The Telegraph and The Daily Mail. The articles in question pertain to a student-faculty campaign to decolonize the English faculty.
As Lola notes in her comments to Varsity, The Telegraph article in particular is “riddled with factual inaccuracies” and is a clear attempt “to misconstrue what the task of decolonising is.” The factual errors and poor reporting of the pieces expose them as thinly veiled attempts to target and incite backlash against a student activist. This is highlighted by the choice to feature a photograph of Lola on the front of the print publication accompanied by an inaccurate and incendiary caption as well as the inclusion of extraneous information about her background. This reporting cannot be construed as anything but a blatant instance of misogynoir and a strategic targeting of a visible black student activist, opening her up to racial and gendered attacks, harassment as well as national scrutiny. This is exacerbated by attempts to discredit Lola’s longstanding activism in Cambridge.
The timing of this furore also cannot be ignored. In light of the findings of the Lammy report and the slew of media reports regarding the inaccessibility of Oxford and Cambridge for black students and other students of colour – particularly BME working class students and students living in regions outside the Home Counties and London – such media scrutiny will only serve to discourage black students and other students of colour from applying to Cambridge, a place where they already suffer the effects of intensive scrutiny and alienation.
This is only one in a long string of incidents in which prominent student activists of colour, particularly black student activists, have been targeted by right-wing press. In August 2017, CUSU BME Campaign President Jason Okundaye was targeted by and subject to not only intense national scrutiny but racist vilification by the right-wing press for tweets that were wilfully taken out of context. These targeted attacks are clear attempts to silence students of colour and discourage them from speaking out against injustices.
The fixation of the articles on Lola herself serves to distract from the broader campaign to decolonize curricula in British institutions of higher education. The lengths to which the national press have gone to decontextualize and discredit the small but hard-fought victories of the Decolonize the English Faculty campaign – the tabling of the inclusion of BME writers on compulsory undergraduate English modules – demonstrates the way in which there remains a widespread unwillingness to engage with the violence of British histories of imperialism and colonialism.
We wholeheartedly support efforts to decolonize and recontextualize curricula that has continually and persistently failed to acknowledge the full breadth of British histories of colonialism and imperialism. We also stand in full solidarity with Lola, in gratitude for all that she has done and continues to do for women and non-binary people – particularly women and non-binary people of colour. She has invested incredible amounts of emotional and material labour into making this university a better, more critical space for all.
We stand with all students of colour who are active in organising with liberation campaigns in institutions of higher education to widen access and dismantle oppressive structures.
We refuse to be silenced.’
The petition attached to the statement has gained over 400 signatures so far.
Sign here to show support for Lola.