Punting on the River Cam

A bunch of 100 Cambridge college students have known as for the college to incorporate extra black and ethnic minority writers in its English Literature curriculum, resulting in a row over race. However the college has condemned the backlash and says it helps debate over its studying record.

The literary row started with a letter written in June by the scholars to the college’s English school, asking it to “decolonise” its curriculum by together with extra BME writers.

The letter, primarily signed by white college students, said: “This isn’t a name for the exclusion of white males from studying lists… it’s a name to recentre the lives of different marginalised writers.”

One of many college students, Lola Olufemi, girls’s officer for Cambridge College’s scholar union, then explained the position in an article for the university’s student newspaper Varsity. She wrote that it was “merely not sufficient” for the college to supply one non-obligatory course to learn post-colonial BME texts on the finish of a 3 12 months diploma.

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Cambridge College defended its scholar Lola Olumfemi

Her image was splashed on the entrance web page of the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday beneath the headline: “Pupil forces Cambridge to drop white authors”. The paper then confronted criticism for “twisting the details” and “demonising” Ms Olufemi.

The college has responded by saying it helps “strong tutorial debate” and that “very early” tutorial discussions had already been held on this challenge.

However for now it stated, there “has been no resolution to change the best way English is taught on the College of Cambridge”.

So what do college students learning English Literature at Cambridge learn and why?

The course outline advises students they are going to be learning a full vary of “English literature from the Center Ages to the current day”.

Throughout the three years, it lists 4 obligatory papers that have to be taken by all college students:

  • English Literature and its Contexts 1300-1550
  • Shakespeare
  • Sensible Criticism
  • Tragedy

There are additionally greater than 20 non-obligatory papers – “which change repeatedly”, with lecturers offering advised studying lists and college students making choices on what books to check based mostly on that steerage.

However some college students say all too typically they’re steered in the direction of white, male writers.

Problems with Britishness

One of many lecturers is Dr Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches postcolonial literature. She says she has observed “extra assertiveness” from college students about what sorts of points they need to discover.

As a result of many haven’t discovered concerning the British Empire whereas in school, she says, this makes them eager to check books that study the problems of Britishness or Englishness, and “how that pertains to questions of race, immigration and even class”.

So what needs to be on the agenda? Dr Gopal has 5 books she suggests are worthy of inclusion:

Dr Gopal’s high 5 BME reads

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Getty/BBC

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Writers Olaudah Equiano, CLR James, Sam Selvon

Beneficial studying from Dr Priyamvada Gopal, Reader in Anglophone Literatures and Fellow at Churchill Faculty, Cambridge:

The Fascinating Narrative of the Lifetime of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano was a black African author whose experiences as a slave prompted him to change into concerned in Britain’s abolition motion. His autobiography was first printed in 1789 and was immensely common.

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

The son of an Indian father and a Scottish-Indian mom, Sam Selvon moved to England in 1950 after serving within the Trinidadian navy. The Lonely Londoners is probably his best-known and commercially most profitable novel and was his first to deal with the migrant expertise.

The Black Jacobins by CLR James

Caribbean mental and political activist Cyril Lionel Robert James moved to England from Trinidad in 1932. Six years later he printed the historic account, The Black Jacobins, his seminal work on the Haitian slave revolt.

The Emperor’s Babe by Bernardine Evaristo

Born in London to an English mom and Nigerian father, Bernardine Evaristo is an award-winning writer and present professor of artistic writing at Brunel College London. Printed in 2001, The Emperor’s Babe is a mash-up of tradition and historical past, set in Roman London. The Occasions topped it the “E-book of the Decade”.

Feminist Fables by Suniti Namjoshi

Indian-born Suniti Namjoshi’s first ebook of fiction, Feminist Fables, was printed in 1981. An essential determine in modern Indian literature in English, she is understood for exploring problems with gender, sexual and cultural identification.

‘Complete diploma with out BME’

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Mariam stated the dialogue “had been occurring in non-academic circles for a very long time”

Mariam Ansar, who helped draft the open letter, stated it got here as a “results of years of frustration felt as an undergraduate, as a scholar of color learning English at Cambridge”.

The 22-year-old from Bradford graduated this summer time and stated: “This dialogue had been occurring in non-academic circles for a very long time.”

Fellow graduate Rebecca Hirst, 21, from Chester, stated: “For the time being a system exists at Cambridge whereby a scholar might full a whole literature diploma with out learning the writings of an individual of color or the context of slavery and colonialism in any depth.”

‘Disheartening and alienating’

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Lizzie stated including to the record of authors would assist “problem” conceptions of Englishness

Cambridge scholar Lizzie Bowes, 19, from Peterborough, criticised those that are “too fast” to fall again on the argument that there aren’t any BME authors of the identical calibre as William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer or John Milton.

“As a BME scholar myself, being continually informed that BME authors are excluded from the canon and the curriculum just because they’re ‘not ok’ is massively disheartening and alienating,” she stated.

Miss Bowes stated including to the record of authors would assist college students “problem and interrogate the dominant conceptions of Englishness”.

Stella Swain, in her second 12 months at Cambridge, pointed to the “disturbing lack” of non-white authors on the course and stated it made the English Literature diploma seem “archaic”.

‘Colleges whitewash too’

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Finley claims most teachers “do not appear to take BME writers into consideration”

Cambridge scholar Finley Kidd, 19, from Norwich, who signed the letter, stated the issues with the English literature curriculum begins properly earlier than college degree.

She stated: “Britain’s historical past of colonialism, empire, and institutional racism is one such context that has been so elementary in shaping our literature that we are able to make no excuses for ignoring it.

“My highschool English curriculum was equally whitewashed. I’ve had some unbelievable lecturers and supervisors throughout my diploma who’ve inspired my studying of authors equivalent to Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, however the majority of teachers I’ve come throughout do not appear to take BME writers into consideration.

“The onus shouldn’t be on college students to achieve past studying lists – many might not realise they’re even allowed [to do so] – however on teachers to diversify their studying lists.”