St Andrews University comes under fire about the lack of diversity

St Andrews race row: Kate Middleton and Prince William’s alma mater comes under fire over lack of diversity as critics call out now-defunct ‘African-themed Bongo Ball where students dressed in loin cloths’

  • University of St Andrews has come under fire over its lack of diversity
  • Criticisms were shared in response to #BlackoutTuesday Twitter post
  • Several slammed the university’s now defunct ‘Africa-themed Bongo Ball’ 
  • Event allegedly saw students attend in ‘loin cloths, black face and monkey suits’
  • University said ball was not supported by the university or students’ association  

The University of St Andrews has come under fire over its lack of diversity and treatment of students of colour against the backdrop of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests taking place around the world. 

Dozens of students, alumni and concerned social media users urged the university – where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met as undergraduates – to take ‘meaningful’ steps to improve diversity and accused the institution of ‘failing to protect’ students of colour. 

Several slammed the now-defunct ‘Bongo Ball’, an annual student-run charity event with an ‘African theme’ which reportedly saw white students attend in ‘loin cloths, monkey suits and black face’. The event last took place in 2014.

The University of St Andrews has come under fire over its lack of diversity and treatment of students of colour against the backdrop of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests taking place around the world. Several Twitter users slammed the now-defunct ‘Bongo Ball’, an annual student-run charity event with an ‘African theme’ (pictured, attendees in 2012)

Twitter users called out the university over its handling of race issues and pointed to the ‘Bongo Ball’ as an example

In a statement a spokesperson for the university said ‘the so-called Bongo Ball was not supported by the University of St Andrews or the Students’ Association’ and ‘it is  clearly unacceptable than any event was ever marketed in this way, this was very steadfastly communicated to the students at the time’.

The comments were made in response to the university’s #BlackoutTuesday post. The social media campaign was launched in support of the Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the police killing of George Floyd.

However Twitter users claimed it was a ‘performative’ and ’empty’ gesture if the university did not also take action to address the lack of racial diversity. 

One tweeted: ‘My university ladies and gentlemen. With everything going on currently, the best THE university of st Andrews can come up with is a performative gesture. No further comments. Not even a platitude filled statement like the other universities.’

Another wrote: ‘As an alumnus, I’m disappointed to see such an empty gesture. What are you doing to support Black students and academics? What are you doing to address the systemic inequalities in higher education? Posting a black box in solidarity isn’t enough if it’s not paired with action.’

Students at the Bongo Ball in 2013. In a statement a spokesperson for the university said ‘the so-called Bongo Ball was not supported by the University of St Andrews or the Students’ Association’

St Andrews’ most recent Equality Mainstreaming Report, published in April 2019, revealed 5.7 per cent of the staff and 8.7 per cent of the student population are Black and Minority Ethnic (BME). 

Of the 230 professors at the university, just six are people of colour.  

These figures were called out by Twitter users, with one writing: ‘Let’s see more diversity in the staff and student body. Let’s see more work by black people and POC in our curricula. Let’s go beyond empty discussions on diversity.’

Another posted: ‘One woman shared this anecdote: ‘I went to St Andrews, never had a Black lecturer. One lecturer told me that their union couldn’t do staff surveys with demographic info because there were so few Black staff that the results couldn’t be anonymised.’

One former black student claimed to have been ‘racially abused’ by a professor during his time at the university and said he filed a report on the issue upon graduating 16 years ago but has never received a response. 

The comments were made in response to the university’s #BlackoutTuesday post. Twitter users claimed it was a ‘performative’ and ’empty’ gesture if the university did not also take action to address the lack of racial diversity

Another said black students feel like they are not ‘seen’ by the university. 

Two days later the same Twitter account shared a tweet linking to an open letter by Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, in which she said: ‘We must accept, as a 600-year-old institution, that while we might pride ourselves on our commitment to diversity and our intolerance of all racism, we have long been a part of the establishment and structures which perpetuate discrimination in this and other countries.

‘Accepting our part in this, and shining a light on the ways in which we unwittingly prolong this legacy, is a fundamental step for any institution serious about diversity and inclusion.’

The tweet was met with similar criticism, with one student writing: ‘Unacceptable blurb hidden within an email that shows that we do not matter on your campus.’

Another added: ‘So how is the uni actually going to tackle it ? Seems like a lot of talk with no clear plan ??’

St Andrews’ most recent Equality Mainstreaming Report, published in April 2019, revealed 5.7 per cent of the staff and 8.7 per cent of the student population are Black and Minority Ethnic (BME). Stock image of the university

A third wrote: ‘That’s lovely, but where are the concrete steps for action. Where’s the plan to make our spaces more diverse? Where’s the ‘action’ in “let’s condemn this w our actions”. You have been challenged. This is the challenge. Your response is not meaningful enough, sorry.’  

In a statement to MailOnline a university spokesperson said: ‘The University is undertaking a series of actions and activities to address imbalances related to ethnicity, including in relation to equal pay. 

‘Recruitment and promotion procedures have been revised to encourage applications from underrepresented groups. St Andrews is currently undertaking work to strengthen guidance for the creation of appointment panels. The University requires mandatory unconscious bias and diversity training for recruitment and promotion board members.   

‘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. 

‘We are keen to hear all views on how the University is progressing on any areas that are identified as creating disadvantage for BAME staff and students. We welcome dialogue and encourage engagement and ideas for change.’

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