#ITooAmHarvard, #ITooAmOxford and racial stereotypes at university

What is #ITooAmHarvard? Well,
#ITooAmHarvard is a viral campaign that has inspired a similar project at the University of Iowa, before universities in the UK followed suit.

How did this all start? Earlier this month, black students at Harvard University (yes, THAT Harvard) began a campaign called #ITooAmHarvard as a way to strike back at racial stereotypes that have found their way into higher education.

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Then the #ITooAmOxford campaign emerged not long after, with students of black and Asian descent sharing their own experiences of racial prejudice at Oxford University. Now Cambridge and SOAS have done their own versions.

Although I’m not an Oxbridge student or graduate (I’ve barely finished second year), I felt I could relate to the students holding a white board on which their messages were written (except the #WeTooAreOxford one but I’ll get to that soon). Some of the messages had me bewildered at the ignorance that was the basis of the students’ experiences. What struck me was that in universities which are regarded as the best in the world, such prejudice is common. The irony was that these comments came from other students/staff members that were supposedly “intelligent”.

So when the #WeAreAllOxford campaign emerged *side eye*, I was not surprised. A quick glance at the Tumblr site revealed all I needed to know about the project. It was launched to counteract the #iTooAmOxford campaign, as (mostly) white students held a white board with comments such as “We enjoyed celebrating diversity at the OUSU International Fair” and “We’re from state schools! Can you tell?” -___-

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What Oxford has done is divert attention away from the original campaign by their attempt to whitewash “fix” the problem. While there is no right way to legitimately address the issues raised by #ITooAmOxford, this PR spin of a project has rubbed people the wrong way. The whole project doesn’t just miss the point – it tries to shoot it with a shotgun but the bullet ricochets off the intended target.

What the #ITooAmHarvard and subsequent versions have done is to shine the spotlight on racial prejudice in higher education, which may be a surprise to some. While it may not be in the form of hate crimes, stereotypical comments disguised as ‘banter’ is just as bad. But it’s not just limited to Oxbridge or the Ivy League. I remember when I was asked by a lecturer whether I “had any friends in the Caribbean”. To a female of Nigerian descent. At a uni that used to be a polytechnic college.

Sidenote: I have friends from the Caribbean, but they all live in the UK. Does that answer your question, Mr Prejudiced Lecturer?

As students, we’ve all come to university to mingle with people from different backgrounds. Not only that, but we’ve come to educate ourselves and in doing so, freeing ourselves from the chains of ignorance. Let’s all make an effort to move past these stereotypes by educating ourselves and maybe then, we can learn something about each other.

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