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On 29 July 2017, a 20 year-old student at the University of Cambridge, Jason Osamede Okundaye, posted a series of tweets about endemic white racism in the United Kingdom. Jason is the President of the Black and Ethnic Minority Campaign at the University of Cambridge.
Providing context to his tweets, Jason explained:
“The tweet was conflated with my separate tweets which supported the Dalston protests and my support of activism which seeks justice against police brutality.”
These tweets have been met with a hostile response from media outlets such as The Telegraph and The Daily Mail . Furthermore, the police began an investigation, before stating We do not believe that there is a realistic proposition of a conviction for any offence. Any investigation is now in the hands of the university ”. Jason’s College at Cambridge, Pembroke, - his primary source of pastoral support - has said: “The College is looking into this matter and will respond appropriately.”
Media misconstrual and marginalisation of the work of student activists in the United Kingdom is nothing new. At our institution, the University of Oxford, students such as Ntokozo Qwabe - one of the organising members of Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford - faced repeated harassment and hostility over the course of 2015-2016.
We, as students and academics at the University of Oxford, join those expressing solidarity with Jason, and encourage others to do the same. We have seen the way that student anti-racist activist work has been treated in the past. That treatment and the coverage of Jason’s tweets are reminders of the anti-blackness and institutional racism that endures in this country, too often left uninterrogated within institutions of learning including Oxford and Cambridge.
How are marginalised students to address racism if they are prevented from publicly identifying it? The right to freedom of speech ought to extend to all members of the academic community, not just a privileged few. We encourage the British public to speak out on Jason’s behalf: this is a moment to reflect on the advantages conferred on white people in the United Kingdom, the ongoing legacies of colonisation, and the ways that anti-black racism persist.
We call on Pembroke College, Cambridge, to offer its support to Jason. We call on The Telegraph and the Daily Mail to issue an apology to Jason.
We stand with Jason.