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Cambridge academic says she will not work for university after accusing porters of racist abuse

Priyamvada Gopal says she repeatedly asked porters to address her as 'Dr Gopal' instead of 'madam'

Maya Oppenheim
Thursday 21 June 2018 13:08 BST
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King's College denied the incident was in any way racist
King's College denied the incident was in any way racist (Getty Images)

A Cambridge University academic has claimed she was subject to racist treatment from King’s College porters.

Priyamvada Gopal said she would stop tutoring students at the institution in protest of being subject to “consistently racist profiling and aggression by porters” at the college over the years.

“Hundreds of stories abound over the years ... If you can’t be polite to me at the gate, I can’t do any work for you,” the 50-year-old tweeted.

The academic, who teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge, said she had repeatedly asked the porters to address her as “Dr Gopal” instead of “madam” in an incident which took place on Monday.

“I repeatedly asked them to address me as 'Dr Gopal' and repeatedly failed to get them, including the aggressive Head Porter to whom I attempt to complain to address me as anything other than 'madam’”.

She claimed after saying “please address me as Dr Gopal,” a porter hit back by saying: “I don’t care who you are”.

Dr Gopal said she had received a message from a King's College BAME student who said the issue of “racial profiling and unconscious bias at the King's gate is something we are aware of and are trying our absolute hardest to find some sort of resolution to this - we have collected testimonials of many other students and staff who have experienced horrible unfair treatment from the staff at the front of King's.”

The academic, who has a strong interest in colonial and postcolonial literature and theory, said it was not just a case of her arrogantly insisting on her proper title being used rather than “madam,” but the fact the term was being used mockingly and dismissively.

Dr Gopal, who has 20,000 Twitter followers, said it was “with deep regret” she had finally decided “on my behalf and of other people of colour at Cambridge University” to refuse to supervise any students at King’s College.

“My attempts to raise this with fellows and with its management verbally and in writing have failed to elicit any changes,” she said.

King's College told The Independent the incident was not in any way racist.

“We have investigated the incident and found no wrongdoing on the part of our staff,” a spokesperson said. “Every visitor was asked to show their card during the course of that day, as the College was closed to everyone except King’s members.”

“Non-members such as Dr Gopal were asked to take alternatives routes, around the College. This was a matter of procedure, not discrimination.

“King’s College is a rich and diverse community, and take the wellbeing of its students and staff extremely seriously. We remain committed to being an inclusive and welcoming environment in which to work and study. We categorically deny that the incident referred to was in any way racist.”

A spokesperson for King's College said it had completed its investigation and cleared its porters.

“Michael Proctor, who is the Provost of King’s College, did speak to Dr Gopal. However, the account of the incident from her perspective was taken from the witness testimony from her Twitter," they said.

Cambridge and Oxford have come under criticism for the small number of black students which are admitted each year.

Last month, it was revealed more than one in four of Oxford’s colleges failed to admit a single black British student each year between 2015 and 2017.

Figures revealed several of the most prestigious colleges – including Balliol, University and Magdalen – each admitted two black British students as undergraduates during the three-year period.

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