The University is planning an exhibition of 14 portraits of black Cambridge students and alumni, celebrating their contributions and legacies.
The temporary exhibition – entitled ‘Black Cantabs: History Makers’ – will run for the entirety of Michaelmas term, from 1st October to 31st December. The 14 portraits will line the walls of the University Library’s ‘Royal Corridor’, and the exhibition will be open to the public free of charge.
Famous faces, including novelist Zadie Smith and MP Diane Abbott, will feature, alongside several prominent figures in music, entertainment, literature, and law.
New portraits will be taken by Sir Cam, whose photographs regularly feature on the University’s social media and have gathered several thousands of likes on Instagram. For historical figures, archive images have been sourced.
The exhibition builds on an ongoing research project undertaken by the Black Cantabs Research Society, a student group dedicated to chronicling the stories of black students at Cambridge.
Speaking about the upcoming exhibition, the society’s President, Surer Mohamed, said: “This exhibition shows the indelible mark that black alumni of the University of Cambridge have left here, and across the globe, and hopefully demonstrates to prospective black students that they do have a home in Cambridge.”
Earlier this year, in June, more than 50 black female Cambridge students posed for a photograph in front of Senate House, marking the 70th anniversary of the first black woman graduating from the University. Gloria Claire Carpenter, who is thought to be the first black woman to have attended Cambridge, is among the 14 alumni to be featured in the upcoming exhibition.
The exhibition follows the recent launch of the Stormzy Scholarship, which will completely fund four black undergraduates’ tuition fees and maintenance costs for the duration of their degrees. The arrival of the first Stormzy Scholarship recipients to Cambridge in the fall will coincide with the exhibition’s opening.
An A1-sized photograph of award-winning grime artist Stormzy posing with members of the Cambridge University African Caribbean Society (ACS) will join the 14 portraits in the exhibition.
ACS President Toni Fola-Alade praised the exhibition and its focus on the legacies of black Cambridge alumni: “Black Cantabs have been tirelessly documenting the black experience at Cambridge for years and it’s great to see this level of exposure been given to the project.” He noted that “it’s important that the histories of Black students at the University are being showcased and we look forward to interacting with their legacies.”
Cambridge has long been criticised for admitting disproportionately few black students. Analysis by Varsity in 2017 revealed that acceptance rates for black applicants over the past decade averaged less than half the overall rate, and last year’s admissions cycle saw persistent disparities in acceptance rates for certain BME groups.
The 2016 admissions cycle was the first instance on record where Cambridge accepted more black men than Etonians, with 22 and 21 students admitted to the University respectively.
In May of last year, photographs of 14 black male Cambridge students posing in St John’s College went viral, attracting national attention and featuring on the BBC, Channel 4, ITV News and Buzzfeed.
These photos, published by ACS, intended to improve the visibility of students from ethnic minorities in Cambridge. In a comment published with the post, Robinson College student Dami Adebayo said: “Young black men don’t grow up thinking they’ll make it here. They should.”