Indiana Seresin (pictured above) quit her PhD due at what she said was an ‘accumulation’ of racist incidents at Cambridge University
A Cambridge student has quit her PhD after claiming she felt bad for benefiting from ‘white privilege’ and ‘structural racism’ at the university.
Indiana Seresin said she did not want to ‘legitimise’ an institution that had ‘disproportionate whiteness’ by giving it her ‘time, effort and skills’.
The 26-year-old said there was a ‘near total absence of black students and lecturers’ and claimed she had witnessed a number of racist incidents. She added that although the alleged racism did not affect her directly, she felt ‘demoralised and infuriated’ by it.
And she admitted her resignation comes from a position of ‘privilege, including racial privilege’, as leaving a fully-funded doctorate is a big risk.
Miss Seresin is from Highbury, an expensive north London suburb, and is the daughter of Hollywood cinematographer Benjamin Seresin, who worked on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Pirates Of The Caribbean.
She attended the renowned state school Camden School for Girls, which counts actress Dame Emma Thompson as an alumnus.
Miss Seresin studied at Harvard University before completing an MA at Cambridge and starting a doctorate in the English faculty.
Her comments were made in a 1,500-word statement on the website Medium, where she said she hoped that another university will take her on. She said: ‘As a white researcher whose scholarship draws significantly on black studies, I believe that I need to earn the right to do this work.’
Miss Seresin added: ‘I also believe that the ethical and intellectual integrity of my research was compromised by the fact that it was situated at Cambridge. This is particularly true because, as a white student, I benefited from the structural racism of the university.’
Cambridge University (pictured above) said it tries to create a culture ‘free from racism, discrimination, prejudice and harassment’
She accused the university of being ‘intellectually impoverished’ by the ‘dramatic overrepresentation of middle and upper-class white people’ while promoting the ‘systemic exclusion of both black scholars and black thought’.
In the lengthy post, she wrote: ‘I believe the pervasive presence of racism at Cambridge damages and delegitimises the institution, and I do not want to participate in relegitimising it by contributing my time, effort and skills as a member of the university.’ Miss Seresin was writing her PhD thesis on the topic of ‘speculative archives’, drawing on ‘queer theory and black studies’.
She claimed that during her two years studying at King’s College, she had witnessed ‘an accumulation of racist incidents’, including when a lecturer at a philosophy seminar ‘repeatedly’ read the N-word aloud in class discussions. She and a black student complained and raised the issue at the Teaching Forum, which was filled with senior faculty members.
But she said they felt like they were ‘on trial’, adding: ‘Many of those present seemed simply unable to comprehend the difference between a black writer reclaiming the N-word and a non-black Cambridge lecturer or student saying it aloud in class.’
Ms Seresin accused the university of being ‘intellectually impoverished’ by the ‘dramatic overrepresentation of middle and upper-class white people’
She concluded: ‘My decision to leave comes from a position of privilege, including racial privilege. Although I have been demoralised and infuriated by the racism at Cambridge, I do not feel personally undermined by it.
‘I also do not want to suggest that those who remain at the university should necessarily be condemned for their complicity.’
She added: ‘The option of leaving is not available to everyone, and I am awed by the efforts of those who remain committed to the exhausting task of fighting for racial justice at the university.’
This is the latest race row to hit the university, which has been criticised in the past for not admitting enough black students.
Students have also campaigned to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum in arts subjects, including lobbying for more ethnic minority writers on English courses.
A Cambridge spokesman said: ‘The university strives to create a culture free from racism, discrimination, prejudice and harassment.’ They added that there are a wide range of measures aimed at promoting equality, including staff training, reverse mentoring and curriculum review.