Cambridge University inquiry into slave trade connections is 'virtue signalling on steroids', Trevor Phillips says


Commenting on Cambridge University’s inquiry, Mr Phillips told The Telegraph: “It seems to me that this is virtue signalling on steroids. This is really about making white liberal academics at Cambridge feel a bit better about themselves. It will do very little for any ethnic minority person.

“Rather than having some clever people looking back 200 years for the next 35 months, wouldn’t it just be a good idea to have some people looking a few months into the future and do some work on how we could prevent discrimination affecting people of colour every single day.

“If they actually wanted to do something for young people, there are at least a dozen other exercises they could have chosen over this one.

“I have got no objection to some academics looking into the background of Cambridge. In fact, I made a series about this topic 18 years ago. However, if Cambridge University wanted to do something useful they might want to change the future rather than attempting to rewrite the past, which is what this is all about.”

Prof Martin Millett, who is chairing Cambridge University’s inquiry, suggested that one potential outcome of the investigation could be reviewing the names of campus buildings that are connected to the slave trade.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday morning, Prof Millet said: “I think it’s quite interesting how Glasgow University have dealt with this. They have thought of symbolic ways of recognising the issue in terms of quite simple things, like how buildings are named and so forth.”

Glasgow University have named a new building due to open next year after James McCune Smith, who was born into slavery in 1813 and later became the first African American to be awarded a medical degree.

Cambridge University’s Colleges are omitted from the inquiry, which will only apply to the main university buildings, including eight museums and numerous libraries.

Academics and students labelled the investigation as nothing more than a “PR exercise” for failing to include the Colleges in the investigation.

“The real wealth in this university, as well as historical benefits, are constitutively collegiate,” Dr Priyamvada Gopal, English lecturer at Churchill College, wrote on Twitter. “If Cambridge REALLY wants to look at how it benefited from slavery, leaving the colleges out is absurd. Totally absurd.

“Short of that, this is in danger of becoming a PR exercise.

“I think this is a terrible dodge on more than one front: many many problems are located at the collegiate level and the University repeatedly washes its hands of the colleges.”


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