Why 14 black male Cambridge students posed for this photo

By Cherry Wilson
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,
Jimi Babasola and Peter Adefioye are two of the people in the picture of 14 black male students

"Young black men don't grow up thinking they'll make it here. They should."

This was the intended message behind a photo of 14 black male students from Cambridge University that has been liked more than 2,000 times on Facebook.

The group posed for several images that were shared in a bid to encourage more black students to apply to the university.

The post on Facebook said: "In 2015, only 15 black, male undergraduates were accepted into Cambridge.

"However, it is important that despite their underrepresentation, we let young black people know that this is something that they can aspire to."

Of 3,449 students accepted into Cambridge during the 2015/2016 academic year, 38 defined themselves as black, a proportion of just over 1%. This figure did not include any students who defined themselves on their application as mixed race.

Image source, Cambridge ACS

Folajimi Babasola, 20, who is studying engineering and appeared in the photo, said he wanted the image to challenge the "stereotype" of a Cambridge student.

He said: "The aim of the picture was really to encourage more black students to apply here because many people get discouraged by a particular image or stereotype of a Cambridge student that they have in their mind, thinking that they won't fit in or be accepted."

He said he wanted to show others "there are people very much like them here and if we can get here, they can."

William Gore, 19, who studies English, said he felt "really lucky" to be involved in a photo that has gone viral.

He said he wanted to send out a message that black students should "apply" to Cambridge, adding: "You don't need to change who you are to get here.

"There are people here at Cambridge from different backgrounds, who don't fit the stereotypical image of what a Cambridge student looks like, doing their thing and killing it."

Image source, Cambridge ACS

Dami Adebayo, who studies engineering, said there needed to be more black role models for men to aspire to.

He said growing up he had aspired to be like actors, artists and sportsmen such as Lebron James, Will Smith and Jay-Z because "that's how I perceived success".

He went on: "Barack Obama is probably the first black role model I had who made it 'cool' to be 'book smart', and that was by the time I was 11, that's crazy."

Mr Adebayo said he applied to Cambridge University because he "knew he was capable" but was unsure if it would be the "right place".

"But with a mindset like that, these types of institutions will never be the right place for people like me.

"Every student from a diverse background who applies and gets in here is a step towards changing that."

Image caption,
Trinity is one of 31 colleges that make up Cambridge University

Matthew Ryder, deputy mayor of London for social integration, social mobility and community engagement, said the photo makes a "powerful statement" in an "understated way".

He studied law at Cambridge between 1986-1989 and said "it was striking" how few other black students were at the university then.

He told the BBC: "In terms of the overall experience of being a black person at Cambridge, it was not especially unpleasant. But it left me a little cold.

"There was very little overt racism but at times, as a black person, you felt like an oddity."

Mr Ryder said Cambridge has been keen to find ways to improve diversity in applications but "the results have been poor".

He went on: "However, I see the picture less as a complaint than as a celebration. I think that is why it has been so popular.

"The picture is challenging the university to do more by mere fact that it shows how few black men are admitted to Cambridge each year. That makes a statement of itself.

"But just as importantly, it is telling other young black men that if they apply to Cambridge, and are accepted, there are others just like them who are already there.

"The subtext to the pictures is that being a confident black man and being a Cambridge University student are not mutually exclusive."

'Inclusive culture'

Cambridge is one of 27 universities that are currently members of the Race Equality Charter (REC) - a scheme designed to address the representation of staff and students from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In March it said it was applying for an REC bronze award - which are given to universities that have a "solid foundation for eliminating racial inequalities and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff and students".

Professor Eilis Ferran said: "The university is committed to creating an environment where students and staff can realise their potential regardless of their ethnic, racial or national background."

The Cambridge University African-Caribbean Society, which was behind the shoot, said the purpose of the photos was to "remind young black individuals that Cambridge is for us".

It said it hoped to see developments in the representation and inclusion of more black students at the university.

The students involved in the main image are (top row L-R): William Gore, Bez Adeosun, Peter Adefioye, Judah Aiyenuro, Joseph Adikwu, Dennis Mubaiwa, Dami Adebayo, Ife Adepegba , Donte Nembhard, Baba Bob-Soile, Daniel Oluboyede.

Bottom row: Michael Samuelson-Beulah, Folajimi Babasola, Ade Omisore.