Taking action to promote race equality

Taking action to promote race equality

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In 2020, the murder of George Floyd galvanised waves of activism across the US and around the world. In response, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr and fellow alumni initiated the Alexander Crummell Fund, named in honour of the first Black student to matriculate and graduate from Cambridge.

“I wanted to honour the first African American graduate of Cambridge University. This is a way of paying homage to the ancestors... a way, as they say, of paying it forward.” 

Profesor Henry Louis Gates Jr (Clare 1973)

Joined by dozens of like-minded donors, Professor Gates’ idea has developed into a new source of support for Cambridge’s efforts to tackle issues of systemic racism. An endowed fund, the Alexander Crummell Fund (ACF) will provide ongoing support for anti-racism work at the University.  

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr (Clare 1973) received his PhD in English Literature from Cambridge. He has pioneered the acceptance of Black authors in the mainstream English literature curriculum throughout his career. 

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope, says, “I am both delighted and humbled that so many alumni and friends have made generous donations to the Alexander Crummell Fund. The Fund itself has served as a rallying call for discussion among academics, staff, and students, who are united in the belief that the status quo must change and we are committed to being part of that change.” 

A group of students and staff came together to determine the most meaningful actions the fund could support, focusing on the lived experience of ethnic minority groups. 

A new space for Black students and staff 

In the ACF’s first year, a Black Advisory Hub was established for students and staff. It is a central point for resources, academic support, event information, and opportunities such as internships and scholarships; a site for pastoral support, which can have an enormous impact on a student’s performance; and provides resources for staff, such as anti-racist pedagogies, and material on inclusive teaching and learning, and critical race theory, to assist in better supporting Black students. 

Tyra Amofah-Akardom, the Co-Chair of the Black Advisory Hub steering group, commented “The vision for the Black Advisory Hub was to finally have a dedicated, safe space for Black students at Cambridge, a space we can turn to for the support and resources that we have been missing. As the number of Black students at Cambridge increases, it is paramount that we have ongoing resources available that are not just provided by student groups like The African Caribbean Society and BME Campaign. For staff – many of whom lack personal experience of the difficulties Black students uniquely face – this provides a welcome and necessary source of expertise.  I’m excited to see the progress of the Hub and I’m so thankful to all those who have worked on it.” 

About Alexander Crummell and the Crummell Fund 

Alexander Crummell’s father was a freed slave, and he was active in the abolitionist cause — a cause that was led in part in the UK by St John’s graduate Thomas Clarkson, who won first prize for his Latin Dissertation, “An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species” while a student. The Alexander Crummell Fund will honour three individuals: 

George Bridgetower, the first Black person on record to be awarded a Cambridge degree (Trinity Hall, in 1811)  

Alexander Crummell (Queens’ 1848), the first Black man on record to matriculate and graduate at Cambridge 

Gloria Carpenter (Girton 1945), the first Black woman on record to matriculate and graduate at Cambridge 

George Bridgetower Competition 

The George Bridgetower Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding student piece of workon the subject of race equality . George Bridgetower was awarded a degree on the basis of his original music composition, and this prize recognises today’s students who harness the power of academia or creative work for impact. 

The winner of the inaugural George Bridgetower prize was sociology undergraduate Maya McFarlane.  

Alexander Crummell Seed Fund 

University members can pitch projects, which promote race equality, to the Alexander Crummell Fund for funding.  This seed funding is named in Crummell’s honour to recognise diverse work towards race equality which follows in his legacy. 

Gloria Carpenter Lecture 

A new annual Gloria Carpenter Lecture will be given by an invited speaker to an audience of University members, supporters of the Fund and other interested individuals. Carpenter was a prominent social reformer; naming this lecture in her honour both recognises her work and celebrates a pioneering Black woman in academia. 

The first Gloria Carpenter lecture will be held in June 2022. 

To learn more about the Alexander Crummell fund please contact:

Nathaniel Wright

Associate Director — Student Support