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Research question

Does the language used in discussions about race at Cambridge - in teaching and other contexts - negatively affect the academic performance of Black British students?


Project team

  • Rianna Davis, undergraduate student reading History and Spanish


Project report

Report: Anti-Racist Glossary Project (PDF)



The focus of this project was gauging the extent of racist language within educational contexts at Cambridge, and the impact this might have on the academic performance and attainment of Black British students.

Two qualitative research methods were used: focus group questions with the student co-researchers and an online survey distributed to Black British students across Cambridge. I asked participants if they had encountered any racist language in teaching contexts during the course of their studies at Cambridge, what terms were used and in what context, which key terms they thought students and staff should be educated about, and what value they saw in a collation of these terms into something like a glossary.

Of concern is the large proportion of respondents to this project who indicated they had experienced racist language in lectures and supervisions (approximately 50% of the survey). Respondents speculated that this was to do with the general lack of accountability around teaching practices across the collegiate University. Of the respondents who had encountered racism in the teaching (content, delivery of lectures, interrelations with teachers) over 60% indicated that it had a continuing negative impact on their academic performance, affecting their self-confidence and causing heightened feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome.

Those students who reported that they had not experienced racist language in an academic context often attributed this to their discipline; for example, there is usually little scope for quoting or using offensive language in STEMM lectures. They also reported that although they may not have encountered explicitly racist language, they had experienced an accumulation of subtle micro-aggressions throughout their studies which had an equally negative impact on their self-image and confidence in their ability to perform academically.



This project was awarded funding by the Cambridge University Diversity Fund to research and create a glossary of terms, resulting in publication of the Anti-Racist Glossary [UPCOMING].